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How Even Do I Do?
I leave the lighthearted gifs as an exercise for the reader
Times are weird, and uncertain, and everything is out of whack. Things that were normal last week, or yesterday, or this morning are completely different. Even if you haven’t had absolutely everything turned on end, a lot of the people around you have, which can be disruptive to you, too.
How is a person supposed to deal with that and still get any writing done?
Well, here’s a spoiler: You’re not supposed to do anything. (Other than do everything you can to suppress the spread of a highly contagious virus that wins the global prize for attention-seeking behavior. That you are most definitely supposed to do.) All previous metrics, standards, and expectations are out the window.
That’s both good and bad. It’s good, because, frankly, anything else is untenable. But it’s also bad since you’re a human and it’s useful for anything to be firm and certain. It can be very tempting to want last month’s expectations to loom just to have something solid and familiar. If you can pull off an approximation of that, power to you! Take care of yourself, those around you as much as you can, and godspeed!
Everyone else? Sit down, dear readers. Take a breath. Prepare yourself for a few moments of frank honesty. Don’t worry about putting a positive spin on it: nobody but you is going to hear this unless you decide to share after. Ready? Here we go.
Do you actually need to write?
Is getting writing done now actually necessary? It might be! You could be on deadline. Or it might be a critical coping mechanism. Or the habit that you need to keep everything else functioning. There are myriad reasons the answer to this question is “yes” and if it is, accept it.
If it’s “yes’ but you seriously just can’t, look for alternatives. Can the deadline be extended? Can you use a different coping mechanism? If you need to, do what you can to turn that “yes” into a “no.”
If the answer is “no” then hey, take a breath. Play with some techniques to try getting it done, but don’t stress. Stretch goals, in life and gymnastics both, are useful and important. But the Olympics have been postponed and life is being onorey. Claim your victories where you earn them, but maintain perspective. You don’t need to write, so any writing you do is a bonus. Writing you don’t do isn’t a real thing to weigh, so don’t make a millstone of it.
What is the Before and After on your writing routine?
Were you a person who wrote on commutes? Or lunch breaks? Got up early to write before work? Or stayed up to do it after the kids were in bed? That’s not happening as planned anymore. That’s not your fault. You aren’t a slacker or dilettante because the time you’d carved out of your life for writing is suddenly not where it used to be. The time you’d carved out of your life for writing disappeared.
Getting it back will be hard, especially if your new routine is best described as, “Routine? What is routine?” You could try putting “Write - 30 minutes” on your task list if you’re making a task list right now. You could try making a task list in order to put that on it, if you aren’t.
The other thing you can do is interrogate why the routine you had was the routine you had with an eye toward finding a different opportunity that shares those features. Were you writing at dawn because it was when you hear your muse most clearly? Then maybe you need to find a way to get up at dawn still. (Is going back to bed after an option? Or staying up until then?) Or on your lunch break because it was structured time clearly marked as yours? Try reclaiming a slot like that again, then. Make a blood pact with your partner about occupying the kids. Or set up a block on your calendar where people absolutely are not allowed to schedule Zoom calls. Maybe you can only pull this off every other day. Or twice a week. That’s okay. Do what you can do and make it work.
Why are you working on this project?
If your answer is “Because it’s under contract,” then say no more. You’re done with this section. Take a moment while everyone else works through it to prepare your invoices to submit when you wrap up the project.
For everyone else: no really, why this one? Now is an excellent time to experiment with a new format, or medium, or style. Now is an excellent time to dig up that trunk project you lived but knew would never sell. Or start writing fanfic. Do an epistolary exchange with a friend. Start writing DnD tie in work from your last campaign. Whatever. The world is ending, everything is chaos, so it doesn’t really matter if all you have at the end is a hot mess. You’re never going to have an excuse this good for why you took and abrupt left turn in your projects. (I hope.) Do something weird-for-you and just run with it until it stops feeling good, then reevaluate.
Does that sound horrifying and make you cling to your WIP for comfort and support? Stick with your WIP.
(This is where I confess that my brain has been chewing over writing poetry. I quit writing poetry in high school. What, brain, are you doing?)
Is writing a proxy indicator for how you’re doing overall?
Writing doesn’t have to be something you do as a coping mechanism for it to serve as a clue about how you’re coping. If you’re obsessively binge-writing and that’s not normal, this might be a sign you’re stressed. If you’re normally a regular, hits-a-specific-word-count-every-day type and you still are, maybe you’re managing okay. Maybe any appearance of a correlation between whether you’re writing or not is entirely accidental and you should look at other things for a clue.
Here’s the thing: you’re likely to have a lot of people in your life asking as a proxy for checking in on you, “Are you writing?” or “Are you managing to write?” If writing actually is a proxy for how you’re doing, it can feel like getting called out for a failure to be productive when, actually, you’re just not coping well with a situation where it’s hard to know what “coping well” even is. And if writing isn’t a proxy for how you’re coping, it can feel like maybe you aren’t a real writer or Serious Bizniss Author Person.
It’s just a different form of “How are you doing?” (Unless that person is your editor…) Go ahead and answer the subtext of the question rather than the literal wording.
There you are. That’s the end of the interrogation. Take your answers, go forth, deal with things. Or don’t, if it’s not a moment for dealing. Breathe. Eat some chocolate. Make it to tomorrow.