Five Techniques for Writing through the Pandemic
An Author-Supporting-Authors Piece
Writing is a habit. If not done frequently, our skills get rusty. Like dancers must practice every day to stay en pointe, and doctors must read journals and attend seminars to practice at modern standards, as writers, we must also exercise our skills to produce quality work. It’s crucial to develop a routine to readily tap into the creative process and put words on the page. We can’t wait for an epiphany, uninterrupted chunks of time, or the many other conditions we tell ourselves are necessary to finish our novels or finally start that memoir.
The struggle for me — and some other writers I know — is that day-to-day life interferes with the writing process. This is always the case, but a year spent adapting to a COVID lifestyle has created new challenges. For those who now have children or partners at home more often (or all of the time), it can seem laughable to imagine finding dedicated time and space to create our masterpieces. This is especially true for those of us who write as a side business or hobby. For many, roles have shifted, stress has skyrocketed, and juggling projects has become a necessary life-skill. So, how do we maintain the headspace to write sporadically and with a steady stream of interruptions? I’ve compiled a list of the five things I’ve learned to do this year that help keep my words flowing. And while it’s not an exact science, nor have I mastered the Zen power to follow my own advice 100% of the time, I am a much more productive writer when I practice the following techniques.
1. Keep a WIP open and ready to go.
If you can’t physically be at your computer or jotting on a notepad, have them close by. If you’re like me, you have more family/home obligations these days. I allow myself to think about my story while I’m cooking breakfast, sorting school supplies, doing laundry, driving to the grocery store, or taking a shower. This means I have to eliminate other distractions like social media, car tunes, and background TV noise. I can direct my focus better when I fully commit any extraneous thoughts to my stories. When I have five, ten, or thirty minutes to sit down and write, I know just what to type because I’ve been mulling about it beforehand.
However, there is such a thing as too much time spent focused on your writing. Be mindful of that balance. When your story becomes too much of a stressor, absolutely take a break and hit play on a jammin’ playlist!
2. Recognize distractions, but don’t focus on them.
Tune out the non-urgent shenanigans happening around you and allow your inner voice to become the dominant force in your head. If the house is not on fire and no one is bleeding, you can probably write a few more words. I’m not suggesting that anyone neglect their children or pets, but your writing is important, too. Place value on that time. Some things can’t wait, but some things can.
I found myself overwhelmed many times this past year. So much so that there were days when I felt exhausted before I got out of bed. I knew I needed to slow my mind, go inward, and treat myself with kindness. One night several months ago, I was searching my music-app-of-choice for calming sleep lullabies for my son. I came across a five-minute meditation and thought, I could find five minutes to do this. The following day, while my son brushed his teeth and changed out of his pajamas, I closed my bedroom door, sat on my floor by a basketful of unfolded laundry, and opened my app. I was surprised by how five minutes of focused breathing and mind-clearing helped me start my day with clarity and a can-do attitude.
Since then, I’ve started meditating on a semi-regular basis. Even though I can’t carve out time every day, I manage to meditate at least four times a week. Sometimes, all I can accomplish are a few deep breaths before drifting off to sleep at night, but I believe it’s cumulative, and overall, I’m a more balanced person because of it. Meditation has had a profound effect on my ability to manage time, handle stress, and stay calm, contributing to my ability to focus on my writing. I highly recommend adding meditation to your daily routine.
4. Don’t hate the interruptions.
Within five minutes of sitting down to write, my child asks for a snack, my dog needs to go out, or my husband comes in to tell me something he’s heard on the news. Always! Then, it’s sort of a revolving door. I used to get angry when I had to constantly get up in the middle of an exceptional stream of dialogue to do something else. Now, I put my body on autopilot and keep the writing going in my head. Time spent frustrated is time away from your writing. Accept that you will be doing other things throughout your writing session, and you will be more productive. Don’t waste brain energy on the things you can’t control, like your dog’s tiny bladder.
5. Remember, some words are better than no words.
Be gentle with yourself during these trying times and take pride in small accomplishments. If you write twenty-five words or twenty-five hundred, you have succeeded for the day. Keep up with the routine, whatever that looks like to you. I’m positively thrilled after a good bit of writing. It boosts my mood and gives me a sense of pride. Fulfilling my creative needs makes me a better mom, wife, and human.
And remember, editing is also part of writing, so if you are faced with an absolute beast of a day filled with mini-catastrophes, uninspired monotony, or a crying-child-induced migraine, you can still check your commas and slash adverbs. Every bit counts!
Be well, writing friends. Love yourselves and love the process. You’ve got this!