Navigating creativity in the age of COVID-19
Depending on what you did for a living in the days before the pandemic, chances are your daily routine has been altered.
Maybe you no longer commute an hour each way to work twice a day, or maybe your home has become your office for the foreseeable future. Or, worst of all, you lost your source of income entirely due to industry-wide shutdowns—Broadway, I'm looking at you.
For many creatives, the biggest excuse for not being productive is the lack of available time. Well, guess what? That's no longer an obstacle, so what's today's excuse?
I wrote my first three novels while juggling a full-time job and a side-hustle in the arts. It wasn't always easy, but I set manageable tasks every day and attacked them. Time, or the purported lack of, was never really my "problem". I found ways to get the work done without running myself ragged.
I began writing my fourth novel in April—one month into lock-down. I thought, no problem! I'll have this baby pumped out in no time. By June, I'll have the first draft completed and get busy on revisions. By July, it'll be ready to share.
That didn't happen.
I finished the novel on August 16th, despite working on it six days a week.
So what the f**k happened? I'm glad you asked.
Real-world stress and anxiety crept in and slowed me down to a crawl. There were days it was beyond difficult to function, let alone sit down and churn out two-thousand words. Before I even knew it, I was in the middle of a depressive episode.
But, here's the thing—I never stopped writing. Here's what I did:
1. Adjusted my expectations
Pre-Corona, my daily output was anywhere from 1.5K words to 2.5K words. Trying to match your peak productivity in a time of uncertainty is like trying to swim across the Atlantic—not gonna happen. Instead of beating myself up about it, which I did for a few days, I lowered my expectations.
This wasn't me being lazy or making excuses. This was a legitimate, real-world scenario that I had no control over. At any given point, I could lose my only source of income and face dire uncertainty. Hence, my stress and anxiety.
Once I adjusted my expectations, I lowered my daily word count goal to "just" five-hundred words. I put that in quotes because it's never "just" five-hundred words. On a good day, hitting five-hundred words can feel as effortless as ordering lunch on GrubHub. But on other days, the ones that tend to pop up every few days, writing five-hundred words is liking getting dental work done while listening to J-Lo.
In other words, it's EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL.
Just keep going. Do the best you can. Shoot for five, and if you hit more, then great! If you're a little short, that's great too. All that matters is that you're showing up and creating a habit.
2. Put ON the kid's gloves
I'm the first one to beat myself up over not working hard enough or as efficiently as I know I can. Maybe you're like me and you're your own worst critic and enemy all rolled into one neat, compact package.
And that's fine... when it feels like the world isn't on fire rolling downhill in a shopping cart about to mow down a blind old lady who just won the lottery. Yeah, but you get it, right?
Be gentle with yourself. It's okay to NOT be okay. If you can admit that you're trying the best you can, and mean it, then you've got nothing to feel sorry about. Write something, anything. And just keep going. I guarantee you that all those if I only had more time writers aren't writing anything these days. Do your best to write as often as you can and as consistently as you are able, and I promise you'll be amazed at how quickly you amass a finished first draft.
3. Set yourself up for success
This goes without saying, but ask yourself if you really want to write that book. Be honest. It's crucial that you are honest with yourself. There's nothing wrong with no longer wanting to sit at the keyboard and stare down the blank page. Maybe this is an idea you'll come back to next year when, hopefully, it won't feel like we've stepped right on into Stephen King's The Mist.
But if this IS something you want to do, be on your side. You have to be your biggest cheerleader and your loudest fan. I assure you that the voices of doubt and your asshole of an inner critic sill be shouting at you every step of the way. Drown them out with positivity and support. Cheer your small successes every step of the way.
Keep showing up, doing your best, and rewarding yourself for your efforts will help keep your tank full so you can leave behind the negativity.
Here's the real secret. Are you ready for it?
The only way to write a novel is to actually sit down and write it, word by word.
So, if you're best is ONE word tomorrow, reward yourself. That's one more word than you started the day with, and one more word than you had at the end of yesterday.
Be extra good to yourself, okay? It won't always be easy, but keep going. Remind yourself, often, why you started writing that book in the first place. Find your joy. Free your spirit. And let your voice out onto the page.
If you can do that, you might just come out of this pandemic with a novel.
Do the work.
Stay healthy, and keep on writing.
See you on the other side.