Monday, August 03, 2020

Navigating (and Writing in) a Corona-Colored World

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

It's not easy getting back to a normal writing routine when everything else isn’t normal. Here are some things to help you find your writing mojo again. 

Apologies to all for the last few months. I haven’t been posting much because, like most of the world right now, I’ve been distracted and and fighting to be productive in any way. I had to let a few things slide, and blogging was one of them.

The last five months have been challenging for me and my family. I have two members of my household at high risk of death if they get sick with COVID, so we’re been in full-on lockdown since March. We’re fortunate to all work from home anyway, so it hasn't been too hard to shift to staying put all the time.

We’ve all had good and bad days, and struggles over various aspects of self-quarantine. I think some of the struggles came from the uncertainty of when this would be over and the hope that all we had to do was sit tight and wait it out.

Well, there’s no “waiting it out” anymore.

It’s clear this is just the way it’s going to be for a while. There’s no containing the virus, and vaccines are likely two years out still.

And because of that, it’s time to get back to work, and get back to "normal" best we can.

Oddly enough, this, oh, let’s say “acceptance” of life now has actually helped me. The uncertainty of when we’d get back to normal added stress to my day. Now that I’ve been able to toss that idea out the window, I’ve found it easier to focus, and my productivity is finally coming back.

6 Tips on How to be Productive in a COVID World

Over the last five months, I’ve tried and abandoned all sorts of things trying to adjust to life in a pandemic. Some things have worked well, and they’ve helped me a lot. These tips are aimed at writing, but I’ve also used them for my life in general. Hopefully, they’ll also help anyone having similar struggles in their lives and writing.

1. Decide what you can handle and let the rest go.

A lack of control is a major stress factor. When life in general is out of control, not being able to do what you always did only adds to that stress. For me, it made it worse, because I knew what I could get done before and that was no longer happening.

I decided what I wanted to work on most (finishing the first draft of my MG fantasy) and focused on that. I’m eight chapters from the end now, and will probably wrap it up this week.

The blog and social media is what I let go. Being online was counterproductive and upsetting most days, and I found life was better when I wasn’t glued to what was going on in the world.

(Here’s more on Why You Can't Concentrate Right Now)

2. Schedule your time.

Routine is helpful when everything around us is in chaos. You know exactly when to work on what, and there are no choices to make that pile on additional stress. It also allows you to have productive times during the day (or night if you’re more of a night owl), where you can focus and shut the rest of the world out. Your writing time is your writing time, even if it’s an hour a day.

I’m a morning person, so my writing time is 5am-11am. I write, take an exercise break, then write some more. After lunch, I take care of the things I need to do (schedule guest posts, email, client work, etc.), and stop when I lose steam or start to feel overwhelmed.

A physical to-do list is incredibly motivating for me, so I keep a small spiral notebook on my desk with my daily tasks. I try to list them in priority order and work down the list—writing is #1. The tasks at the bottom are the least important, and if they don’t get done, oh well. I’ll try again tomorrow.

(Here’s more on Scheduling for Writing Success)

3. Push yourself when you don’t want to write, but only so far.

Getting back into writing when you’ve had a slump isn’t easy, and you’ll probably need a little push. But forcing yourself to work when you’re truly not in the right mindset can be more hurtful than helpful. The trick is to figure out the difference between “not motivated” and “emotionally drained.”

Pushing through a lack of motivation is good. You might find your stride if you just put your butt in the chair and write. Maybe it’s not great writing, but it’s there and you can revise it later. After a few days, the writing starts flowing again and the motivation returns.

Pushing when emotionally drained is bad, as it saps even more mental and physical energy. This damages not only your writing, but your ability to cope with the rest of your life. If you need a break, take it.

I’ve had plenty of days where I sat for two hours and wrote 200 words. In the early months of the lockdown, I got up and walked away from the computer when the words didn’t want to come. I had weeks where I didn’t even go into my office. But later, I pushed myself to stay and get X more words done (it varied) before I let myself stop.

Now I have 3,000-word days mixed in with the 500-word ones, and most days I can get at least a respectable 1500 words written (for me and my normal pre-COVID routine. Yours may vary, so base this off your normal).

(Here’s more on Rebooting Your Writing When You've Stopped for too Long)

4. Make time for “me time.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with so much hanging over us, and we never know when a wave of helplessness, or despair, or frustration, or (insert your common emotion here) will hit us. Our fuses are shorter now, and we’re all functioning at around 80% of normal. We need time to just step back and deal.

My husband’s company instituted “me time” for their employees during the workday. A few half-hour breaks scheduled into the day so people can take a moment and relax.

Take some me time each day. Even if it’s 30 minutes to read, play a game, watch TV, sit in a hot tub, garden, run around the block, whatever works for you. Having time away from obligations and pressures helps you let off steam and ease any building tensions.

(Here’s more on On Balance vs. Burn-Out)

5. Exercise. Yeah, I know, but do it anyway.

Exercise has been vital to me during lockdown. I just walk a few laps around the block (1.5 miles), then follow an exercise video on Amazon (I have several 20-30 minute ones). Not only is the daily routine comforting, it’s a task that I can see progress with and feel like I’m accomplishing something. I feel productive and in control of one aspect of my life.

Exercise is also a great stress reliever, and even better, it lets me eat the things I want to without packing on pandemic pounds.

6. Reach out to your fellow writers.

It’s easy to feel isolated in all this, especially if you live alone. Connect with someone. Facetime or vidchat when you can (unless you just hate that and it causes more stress than not seeing people). There’s a difference between texting, talking, and seeing other people. Find the connection that suits you and maintain it.

A friend of mine created a writer support group with three writers, and the four of us meet every few weeks online to chat about our struggles and how we all are. We talk shop, discuss our current projects, and whatever else comes us.

I also meet weekly online with my critique group, and since we’re focusing on our WIPs, it’s all writing and story and COVID almost never comes up. It’s a slice of “normal” I look forward to every week.

(Here’s more on 7 Ways to Deal With Burnout)

Pandemic life has changed everything, and we'll have to change with it to adapt. These tips are all things that have helped me get back to "normal," and allowed me to return to my regular writing routine. I’m even blogging again, and while I can’t promise I’ll be writing three new posts a week like I was before, I’m going to start with one and go from there.

Prioritize your writing. Start with one thing a day, and go from there. Small steps are still steps forward, and a little success leads to more success. When you have setbacks, just accept them and start again the next day. It’s okay to start over when you have to, or take breaks when you need to.

What has helped you during the pandemic?

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. 
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  1. Hi Janice - thanks for the candid post. Here in New York, we have dealt with this early and hard. I attended a March industry event and 2 weeks later two of my friends had died and dozen others had become sick. It was devastating and taught us early on to take this virus seriously.

    Stephen Covey's advice has helped me get through tough times - this one especially - which is, worry about what you can control, act on what you can control - which right now is stay well, keep our loved ones safe, be thoughtful to those suffering, be helpful to the needy. It's only a little, but it is something.

    I also find staying busy is good for the mind, soul, and spirit. there are online courses that are popping up all over (Highlights has some wonderful ones) and many other opportunities for learning. I look forward to your diagnosis post every Saturday.

    I'm hopeful we will see a vaccine in 2021, but know that it will be 2022 before we are probably seeing some return to normalcy. In the meantime, it gives us opportunities to count our blessings, to appreciate those we loves, to self reflect, and, of course, to write.

    1. That's awful, I'm so sorry to hear that. My condolences.

      That's good advice, and in a way, what I've been doing I think. I've also been watching webinars and attending classes, and they've helped. Another great tip to stay busy. SCBWI has had a great lineup of free workshops. And thanks for including me and the diagnoses in that :)

      That's my hope as well, and the same timeline. It'll happen, it's just a waiting game.

      Thanks for chiming in!