As a native Floridian, I know about disruption. It happens repeatedly every year between June and November. But hurricanes and their inconvenient aftermaths are temporary; even though they’re annoying, you know you’ll be back to your regular schedule soon.
But our current situation with COVDID-19 is different because we don’t know when it’s going to end. We’re having to work from home. Our kids are no longer going to school, and we’ve got to teach them. Many of us have stopped outsourcing the jobs that used to buy us time. We’re now literally doing it all.
So many of us are asking (a little frantically) the same question: What happens to my writing? How can I write with so many added responsibilities and less time to myself?
Let me start by saying that I feel your pain. My kids are 10 and 11 and I’m in that rickety boat along with you. We started doing school from home this week, and it’s been one long series of trial-and-error attempts, implementing processes and streamlining everything to buy the time I need to write. Some of my methods are working well. Others have failed spectacularly. But I’m figuring out it out, little by little. And hopefully I can shorten the learning curve for you guys by sharing some of my tips for writing from home during all this ridiculousness.
Adjust Your Expectations. Circumstances have changed drastically, so it’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to reach the same writing goals today that we did two months ago. If we don’t realize this early on, we’re going to expect the same output, and we’ll be frustrated with the results. The situation isn’t ideal, but it is what it is. Recognize that you’re not going to be as prolific or efficient as usual, and be ok with that.
Work in Smaller Chunks of Time. This one was hard for me because I’m a slow starter. Getting going is hard, so once the words are flowing, I’m much more efficient if I keep going for a good amount of time. But this just isn’t possible right now. My kids are doing school online, which means I don’t have to teach them myself, but I do have to be available. Since starting this post, I’ve already had to stop four times to field various questions: What’s my login for Brainpop? I can’t find my iPad! How do I do the practice quiz? What’s this lockbox doing on the fridge??
This disjointed, stop-and-start method is NOT how I prefer to write. But I’m learning that it’s possible. And it’s so much better than not writing at all.
Adjust Your Hours. Remember when the kids were young and the best time to write was early in the morning, late at night, or during naptime? During that stage of life, those were the best available hours. It’s possible that during this temporary season, your regular writing time just doesn’t work. Find the time slots that provide quiet, solitude, and focus, and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Create a Schedule. Once the school year starts, my schedule stays pretty much the same. I adjust it over the summer, but otherwise, I’ve got it down to a science. Not so now. My daughter has one schedule on Mondays and Wednesdays, another on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and still another on Friday. My son’s stays the same but it doesn’t match hers at all. So I’m writing everything down to see which blocks will give me the most time. Really short segments I’m reserving for easier duties that require less focus, like answering emails or doing administrative stuff. Writing my half of the front matter for the Occupation Thesaurus? That’s the most important item on the docket, so it gets the best time slot.
Not everyone is as schedule- and list-happy as me, so I know this may not appeal to you. But desperate times, and all that. When things are really chaotic, we sometimes have to do things that aren’t necessarily our favorite so we CAN do the things we love to do. So give scheduling a shot and see what kind of time you find.
Set Timers or Alarms. If your day is too fragmented or crazy and you find yourself missing those important blocks of writing time, set a timer, alarm or notification as a reminder. One thing I’m so thankful for is that we have electricity during this extended staycation—so much better and more comfortable than those post-hurricane outages that disrupt literally everything. Use technology to your advantage. Let it ease the burden so you don’t have to remember it all on your own.
Use What Moves You. Are there certain environmental factors that put you in a writing frame of mind? I always listen to music when I write—movie soundtracks, since if there are any words to my music, I end up singing along and not writing. Mostly, I use Pandora, but in the good ol’ days, I bought certain albums and listened to them when writing. I find now that those old tracks—ET, the original Harry Potter, the Fellowship of the Ring—are most inspiring for me. I think it’s because that’s what I listened to when I first starting writing and was really fired up about it.
Is there a genre, artist, or music channel that keeps you focused? Do you light candles, write by hand, work in a certain areas, or do anything else that primes you for writing? Identify those efficiency triggers and add them to your routine to maximize your output and focus during writing blocks.
Just Get the Words Down. When I write, I tend to edit as I go. I draft some, then go back and edit, then draft some more, etc. But I’m finding that if I do that now, I end up with very few words, and it’s discouraging. If your writing time has been diminished, use that time to just get the words on the page. Don’t worry about choosing the perfect ones or weeding out repetitions or using a fantastic turn-of-phrase. Just write. Seeing all the words at the end of short session is hugely encouraging and will help you see that you’re accomplishing a lot in your short blocks of time, making it easier to jump back into the game tomorrow.
Give Yourself the Gift of Grace. One of the things I love about this chaotic time is our culture’s rediscovery of grace. We’re offering it to the checkout workers, nurses, the teachers who have learned a whole new way of doing school in a short period of time. We’re telling each other to be patient with ourselves as parents, to make the most of this new time with our kids and not beat ourselves up about what we’re not able to get done or do perfectly.
Well, friends, that applies to you as a writer, too. It’s going to take time to find your new stride. You’ll very likely have to try certain methods only to abandon them and start over with new techniques. The schedule that works best probably won’t work every single day, resulting in swaths of time going by where you don’t write a single word. And that is OK.
Do the best you can with what you’ve got. Recognize that your output is going to be less than it used to be. When things spin out of control—as they inevitably will—give yourself permission to do less, and realize that it’s alright.
You are doing great, writer friend. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.
One last thing I’ll mention is a new weekly mailout of ours called the Double-Double. It shares two small tips every Wednesday: one on writing craft and one focused on a writer’s mindset and career.
If you want to get some of our best advice in bite-sized tips that keep you learning (yet not eat up a lot of your time), sign up here.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.