Let me cut right to the chase, because I know you’ve heard this many times before: with so much of the world in isolation, these are uncertain times to say the least. For many of us, they’re unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lives, and that instability can bring anxiety, fear, and plenty of sleepless nights. So first off, let me repeat what bears repeating: you are not alone.
Whether you’re worried about your health; your loved ones; paying your bills or having to face loneliness: we all have our own ways of dealing with anxiety. Some of us can’t stop refreshing news site after news site; others stick religiously to their daily routines, and the optimists among us may even try to look for a silver lining. When it comes to writers, that silver lining seems obvious enough: at least we’ll have time to work on that novel, right?
Well, it’s complicated. Sure, escaping into your storyworld may help keep your self-isolated spirits up, but attempting to multitask the pandemic can also come with some serious backfire. To avoid making things even worse, here are five healthy, low-pressure ways to fit writing into a time of anxiety.
1) Allow yourself to set tiny goals
If you have a work-in-progress lying around, you may very well choose to continue to work on your magnum opus to be. Under normal circumstances, that’d probably mean pouring your heart and soul into your writing, with all the deadlines and word counts and late nights that might entail.
But these are not normal circumstances.
Instead of going about as you normally would, take some weight off your shoulders by setting really, really tiny goals. A single dialogue; a single line — even nailing one individual word can mark a perfectly productive writing day. It’s an old trick to overcome writer’s block, but it helps with managing anxiety just as well. After all, it’s far better to succeed at a small goal than to fail at a big one, and adding a win or two to your day can do wonders in keeping you motivated.
2) Try your hand at freewriting
If you’ve been following this guide for a while, you’ll know we’re big fans of using placeholder sentences in your first draft. Letting yourself write flawed sentences doesn’t just keep the momentum up; it’s a powerful way to keep that ever-looming threat of perfectionism at bay.
Freewriting, then, is taking that mindset and kicking it up a good several notches. You’re no longer just shushing your inner editor; you’re tying them to a chair and ceremoniously packing them in bubble wrap. Just set your font colour to an invisible white, and write whatever amazing, nonsensical or horribly clichéd thing comes to mind. Don’t stop to fix typos; don’t stop to check punctuation — don’t even look up the proper French spelling of creme brulee. Simply write your heart out, and don’t look back.
3) Write a short story
Whether you just started on your novel or have been drudging away for years: chances are you’ve become pretty emotionally invested. If you’d rather stay away from playing in the big leagues for a while, a short story can be a wonderful way to switch things up.
Rather than focusing on your masterpiece, allow yourself to work on something short, tangible, and above all: easy to finish. It might be a charming anecdote captured in a mere few chapters; a throwaway piece of backstory for your main novel; or even a single scene you felt like writing.
4) Read other books
Want to lose yourself in words on paper, but not currently in the headspace to put them there? Not to worry! As it turns out, there’s plenty of words already there — and most likely, they’re just a bookshelf away.
It may not technically be writing, but reading fellow authors can still be a great way to keep those literary cogs turning. Whether it’s a threadbare childhood favourite or a birthday gift wildly out of your preferred genre: losing yourself in a novel is a great way to stay in the flow while also putting your mind at ease.
5) Don’t write at all
It’s easy to forget, but here’s the honest truth: at the end of the day, nobody keeps track of whether or not you’ve been writing. And even if they did: nobody has any right to judge you for taking time to recharge.
Worrying about your health, your loved ones or the state of the world isn’t just natural: it’s a perfectly valid reason to take a healthy break from writing. As much as we like to joke about living in a bookstore or building a blanket fort out of novels, the simple truth is that there’s more to life than novels.
As it happens, I regularly take breaks from both this blog and my novels, in order to focus on other meaningful parts of my life. That takes some pride-swallowing, for sure, but taking time to recharge is the only sustainable way to stay productive in the long run.
And the same goes for you: whatever it is you feel like doing, it is perfectly fine for that to not-be writing. Let me repeat that: you, the person reading this, do not have to be writing. Like all of us, you’re a person first and a writer second — and you’re not letting anyone down by taking some time off.