We're writers, and as writers, we're told we need to keep writing no matter what. Write every day. Write through the hard times. Write during great times. Just write.
Right now, as if you didn't know, we have a bit of a pandemic situation. We're isolated, possibly out of a job, overwhelmed with advice about self-improvement, and probably grieving life as it was before COVID-19.
But we're still writers and writers (are supposed to) write.
Are you feeling Coronavirus burnout? You're not alone.
This is the hardest blog post I've ever written. I often worry about what to say in these articles. I often have writer's block when sitting down to punch out some advice for you.
Now, though, I'm distracted, worried, and burned out from the constant need to be doing something productive.
So what in the world could I tell you this week that would make you feel better during this pandemic? What would be motivational but not pushy? What would make you not feel like a failure for not being as productive as you'd like?
I decided to be honest. So here goes.
I do not feel like writing.
There. I've said it. This isn't the first time I've felt this way, but I normally avoid saying this out loud. Why? See above. Writers write, you see.
I felt bad about this until I started talking to other writers. It turns out, they're feeling the same way.
Be kind to yourself.
I got some great advice from a woman in one of The Write Practice's writing groups over the weekend. We'd all checked in (virtually) and let everyone know how we were handling this pandemic. We were discussing adjustments in routines, distractions from children and the news, and in general feeling bad that we hadn't gotten “enough” writing done, despite having more time at home.
We were about to have a short break in the meeting, and one of our members piped up. “Be kind to yourself,” she said. “This isn't a once in a lifetime thing. This is a once in more than a lifetime thing. If you're not as productive as you'd like to be, that's okay.”
That validation to just be for a bit and not be performing superhuman feats of writing/exercising/cleaning/self-improvement was wonderful for me, as I'm sure it was for the dozen other members on that video call.
So I'm going to give you the same validation: You don't need to be a superhero right now. It's fine to not be as productive as you'd like to be.
Writing doesn't have to feel like writing.
Not writing makes me feel worse. I know that, yet I just don't want to work on editing my book. I don't want to write for anthology calls or magazine openings. I didn't want to write this blog post. In fact, I thought about asking my editor to run an old post of mine today instead of me writing a new one.
When I really sat down to evaluate, I realized why I'm feeling this way: Right now, I don't want to worry about the business side of writing. I don't want the pressure of trying to sell my work.
Writing makes me feel better, though. Writing keeps me from slipping into depression. It makes me less snappy with those around me. It brings me peace and frees my mind.
4 Low-Pressure Ways to Write
If you're the same way and want to keep writing but just can't muster up the concentration to work on a large project, here are a couple of ideas to keep you writing during this pandemic:
I honestly haven't written a journal since I was a teenager and that was just a lot of nonsense about boys.
This morning, though, I picked it back up again. I might not continue with it consistently, but it was freeing to get my feelings out on paper. (Pro tip: You should always journal with a pen and paper, not on the computer. There's something about writing with a pen that ties straight to your brain and frees up your inner critic.)
Another reason to journal: history. We're in a semi-unique situation right now. Historians will want to see what we wrote. Not to mention the killer notes you'll have if you ever decide to join the thousands that are surely going to write books about the coronavirus pandemic.
2. Write a letter
I can't be the only one who remembers the excitement over getting an actual letter in the mail, can I? (Are those crickets I hear? Yikes.)
Can't see your grandparents? Write them a letter. (Obviously call them, too, but they'll really like a letter.) Write a friend you haven't talked to in a long time. Write a letter you'll never mail if you want.
Emails do count with this, though I would really recommend getting out the old pen and paper again.
3. Write on a prompt
The nice thing about writing from a prompt is if you don't like what you've written, you don't have to do anything with it. You don't even have to finish the story if you don't want. Start it, write for a few minutes, then go about your business. It's all good!
4. Write with your children
If your kids are home and you're looking for something to do with them, this could be a fun project.
If your kids are younger, you can grab a coloring book, color a page together, then write a little story about the scene. If your kids are older, you can make up a story one sentence at a time, with each person taking turns making up a new sentence. (My husband and I actually do this, and it's pretty fun.)
Alternately: Don't write.
Guess what? That woman in my writing group was right when she said this was a once in more than a lifetime event. We're going through something here that's worldwide and definitely not normal.
So if you need to take a break from writing, do it. It doesn't mean you're not a writer anymore and it doesn't mean you're lazy. It means you're dealing with this pandemic the way that you feel is best.
If you really don't want to write, don't.
2 Non-Writing Ways to “Write”
Luckily, there are other “writerly” things you can do without actually writing.
1. Talk to other writers.
There is nothing a writer likes more than to moan to another writer about how they can't write. We're sort of melodramatic that way. (Joking. Sort of.)
Seriously, now might be a good time to join an online writing group (I like this one), to reach out to a writer you admire and ask if you can interview them, or to get your video call on and chat with a writer across the globe. You'll get some social interaction, meet some great people, and get to talk about writing with other people who “get it.” (There is nothing better than talking writing with another writer.)
Bonus: Networking counts as being productive!
2. Tackle the TBR pile.
I don't know about you, but my reading really takes a backseat when I'm working on a book. I'm not one of those writers that can't read while writing for creative reasons. It's just I don't seem to have the time or the willpower after working with words all day.
Reading, however, is essential to writing. If you don't read, you simply can't write. You won't know how to write. So pick up a book and get to it.
Tip: Libraries might be closed, but luckily they have e-resources!
I just wanted to end on a final note that might be a little preachy, but I'm going to do it anyway. Mirriam-Webster defines “essential” as “of the utmost importance.” For your family's sake, and mine, think about this definition before you leave your home.
Stay home and write if you want. Stay home and don't write if you want. Just stay home.
I wish each of you health now and flowing words when the pandemic is over.
How are you feeling during this pandemic? Do you have a coronavirus writing tip that's helped you? Let me know in the comments!
For today's practice, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write your feelings about COVID-19. How has this changed your life?
If you want, share your writing in the comments so we can commiserate (or congratulate if you've got something great going on!) and offer encouragement.
Sarah Gribble is the author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She just released Surviving Death, her first novel, and is currently working on her next book.