Remember the first month of the pandemic when everyone was planning to write a book? It sounded so easy then, didn’t it? And as a regular writer even before Covid-19, I definitely (briefly) thought that the lack of a commute and ample free time at home on weekends was going to make it so much easier for me to finish my next novel. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ve likely discovered that writing during a global crisis can seem next to impossible. While it’s true that I wrote 40,000 words in May, I hate absolutely everything I wrote in June. And I’m even turning in this post a few days late because I forgot how to craft sentences last week. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
So, while I’m pretty sure we’re all still fumbling through this whole being-creative-while-the- world-is-falling-apart thing, I want to try to share some of the lessons I’ve learned as a writer during the last four months. I hope my tips help you with the novel you’re working on (or at least reassure you that you’re not alone).
1. Reading is more important than ever.
We were given work from home orders at Simon & Schuster (my day job) on March 13, and by the beginning of April, I’d realized something peculiar had happened: I no longer wanted to read. My brain couldn’t focus long enough to stay engulfed in a book, but for some reason, I thought I would still be able to write one. And wow, yeah, I was wrong. Over the past month, I’ve finally started reading again, focusing on books in the genre I write (contemporary YA with lots of f/f romances). Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Adiba Jaigirdar’s The Henna Wars, and Robin Talley’s Our Own Private Universe have really refilled my creative well and inspired me to keep working. So, whenever you and your brain feel up to it, read!
Every weekend, like clockwork, in May and June, I sat down on my couch with my laptop. In May, it worked. In June, most days I wanted to throw my computer across the room and cry. Then I saw this little piece of advice from my agent @ericsmithrocks on Twitter. So, that weekend, I decided to give myself a break. My wife and I had been talking about going on a long drive to get out of our apartment, and right then it seemed like the ideal time to do so. We went on that “adventure,” and it was what I needed. So, give yourself permission to do something else, and remember, your adventures might be smaller these days (maybe you wish you were on vacation in Europe, and all you can do right now is take a walk around the block), but they’re still important for the creative process.
3. Switch up what you’re writing.
Maybe you usually write dark fantasy, but with everything happening right now, you can’t stand the idea of torturing another character. Or maybe, like me, you write contemporary stories, but it now seems too hard to write a book set in the near future when the actual future of our real world seems so uncertain. It’s okay to take a break from the norm and work on something else. I’m back to drafting a contemporary YA novel now, but for a couple of weeks in April, I let myself plan a fantasy project I likely won’t actually write for years. It was the break I needed, and it helped clear my head. (Plus, I now have lots of notes for when I do work on that project someday!)
4. Practice self-care.
This applies to everyone right now, whether you’re trying to write a book or not. Meditate, take a walk, find another creative activity, play a game, do something new, take a long bath, make good food, whatever you need! Just remember that writing a book is also work. So, if you’re working from home during the week at your day job and then, immediately afterward, opening your Word doc to focus on your own novel, you will burn out. Instead, consider other activities to relax, and if you need ideas, check out some of these books:
- The Cookies & Cups Cookbook by Shelly Jaronsky: My favorite baked goods cookbook! Try the Salted Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. I made them in May, and I think they might be the reason I got anything done that month.
- 5-Minute Yoga by Adams Media: Let me be honest, this is more of an aspirational book for me. I always plan to do yoga, and then I never do. BUT my wife does, and she highly recommends it. So, let’s all make a vow to relax and finally start doing yoga this week, okay? And I’m making it easy for us because this book only requires you to dedicate five minutes to it a day. We can all find five minutes, right?
- Meditation Made Easy by Preston Bentley: Another aspirational book for me.… But I can say that I officially started trying this today! So, if you’re new to meditation (or if you’ve refused to meditate for years—not that I would ever do that), consider starting with Preston Bentley’s Meditation Made Easy. It’ll be…easy.
- Knitting for Dogs by Kristi Porter: Please, please knit some clothing for your dog! I do not have a dog. I do not know how to knit. But I would absolutely love seeing any pictures of your dog in sweaters on social media. So, help yourself relax and make others smile with pictures of your dressed-up dog. It’s a win-win.
5. Talk to other writers.
Everyone’s having a hard time right now, but sometimes that’s easy to forget when you’re alone in your apartment. Or maybe you’re not alone, but you currently want to lock your spouse and children in a closet so you can get some peace and quiet. That’s okay. (I mean, holding your spouse and children hostage isn’t okay, but…you know what I mean.) So, reach out to your writer friends. And if you don’t have any writer friends, consider exploring the #writercommunity hashtag on Twitter or joining the NaNoLand group on Facebook. Both will help you find your group and see that you’re not the only one struggling to write right now.
6. Be kind to yourself.
I’m still struggling with this myself, so I want this post to serve as both a reminder to you and a reminder to me. It’s okay to not write right now. It’s okay to get only a hundred words in a day or a week or whatever. It’s okay if you’re not producing your best work. If you can’t make a scene or a chapter or a plot work, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever. Whatever you’re managing to produce (or not produce) as a writer right now is fine. We have other things to worry about, and that’s okay. Keep telling yourself it’s okay.
7. Return to the basics.
It’s okay if you normally don’t struggle with dialogue. Or maybe you’re really great with plot. Or maybe (if you’re particularly blessed) you absolutely love world-building. And yet, right now, you can’t seem to do that thing you’re normally good at. I get it. I’m usually a voice-y writer. Voice-y characters are my thing, and yet, for the past few weeks, my characters’ voices have been drier than the Arizona desert in June. (If you’re not from the Southwest, believe me, that’s dry.) So, I’ve had to return to the basics a bit, and if you’re struggling too, consider checking out some of these books on writing: