Writing during a pandemic – Top 5 tips
With lockdowns and remote working eliminating commutes and social activities, there’s plenty of time to pen a novel, right? No? Because you’re probably home-schooling your children or stressing about the global pandemic. Or you're worried about your health, your parents, finances, being separated from loved ones, or whether your book idea is even relevant in a post-pandemic world? All of the above affects your ability to be creative, so what can we do to keep writing? I’ve checked in with a few writing friends for their advice.
1. Early start in the morning
“I’m now a dedicated member of the five-o-clock club!” says Young Adult and Middle Grade writer Jennifer Broman. After an initial dry spell as lockdown and home-schooling began, she explains how her writing habits have become more streamlined. “Ideas are developed in the quiet moments whilst cleaning, going on the treadmill or taking a shower. I then take
5 top tips - writing during a pandemic
snatched half-hours whilst the kids are occupied to plan these ideas into my overview of the book. And the actual writing – that’s saved for the two hours before the rest of the family get up."
Writing in the morning can also be a challenge, however. Like historical writer, Frances Quinn, says: “I set out to do a morning’s writing and before I know it, I’m having a quick look at Twitter or checking BBC News.” Does this sound familiar? So how do you get around the distractions? Luckily, Frances Quinn has found a way: “When I really can’t get into writing, I’ll tackle a research task, or use my notes to weave period details into a scene I’ve already written. That way at least I’m getting something done.” Great advice – make sure you celebrate anything you do get done.
Even if you’re not a morning person, there are ways to at least find a writing routine. “I tend to plan my writing day around the news and the daily Corona virus briefing,” says author, Gillian Thompson. “I think writers are generally quite good at getting 'in the zone' and at the moment there's a kind of self-protection in being immersed in your own writing bubble. I am also a teacher and I am telling my students - remotely - that the discipline of work will help to keep their minds occupied and hopefully ward off some of the anxiety, so I am trying to practise what I preach.”
Supernatural suspense writer, Wendy Wanner has a similar approach. She locks down a schedule with set writing times, and then sticks to this. “This gives me structure to get through the days as well as a sense of accomplishment every day.”
3. Stay motivated
Staying motivated is one of the huge challenges at the moment, but Daisy Jones, who is writing a Christmas book, has come up with the perfect way: “I climbed up into the loft and got down our Christmas tree, box of decorations, tinsel and snow globes (much to my husband's annoyance!), lit a frankincense and myrrh candle, put on some festive tunes and managed to get a few words down!” What a fantastic idea. Funnily enough, my next novel takes place in a small town and I currently find myself (involuntarily) stuck in a small town…
4. Edit other projects
Most writers have a few other projects on the go, or half-projects that were never finished. This might be the time to dust them off instead of wrestling with a blank page. Author of psychological thrillers, Abbie Frost says she was halfway through a book when she began to hate it and found that she couldn’t write at all for a while. “I like editing, so I went back to some old unpublished short stories and rewrote them to give away on my website. Then I managed to write a new one and it sparked an idea for a novel. I'm now halfway through that and telling myself if I can finish this, I'll have something to show for this weird time.”
5. Find accountability partners
Knowing someone is waiting to read you writing can be inspiring, although deadlines – especially at this time – can add to the stress. But what if you find an accountability partner, who is excited to know your progress and also wants to share their own work? Author and editor, Allison K Williams, finds this works for her during this pandemic. “I have two friends (one for each book I’m working on) where I comment on their pages and send a set of mine, then they comment on mine and send a set of theirs. I like that it’s not as stressful as ‘we exchange pages on Thursday you must finish now!’ But it’s just enough of a nudge to keep going and want to work.” This is a great way to stay on track, and should be motivating, since you’ll look forward to reading the other writer’s work too.
Research can also be tough at the moment, with travel restrictions in place, but you could reach out to a research buddy as well, someone who’s at the location you’re writing about. “I am reliant on the kindness of local people I have contacted who are patiently answering my questions,” says Gillian Thompson, whose next book is set in Jersey.
I certainly hope your creative juices are flowing after reading these suggestions and if not, there’s always the good old journaling to fall back on. Penning down any excess thoughts floating around in your head before you focus on your WIP is another way to get started. Happy writing!