Writing in the time of COVID-19
“We live in a culture that says you should be able to power through anything. Life will very generously remind you that you cannot, and it will very generously break you at times and very generously show you.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
It's spring 2020 and how are writers faring in the midst of a quarantine? Well, there are memes going around social media about writers wishing (pre-COVID) they could just have a few months off to finish their book, then COVID hits, and they do nothing but procrastinate. I think a lot of writers can relate because that's what's happening for them right now, including me.
There's another one that says:
If __________ was an Olympic event, I would totally have a gold medal.
Well, obviously, the blank would be writing in this case, but I would be earning a "brover"—half-way between a bronze and silver medal. Ha! I just made that up. I've been trying to find humor during this crisis, though am not always successful. As my husband has said, "At least you laugh at your own jokes."
That said, I have been writing during these strange, never-been-here-before times, though some days, it has been too easy to lollygag in the doldrums. Wallowing about the serious state of the world does nothing for one's daily or weekly word count, to say nothing about one's mental health. However, we ought to see this non-normality as just a season, and like all seasons, this, too, shall pass. Also, we should be gentle with ourselves and cut us some slack. On the days I'm not in the dumps, I make an effort, though with a few tried and true tools.
It is on those days that I rely on my routine. When I want to be really productive, I follow through with my typical ritual to get myself in the right mindset. Even if I'm not, I am a believer in the B-I-S (butt in seat) methodology, too.
I thought I'd share a few here:
- Light a candle or burn some incense
- Start with an intention or a poem
- Have a hot caffeinated drink (morning) or adult beverage (night)
- Write my morning pages
- Begin with a writing prompt in my journal
- Place story touchstones nearby to jog your memory and imagination
- Use a timer or hourglass, perfect for writing sprints
- Reward myself with chocolate, a walk, or some music to keep me going
- Set up writing time with friends and write together, virtually
- Attend my weekly critique group via Zoom
- Read a craft book or take a class in an area in which you want to improve
What also really helps is something I do before and after I write.
Before I pick up in the middle of the sentence, which is where I left off the last time I wrote. That way, I don't have writer's block because I can start right away. I also think about my story, my characters, an issue I'm having, etc. in the time leading up to when I sit down to write. I've also found my outline, plot summary, character profiles, and setting research at hand and review them regularly. This is when being a plotter has been a lifesaver.
After I end my day's work in the middle of the sentence. Often, I also add a few notes to nudge me. That way, I'm not twiddling my thumbs about where to start when I first sit down to write.
So, none of these things are earth-shattering tips and tricks, but they work for me. Mostly. And hopefully, one or two will work for you, too. COVID and self-isolation be damned.
There's a great Vice.com article today about the cause of our pandemic brain fog. This info was particularly telling: "Part of what we try to do to function in our society is to have some structure, some predictability. When we have those kinds of things, life feels more manageable, because you don’t have to put the energy into figuring those things out." I feel my stopping in the middle of a sentence makes my writing more manageable and predictable.
The article continues: "So how do we all get back to those feelings of predictability? First, in true therapy speak, feel your feelings. 'This is unprecedented,' said Lynn Bufka, the senior director of Practice, Research, and Policy at the American Psychological Association. 'There’s no judgment here that you feel stressed about it, you don’t like it, [you’re] feeling angry, whatever. Acknowledging those emotions and then going past it is where we’re trying to get to.'”
I haven't hit the angry stage, but have been at the frustrated stage for most of the time I've been in self-isolation. I am frustrated at being involuntarily "locked up," and that's saying something for a mostly-introvert like me. Allostatic load, as defined in the Vice article, is "repetitive and accumulative physiological and psychological hits", is a new term for me, and "load" feels particularly heavy. I have experienced how uncertainty fuels stress, making it difficult to write coherently, to stick to the stories I want to birth. How I handle myself will be different than how other writers do it. There is no one alive who has gone through a pandemic like we are experiencing. We are all setting precedent, writers included. How we cope and write through this difficult period will be read by historians decades from now. There will be new stories that we would not have imagined or unearthed had it not been for this isolation. And that newness can be motivating, in and of itself.
I would love to hear from other writers and what is motivating them these uncertain days.