Writing is hard. On the best of days, when the phone doesn’t ring and the dog doesn’t bark and your other jobs or schoolwork or family obligations remain mercifully quiet, writing is still a challenge. And the truth is, most days aren’t going to be like that.
As I wrote about recently, my city of Nashville was hit by a tornado that left us all pretty shaken. Only a few days later, the world was declared a pandemic state, universities closed, non-essential workers were told to stay home, and we all scrambled to find ways to adjust to the new normal, a period of isolation, confusion, and fear.
While this is a wildly unprecedented moment in history, these things happen. Whether it’s age-old anxieties (we’ll discuss that another time) family emergencies, paying work, self-imposed deadlines or whatever else, we sometimes have to find ways to write in uncomfortable situations. Here are just a few I’ve picked up over the years.
Shut Down, Unplug, Turn Off, Lock Up
Sometimes it really is that simple. If you’re desperate to finish a section of your novel and you have the time but other things just keep getting in the way, hide your phone, turn off your WiFi and hit Do Not Disturb on life. Those emails will get your full attention in an hour. You can Snapchat, text back and comment when you finish these words. While major events may have you scrolling your Twitter feed, remember that writing is your job for this moment, and you wouldn’t be able to get away with that at any other job.
Leave the Scene
When your brain is somewhere else, however, on a recent breakup or job offering or any of the myriad good and bad things that happen to us in our lives as human people, you may not be able to put good words to the page. It happens to every one of us from time to time and the best thing to do is not try to write for a while. Go for a walk around your neighborhood. Bake cookies. Try to meditate or exercise or speak with a friend. Be wary of indulging yourself too much but acknowledge that a change of scenery can sometimes make all the difference. I will say, in times like this, that may simply mean changing the room you write in or going to stand on the balcony for a few minutes. Find the adjustments where you can.
Change Your Project
Some days, the project is…sticky. Maybe you’re struggling with a scene or a character or a complicated plot where you’ve backed yourself into a corner. Maybe you’re struggling with forces outside of your control that makes it hard to fix the problems in your current manuscript. It happens. Rather than giving up for the day, find something you can manage despite what’s going on. Maybe that means updating your marketing plan. Maybe it means working on a less complicated story. Consider taking a break from the challenge and getting something else done instead. The sense of accomplishment alone is worth a lot.
Be Honest (With Your Friends)
One thing that non-creative people struggle with is the idea that sitting at your desk for an afternoon is work. It’s not a critique–I sometimes struggle with the idea as well. The point is, you probably get coffee break? texts and lengthy phone calls from your siblings during your workday and it can really cut into the time you have to write. Be kind but firm. Explain to the people who love you that you can’t be interrupted during the day with long, breezy chats and the like.
You don’t want to come across as a pretentious ass, I must be alone with my art! but writing is your job and passion and the only way you’ll be able to complete your project is if you’re given some peace.
This is particularly difficult right now, with people being home childcare complications, and roommates or partners seemingly invading your office space, but that means now is exactly the time to claim your writing space, in whatever form that may take.
Be Honest (With Yourself)
This one can be a little more challenging. Sometimes we overwhelm ourselves with the amount of work we think we can complete, or we leave it to the last minutes, or we don’t anticipate holiday breaks, visits from family, etc. While striving to succeed and produce work is always a good tactic, you need to be honest with yourself about how much you can reasonably accomplish in a certain period of time. This will help to reduce some of your stress and make it easy to complete pressing work.
Go to the Root
Tornado. Pandemic. General sense of anxiety, fear, and confusion. Sometimes it’s obvious why we can’t seem to focus and sometimes there’s a sense of lingering doom and gloom that has no source or cause. Sometimes the distraction takes more than a tea break and honesty between friends. If you find your emotional situation, interpersonal relationships or other straits are preventing you from creating good work, zero in on that. You may not be able to find an answer right away, but a unique, informed approach can make all the difference.
Be Extremely Kind to Yourself
Even if, like me, your regular routine is not greatly disrupted by the state of the world, you may still find yourself struggling to create or produce to communicate. That’s to be expected. These events and collective experiences are unprecedented and difficult to compartmentalize. What does the future hold? How do we gain any control in such a period of flux and confusion? It’s not just okay to struggle right now, it’s to be expected. Be kind to yourself and know that you’re not alone. We’re all trying to make sense of things. Perhaps writing can help.
There are countless ways to handle the distractions of the word, but the point is that as authors, poets, screenwriters, songwriters, novelists, journalists and everything in between, we will have to write in places of discomfort. We will have to write on days tragedy strikes. We will have to write when we are happy and we will have to write when we are sad. It’s fundamental to our careers and passions to find a way to handle both being a person and being a writer because the hard-people days will come, often and constant. What you do with them, how you handle them–that’s what will help write the history books.