by Molly Rookwood
Published at 2020-05-27
As I write this, we’re three months into the worst global pandemic in over a century. The world we live in is unprepared and unequipped to run smoothly. Some of us can keep working from home; some of us can’t.
Productivity during a stressful time can be an especially difficult feat for those of us who spend our time writing. Trying to focus and create when the world is falling apart can seem like an impossible thing to do. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, facing writer’s block, or otherwise struggling to write while everything around you feels out of control, here are some tips to find your groove and stay sane.
If, before the pandemic, your writing job took place in an office, it can be hard to stay productive now that you have to work from home. Maybe you have kids who are now staying home from school. Maybe being at home leaves you with constant reminders that there are plants to be watered and laundry to be done. For many of us, the constant distractions of being at home make it hard to focus.
As much as you can, try to stick to a set schedule. Maybe it isn’t 9 to 5; maybe you do your best work in the afternoon or first thing in the morning. Figure out when that is, and capitalize on that time—decide that every day you will sit at your desk and write from ten to two and from four to six (or whenever works for you). And then—and this is the important thing—stick to it. Once you build the habit of sitting and writing at the same times every day, it will get easier to focus and avoid distractions during those times.
This works regardless of what you are writing. If you are working on a section of your project and you can’t make the magic happen, allow yourself to set that section aside and pick up something else. You may find that working on a chapter or paragraph that comes after the section you are stuck on helps you figure out how to fix whatever is stumping you. You don’t have to write sequentially from beginning to end to finish your project, and the longer you spend staring at a troublesome paragraph without writing anything, the closer your deadlines get without you making any progress. Writing a later section will keep the project moving as a whole and give you the time and distance to reflect on how to fix the problems stumping you.
If you are suffering from writer’s block or don’t know what to do next, take a look at your outline and see if it needs reorganizing or to be fleshed out more. Don’t have an outline? Take a break from your writing and make one! Outlines help you to stay on track with your project, help you to organize a compelling argument to reach your thesis, and provide a roadmap of what to do next when you get stuck. Outlines can be as simple or complex as is useful for you, but they can be hugely helpful for keeping you from getting stuck in your writing.
Breaks are important at the best of times. Even under ideal circumstances, it’s important to stand up and stretch and give our brains a break now and then. Under today’s circumstances—which we can all agree are far from ideal—breaks are even more important. When we pile stress on top of other stress, our productivity and our quality of writing tend to suffer. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a minute and step away from your desk. It’s likely that if you step onto your porch for some fresh air, make a cup of tea, and come back to your desk fifteen minutes later, you’ll feel much more prepared to start writing again.
Taking a course or joining a workshop can be a fantastic way to brush up on your skills and find some inspiration. Every teacher will tackle writing differently, and, in my experience, every writing or editing course has suggestions and techniques that can apply to all sorts of writing situations. I spent last month taking a fun and informative online course on editing romance novels, and as a result of the teacher’s suggestions, I feel better equipped to edit books of all genres.
While workshops and courses are always a good way to refresh your writing and help you to find your writing voice, they hold a special value right now. By choosing to enroll in a writing course or workshop, you are making the active decision to socialize and engage with other writers. Many of us are feeling isolated right now, especially those of us who may live alone. While it certainly isn’t the same as seeing people in person, an online writers’ group can allow you to socialize and talk to people with the same interests and struggles that you are working through.
The times we are living in are—to use a word we’re all probably tired of hearing by now—unprecedented. If you are unable to be as productive as you were before, that’s not surprising. Maybe your mental health has tanked. Maybe instead of writing in a peaceful office, you have young kids demanding entertainment. Maybe you or a loved one has gotten sick.
If you are unable to meet the deadlines that you met before, try not to be too hard on yourself. Be open and honest with anyone affected by those deadlines and figure out a way to adjust them in a way that works for you. We’re all just doing our best, and as a community, we will get through this by being kind to each other and ourselves. Forgive yourself if you can’t be on your A-game all the time. Odds are that doing so will help you do better work in the long run.
Molly Rookwood is a freelance editor and grammar-enthusiast based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Other TEC Resources to Help You Out!
Struggling with writer’s block? Or stuck while trying to get that first draft done? Check out Lesley-Anne’s blog 6 Tips to Help You Complete Your First Draft.
For insights into writing apps that can help your writing, see Michael’s blog Bringing Your Manuscript to the Next Level: 5 Tech Tips for Writers.
Check out TEC’s May Newsletter for tips on how to kickstart your writing project with writing exercise ideas and course suggestions that are sure to inspire.
For online writing communities that can help you stay connected, see Michael’s blog 5 Online Editorial and Literary Communities to Take a Look at if You Haven’t Already.