A few months ago, if someone had told me I’d be quarantined at home for at least 80* days, I’d have assumed I would get the most writing done – EVER. Now, I’m in it on day 50 and sadly the opposite has been true. I like being at home, but homeschooling three different school years (and they’re all young, so all need help), part time work, endless feeding and clearing up means I have little alone time and no mental energy for creative writing.
I am still plodding along but I’m having difficulty concentrating. I wonder how many feel the same? Scanning fellow writers on Twitter this seems to be a common theme. A lot are keen to wail that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while hunkering down during the plague (and no online shopping deliveries for him). But I think that sets the pressure bar a little high. Most of us aren’t aiming to be Shakespeare.
So, I’m doing things a little differently. Here’s what I’m doing instead of my usual writing habits;
- plotting and planning
- journal-ing (well, I intend to!)
- writing down lots of ideas
- dashing off idea responses to prompts
- on the Writer’s HQ website for moans and motivation – they have fab free courses right now, check it out!
- and most importantly, THINKING / DAYDREAMING which should never be underestimated
However you’re coping, or not, don’t beat yourself up. The writing will return with normality. If it’s not coming right now, then rest up.
This too shall pass.
*Our household is ‘shielding’ so no shop visits here and we will be in for a bit longer than the majority.
I didn’t believe in writer’s block until January this year when my son got sick and I couldn’t write a thing. I had a whole blog drafted detailing the fact that writer’s block isn’t real. That even if you’re struggling with one project, you could still exercise your writing muscle by writing something new – just read a random prompt, journal or even copy text out. There was one way out of a writing problem, and that was to write.
That doesn’t mean I find writing fiction easy. It rarely flows. Pulling teeth is the best cliché to describe my writing. It’s so frustrating at times that I wonder how I’ve ever managed. But when a piece comes together and I’m finally happy with it, that feeling is worth all the hours of self-torture. I’ve always been comforted by the knowledge that if writer’s block really existed, I didn’t get it.
That all changed when I was unexpectedly in hospital with my eldest (7, and previously completely healthy), sleeping on a fold out chair bed and trying to process terms like ‘long term viability’ and not responding to treatment. I’d taken my notebook in, automatic habit. I sat with it open on the second night listening to the sounds of the ward, willing myself to record it. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t read, look at my phone or write. I couldn’t cry either, I wasn’t upset. Adrenaline had kicked in somewhere in A&E and I was in a weird state of calm, smiling, joking and playing games with my son. I felt that’s what he needed.
After a few days he did start responding, though he needed to be kept away from other children for a few months. At that point we knew he’d probably be ok. He’ll have to live with his condition but it’s totally manageable – there’s a good chance he could be totally healthy as an adult. I felt lucky, having been in the high dependency unit and seeing the harder things other parents were facing. Still I couldn’t write – for 8 weeks. This from the person who had been getting up at 5.30am every morning to fit writing in and felt weird when she didn’t get a bit done every day. I wondered if it was because I had to home school him [plus coordinate the five year old’s school runs and entertain the three year old without leaving the house for 9 weeks]. Perhaps I simply didn’t have the emotional energy left.
Now that I’ve come out the other side I think it was shock. I was shocked out of writing. I had no more headspace for anything else. My son is still at home but I’ve started writing again. I hope that the next time I get a shock I’ll be able to keep going. I think I needed it then more than ever. Massive kudos to those who can do both. I’d love to hear their stories.
I’m currently awaiting feedback on a short story. It’s feedback I’ve paid for and it will be brief. Yet here I am, obsessing over my inbox. As soon as I sent it off, I wanted to know immediately if they (busy professionals, competition judges) thought it had promise. I dread to think what I’ll be like when I start submitting my novel.
Here’s what not to do while you’re waiting (and what to do instead)…
- Constantly refresh your email inbox, junk mail and their website in case there’s been some email catastrophe or company wide emergency and that’s why they haven’t replied yet. And, before feedback, keep re-reading the piece you’re waiting on, therefore, wasting your writing time.
Do this instead – turn your focus elsewhere and look around for writing competitions and deadlines. Make a plan of what to submit where. Actually write down your commitment. I use an excel spreadsheet with a tab for all the upcoming comps I’m interested in, a plan of what to submit where, and a nice wee tab for ‘published’ so I can keep track of what went where. If you’ve submitted a novel it can be refreshing, and a good flex of writerly muscle, to write for short story or flash fiction competitions. And if you win, it’s another bit of evidence of brilliance for your writing CV and submission letters. If your really don’t do short fiction, start another book or write a blog.
- After sending it off happily, quite confident in the quality, allow yourself to wallow in tortuous self doubt, shame and over-thinking about the recipients opinion. My favourite is that the recipient is taking awhile because my work is so bad they don’t know where to start. Cue depths-of-despair-level self pity.
Do this instead – look at work that’s previously been accepted, or commended and remember that you can do this. If you have written a novel – be proud of the volume of your output. It’s taken time, commitment and a lot of effort to get to the doubting place you are now. And – you’re in good company, most of the greats were tortured by insecurity. My favourite Ernest Hemingway quote is I write 91 pages of shit to 1 page masterpiece.
3. Stop writing
- Develop writer’s block. You feel like you can’t move on or write anything now. Maybe it’s because you feel like you’ve given all your creative energy away already.
Do this instead – perhaps you need a wee break from writing. Read, write book reviews. But don’t let a small break become a long-term situation. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Sure, you might not be able to think of any stunning ideas, or produce Pulitzer worthy pages but you can still write some of those pages of shit mentioned above, they might lead to a new masterpiece.
Things to write about (when you cant think of anything to write about):
- Everything that’s in your head – even if it is just submission worry
- Whatever you can hear/see/smell/feel from wherever you’re writing
- Try the above but from a different point of view (eg a small child)
- First, or strongest, childhood memory
- Open a dictionary at random, try to write a short story that includes at least 3 of the words.
- Or check out dictionary.com word of the day
- Go to https://thewritersacademy.co.uk/writing-101/writing-prompts/
- Think of your favourite friend, write down all the things that make them endearing to you (good character prep)
- think of the most annoying person you know and write down all the little habits and phrases that make them so irritating
- If you’re able, go outside and walk. I don’t know why, but it helps. Stephen King walks all the time, particularly when he has a writing problem. And if there’s a writer that doesn’t have any output issues, it’s definitely him. If it’s good enough for the King it’s definitely good enough for the rest of us.
Happy waiting, happy writing!