Writing can be a challenge, and that’s when life’s going well. Getting those words to flow, for our characters to show up and play nice, drumming up the motivation to market our books takes passion and perseverance, day after day after day. Add an unprecedented pandemic and the struggle only multiplies as motivation is slowly suffocated under a black cloud of self-isolation and stress.
But as we’re being asked (or ordered in some countries) to stay home, we have the possibility of more writing time than our busy lives have previously allowed. Is it ideal? No, it’s not. Many of us have our children at home and the responsibility to home school them. Many have our partners home, adding to the noise level. Too many have lost jobs and are facing financial stress we really don’t need right now.
But there will come a time when this passes. When doors will open, shops will trade, when we’ll be juggling work and family again. These challenges will be a part of our history, as will the opportunity to write.
What’s more, people need stories to escape into more than ever. Our job as writers is to let readers forget the stress for a little while, to find new worlds as they’re house-bound, to be reminded about human resilience in the face of adversity.
So, if you’re looking for strategies to keep those words appearing on your screen, then keep reading. Knowledge is power, and you’re about to supercharge your understanding.
Understand the brain is wired to avoid discomfort
Our brain doesn’t like uncertainty or discomfort, which is pretty logical. Got a headache? Take a tablet. Feeling hot? Turn on a fan. It’s a simple formula: find a way to make the bad feeling go away, feel better.
And to be honest, things are pretty unpleasant for a lot of people right now. Avoidance strategies would be at an all-time high. Netflix. Facebook. Chocolate cake. Wine. And unfortunately, avoidance is pretty effective—if you go and find something else to do, the uncomfortable feelings dissolve like mist.
There’s a reason we keep doing it…
The desire to avoid writing is the obstacle many are facing right now. Our self-doubt can dominate our minds, ‘what’s the point’ becomes our mantra. Except when we’re doing everything BUT write, that manuscript isn’t growing. And the reality is, this thinking is short-term. And biased. And unhelpful.
Don’t believe everything your mind tells you
I believe in this statement so strongly that I had it tattooed on my body. As your mind seeks to avoid the discomfort of writing during challenging times, it’s going to tell you a lot of stuff. That the garden needs weeding. That scrolling through Facebook will make that frown go away. That raiding the fridge is bound to produce some dopamine-producing satisfaction.
But although we temporarily feel better, we’re not growing our story.
The good news is that your brain is able to override these urges. Our mind is actually made up of two parts. The first, is the much more primal part of our brain that is wired to move toward pleasant stimuli (food, Facebook, fun) and away from unpleasant stimuli (plot holes, stagnant word counts, I-have-no-idea-what-happens-next). The second is our higher-order thinking, the part of our brain that can process language, problem solve, and think abstractly. The part that can override our more simplistic desires.
The most salient example I can give to a writer of this unique human ability is reading. When you’re absorbed in a darned good book, your primal brain is at one with the character, viscerally experiencing what they are. But at the same time, your higher-order gray matter is thinking. Was the mention of that cup significant? Betty would never do that… Great Scott! Don’t run down there!
That’s the part of your brain that you can employ to write in times like these. That part of your brain knows you’ll be glad you did, that remembers why you love to write, that anticipates creating those same reactions for others.
So, first of all, make room for the uncomfortable feelings that writing can evoke—all those discouraged thoughts, the thorny feelings, all the pessimistic predictions that are going to come along for the ride whether we like it or not.
And as you turn away from the avoidance inner voice and its unhelpful suggestions, you’ll home in on the quieter voice. The one encouraging you to write.
Tamar SloanResident Writing Coach
Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also a USA Today best-selling author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.
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What have you done to keep yourself writing during troubling times? Why not share your strategies? Connecting and sharing are two wonderful qualities of the writing community that will get us through this. And however you choose to do it, stay safe, stay well.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
It’s taken a little while to work out our family’s schedules with two children needing the computers during school hours. I’ve started writing before their school hours and so far so good. Being a morning person, it’s my best writing time anyway.
Tamar Sloan says
Great thinking! When I was working full time I was up at 5am every morning so I could get writing in. It can be tough, but it was worth it. Keep writing, Tina 🙂
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
I love this post so much. Covid totally aside, we really do allow our mindset to sometimes stop us, sabotaging our confidence and supplying ourselves with easy-outs that will make the stress and pain go away.
It takes a lot of courage to push past what is easy and do the hard thing.
Tamar Sloan says
It’s the ultimate human battle – overcoming our wiring for short-term comfort and working towards long-term goals! Not easy, but deeply rewarding!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
So true. And you (and this post) gives insight into a huge piece of the puzzle, which is us understanding how our own brains work. Once we understand why there’s the urge to procrastinate, go with what’s easy, avoid pain, etc. we can control our responses better and find the courage to make choices based on what we truly want/need.
Mary N says
LOVE this! Thank you! The avoidance voice is loud in me right now, telling me everything I’m writing is crap, and I’d be better off cleaning out the closets. But I’m writing!
Tamar Sloan says
Well done!! Overcoming your inner-critic can be a constant battle some days (believe me, I know…) – kudos to you!
Being home with family is great in some ways. But you’re right. It is very distracting and it makes concentrating on writing very hard. The husband is fortunately working from home in a separate room. But my 5-year-old son, who has gotten used to being in preschool all day, needs a lot more of my attention. Most of the time, I can manage. But combine the demands of the 5-year-old with feeling down on some days and writing is hard. Thanks for this. Sometimes I forget that I can override my depression if I work at it.
Tamar Sloan says
There are certainly new challenges to adapt to with entire families self-isolating. That’s why I wanted to write this post -reminding ourselves there’s a part of us that can meet this challenge and write anyway is something we all need sometimes.
Keep writing, you’ve got this!