Over the last three weeks while the world we know has been taken from under our feet everyone has been learning new things. We’ve had to develop ways of interacting with others; managing higher stress levels; dealing with basic needs such as how to get enough essential supplies without encountering danger and how to work effectively.
Here at J. L. Harland our way of working together has changed radically. Instead of hours in the pub lingering over coffee and cake, or perhaps lunch, while we discuss plots and make notes on character, we now have virtual meetings. Trying to make sure the technology works and that phones aren’t at odd angles has resulted in much hilarity – or perhaps hysteria - as we try to plan stories for a future we may not see. Discussions about food supplies, family, wills and death punctuate our conversations. We have found that progress is much slower as brains are fogged with anxiety and bodies responding to stress by presenting new aches and pains. But, we plough on in the hope that at some point in the future we can return to those face to face meetings – and the coffee and cake.
Here are five things we’ve found important, as writers, in this time of fear and uncertainty.
1. Keep a structure to the day. It’s easy to lose focus and give in to anxiety but essential to maintain some organisation for the day. You may be very disciplined, and the lockdown hasn’t affected your working day in which case you are lucky. For those of us with heads like lentil soup trying to keep mental balance while remaining creative through the panic is more difficult. A set timetable is useful. It’s the perfect time to try mindfulness or meditation.
2. Do something physical every day. It seems, from observation, that more people are out walking since lockdown. The warm weather has helped. It can be difficult to pull yourself out of lethargy and do something physical, but it does help. You don’t need to act as if you’re training for the Olympics but a gentle stroll, yoga, tai chi, mowing the lawn, gardening or working out to an online video all provides some benefit. Body and mind combined. Sometimes the solution to a plot problem occurs when out for a walk. Conversations with characters too. With social distancing others may not realise you’re talking to yourself.
3. Write a little. No matter how demotivated, or lacking in inspiration, just spend five or ten minutes a day writing something - anything. Your hopes and fears, your diary of feelings as each day passes or just stream of consciousness – whatever comes into your head. One of our writing group suggested the Corona Chronicles (hence this blog title). Day one is writing something about letter A. Day two is B and so on. Short pieces or poems. When we get to Z we’ll have to start over again unless we move to numbers. It’s been a useful exercise as it requires a little thought and keeps the writing muscles going.
4. Read. What would we do without books? All writers need to read and now is the time with less demands like shopping and socialising. You may even feel like joining an online book club as these seem to be springing up quicker than the dandelions. If you find concentration difficult then a book of short stories to dip into may be the solution, or even an audio book. If you can get lost in a book it will relieve some of the stress, transport you to another world and help you to be a better writer by subconsciously digesting another writer’s style. We’ve both been reading uplifting stories over the last few weeks. We need happy endings!
5. Be kind to yourself and others. If you can’t even bear the thought of writing for a couple of days, then don’t beat yourself up about it. Perhaps you can work your way back in by editing or just thinking about your story? Sometimes it’s a good idea to step back from projects before moving forward. We have found, from writing together, that pace varies. We’ve had times when the writing is fast and furious, followed by months editing, and other times when even a short story seems an uphill struggle.
So, breathe, think, write. One day this will be over, and our creative souls will flourish again. Every experience is a future writing project.
Keep safe. Keep writing.