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.