It probably goes without saying that many of us writers are a solitary bunch. We should, in theory, be experts on not leaving the house for a while. Once upon a time, social distancing may have been the ideal for many of us, but now it isolates and, in many cases, frustrates us. So, how can a writer be productive and keep sane in self-isolation or lockdown, while grim news that only gets worse by the day buffets us from every side?
First, let’s think about the practicalities of our working-and-living space. In order to write comfortably, we should think about the environment and make as much of it as we can:
- Ensure you have everything stocked where you possibly can, including medicines and food supplies, so you do not need to go out. Also double-check and stock up for any vulnerable relatives or friends that may not be able to leave their homes – this will help them out, and put your mind at rest while you focus on your work.
- Many of us have other jobs besides writing and may have been asked to work from home. Your employer probably has a system in place to ensure this gets done. Where possible, set concrete boundaries and work in two different places in your home where possible – one for home working, and one for writing. This will help you to focus on the task at hand and not procrastinate from one task with the other.
- Ensure that you maintain a sense of routine – get up and go to bed at a reasonable hour and try to stick to the same meal times. If you are a parent or have caring responsibilities, it can be hard to juggle – take turns with somebody if you can, and plan your writing routine accordingly.
- Eat well and take care to exercise – if you are not leaving the house for an extended period, it is still important to maintain your fitness levels for your mental and physical wellbeing, and it will keep the oxygen flowing freely to your writer’s brain. It is easy to become lethargic and procrastinate if you are sitting around all day, so do make sure to use your garden if you have one and to exercise – even if it’s just a few rounds of Just Dance on the Switch.
- Do not rely on social media during these times. Ensure your closest friends have a means of contacting you and then delete the apps that get you down. This will give you more time to focus on your craft, and will help drive any negativity away.
Ready to write? Let’s see how we can work on our craft and build our careers while stuck inside:
- If you’re not already, try to treat writing as you would any other job. This could include sticking to strict times and ignoring distractions – you can ask those you live with to respect your boundaries and not interfere with you during this time. At the very least, reach a compromise by taking it in turns to dictate a shared daily timetable. Turn your phone off, and install a productivity app – SelfControl is particularly useful. It can also help to set personal goals or deadlines – start small, perhaps 300 words in a day, and then increase this gradually. Don’t panic or be hard on yourself if you struggle to reach these goals, particularly if it’s due to external factors.
- Write in short, concentrated bursts. You are more likely to produce more, better quality words in thirty minutes without distraction than over the course of a day at leisure. This is also easier for those with parenting or caring responsibilities to achieve! You can test this method by aiming to write consecutive paragraphs from the same work on days one and two, and re-reading both together on day three.
- Share your work with friends and family – they will also be looking for something to do during this time and your work might be just the thing to cheer them up! Ask them for sincere feedback and discuss it. If everyone isolating in the same home as you is looking for something to do, perhaps you could stage a reading in your living room – you could even start your own Open Mic night where everybody takes turns to share stories and poetry.
- You can write even when you’re not writing. If you’re really struggling, take some time out from your current project to do research – lose yourself in a book you really enjoy, or offer to copyedit something a friend has sent you. Even watching a film will help you to deepen your understanding of narrative structure. There is no set time for finishing your project (unless you are working to a concrete deadline, in which case – stop reading this and go and write!)
- If you can’t just cut social media out of your life, you can build your career by improving your online presence. You could set up a website, or talk to other writers on Twitter, etc. More people are online than ever before and you could benefit from online networking.
- Start working on query letters to send out. There will likely be a lot of competition in coming months as people utilise the time, so ensure your submission stands out by writing a banging query. Lots of agents are currently using the #AskAgent hashtag while they work from home, so make the most of it!
- Don’t forget to have fun! After a day of writing, try to switch off and do whatever it is that makes you happy in the evening, and keep your weekends free. It can be easy to feel you aren’t doing enough with your time, but a self-isolation or lockdown situation doesn’t mean you have to work constantly.
Finally, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Writing can be stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic, and all of us are still trying to figure things out. Take regular breaks, don’t sweat it, and ensure you are keeping in contact with friends, even if it’s just a quick email to ask how they are. Perhaps they will even offer to be your beta reader…
Good luck, and stay safe!