It is an understatement to say that these are strange times. Lockdown around the world has challenged so many things such as the economy and people’s mental health; it’s made us even more aware of what heroes the NHS and key workers are, going out to their jobs on the frontline. I consider myself extremely lucky that I can work at home – that I’m not under threat of losing my career; that by doing my job I’m not threatening my health. I feel enormous gratitude for that.
This doesn’t mean to say that authors aren’t facing challenges. Especially those of you looking after ill relatives or home-schooling young children – or for whom writing isn’t your full-time work and you are trying to juggle the demands of another job from home. Hats off to you all.
We’re sensitive souls and in my experience turmoil in real life heavily impacts on creativity. And I speak personally, having a deadline at the end of May that I’ve got to meet and am struggling with.
So here are my five tips to keep working.
Firstly – and most importantly – be kind to yourself. By this I mean don’t beat yourself up if you miss a daily word count goal. We’ve got to get through this lockdown as best we can. As the UN General Secretary said, it’s the biggest challenge for the world since World War Two. So don’t consider yourself a failure if you are slipping behind. We all have less head space at the moment. Other priorities have come to the fore.
Secondly – take it one day at a time. Try not to look too far into the future. I have a deadline for my Christmas book on the 25th May. In all honesty I’m not 100% sure I will make it. The best way I can cope is not to think about that. I just look at each day. See what I can achieve. Do my best to congratulate myself that slowly the word count is mounting up.
It reminds me of when I got help in 2016 for my mental health. I used to worry about the future and past way too much. The man who got me sober told me off for thinking I had a crystal ball. Treatment taught me there is absolutely no point in wondering and worrying about what might be. There is no point in trying to second-guess when lockdown might end. There is no point having sleeping nights about whether you will hit your deadline. Worrying won’t alter what happens. So just keep ploddng on, little by little, in the present moment.
In fact a lot of what I learnt to get sober and in AA is helping me enormously.
One day at a time. Keep on keeping on. Accept the things you can’t change. Keep it simple.
Thirdly – structure your week. Even though my Christmas deadline is pressing, and I have promotional work to do for my summer novel, The Summer Island Swap, coming out on the 7th May, I do not work at weekends, apart from a little social media. I bake. Read. Watch movies. My family and I dress up for dinner on a Saturday to try to make the weekend feel different (this means I wear jeans instead of joggers!) As a result I feel really fresh Monday morning and keen to carry on with my project.
I also try to think of my working week as having some sort of structure – Tuesday morning I do a food bank drop-off, Thursday night I do the NHS clap, Monday and Tuesday evening I watch EastEnders… it may sound silly but thinking of the week in that way gives me a degree of normality and stops the whole of lockdown just looking like an endless void.
And make sure you take that daily exercise. A cycle ride. A walk in the sunshine – or rain! That gives your days structure as well.
ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE is proving to be my saviour. I listened to the dawn chorus the other morning. It struck me that whatever happens the day before, the birds still get up at the same time and sing their song. And that’s what I try to do. No lie-ins or late, late nights.
Fourthly – just get anything down. This attitude has REALLY helped me forge ahead with the first draft. I’ve found it so difficult to concentrate and hold the plot lines together, everything seems muddled in my head what with catching snippets of Coronavirus news on social media… so even if I think it’s rubbish, I type, type, type. THERE IS ALWAYS THE REWRITE to pull everything together.
Finally – take regular breaks from the key board. Perhaps spend longer than usual preparing a delicious lunch. Ring a relative or friend – you’ll both feel better. Treat yourself whether that is with a daytime soap or a read with coffee and biscuits. And take an extra long break if you’re really struggling more than usual. Yesterday I just couldn’t concentrate after a few hundred words, so I did some baking, rang a relative and took a walk. And there’s no shame in that. Tomorrow is another day.
I’ll always think of my 2020 Christmas novel as the one I wrote during lockdown. From that point of view it will have been the hardest I’ve ever written. Yet, at the same time, I’m grateful for the escape it is offering me and us writers are lucky to have that outlet. More than ever I’ve enjoyed disappearing into the cosy festive environment I’ve created.
Best of luck with your projects and spending part of the days ahead in your fictional worlds. I know it’s hard but you can do it and start by being kinder to yourself 🙂