Welcome to the Inspiration Diaries! Last year we had six writers – three published, three on their way – checking in each month as a sort of ‘year in the writing life’. (You can catch up here.) This year we’re doing things a little differently. Three new Inspiration Project graduates will give us a monthly insight into their writing lives, but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some of their favourite writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To…
5 Steps To… Writing Your Way Through This
A quick glance at social media on any given one of these strange and surreal days will churn up as many declarations of ‘NOW is the time to write that novel!’ as it will reassurances that, ‘If you can’t write at the moment, that’s okay.’ They’re both true because writing, motivation, creativity, life – none of that stuff is one-size-fits-all.
I am writing right now, because I have to. It’s my job. I can’t just take a break from it because it’s how I afford my rent and food and LEGO and stuff. (More on the LEGO in a moment.) Like millions of other people, I have to keep doing my job even though it feels like the world is on fire. I’m really lucky that it’s my dream job and I was already well-used to doing it at home in yesterday’s sweatpants while eating fistfuls of Special K out of the box, but still. However… Back in 2009, I quit a job so I could do this. I was working 9-5, had a 30-minute commute, no other commitments – I could’ve easily found 10 hours in the week to work on my novel, if not more. But my job was awful and the stress of it was all-consuming, so even though I had the time to write, I was missing another, equally crucial ingredient: sufficient headspace to.
If you have to write right now, you may struggle to find ways back into your routine and concentration. If you don’t have to, finishing the novel might well be item #813 on your list of priorities, many miles behind staying sane, keeping several little people alive and not filing for divorce. Either way, here are some tips to help you write your way through this, whatever that might mean for you.
- Give yourself a break. Wanna play a game of Pandemic Bingo? Unprecedented, surreal, scary, strange… Yes, this time is all of those things. None of us have been through anything like it before so it would be weird if we were able to take it in our stride. We need to acknowledge that. One thing I find incredibly strange and unhelpful is how so many people are equating working from home with having to do your non-WFH job in your house while your entire family is also there during a global crisis. Those are two very different things. So go easy on yourself and don’t be comparing Normal World apples with Pandemic oranges.
- Use this time to fill the well. Read books. Read articles. Listen to books. Listen to podcasts. Binge-watch something on Netflix. Binge-watch something on Amazon Prime. Binge-watch something on Disney+. Binge-watch something on Now TV. Binge-watch something on Apple TV… You get the idea. And you might well get a new idea to write about.
- Writing isn’t the only way to be creative. I started with sweary colouring books. Then I baked banana bread, as we are all apparently legally obligated to do. Then I made one of the worst financial decisions of my life: I went to the LEGO website and discovered something called their Creator Expert Modular Buildings range. So far I’ve built a Bookshop (pictured above) and a Detective’s Office, and I have three more sets on the way. I LOVE it. It’s so relaxing, it magically makes many a happy hour fly by AND you have something lovely to look at afterwards. Plus it forces you to take extended breaks from your phone. Consider also jigsaws, knitting, origami, card-making, scrapbooking, cross-stitching and printing the 4,912 photos on your computer you’ve been swearing you were going to for years and putting them in an album. (To be clear: I stopped with the LEGO. These are just suggestions!)
- Remember why you write. What did writing look like when you were a child or a teen? What did it mean before it meant WIP and finding an agent and daily word count? For me, it meant a diary. In a series of ever-fancier notebooks and multicoloured pens, I recorded my (not very) deep and profound thoughts every evening. Why not go back to that now? Writing can be great therapy and a tool to help us make sense of the world. Maybe that’s the kind of writing you need to be doing now. (And it’s not just me who thinks so.)
- Pivot. This is what I had to do in order to keep writing. At the start of March I was sitting down to start the first draft of Book 5, a thriller with a complex plot that saw a major event temporarily change Dublin. But then a major event changed not just Dublin but the entire country and the world, forever, in real life, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to hold such a complicated story in my head. So I started writing something else, a new idea I got from doing an excessive amount of Step 2… If you have to keep writing and are having trouble doing so, maybe the solution is to write something else.
Are you writing right now? Have you been LEGO’d too? Let us know in the comments below!
Holy cow, has it only been a month since we last connected because it sure feels like it’s been a year. Forget Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, how about Life in the time of Covid-19 by TBA. Normally, these diary entries are meant to be a check-in on our writing but these aren’t ordinary times. Therefore, I’d like to start by asking all of y’all how you are doing? I pray everyone is staying safe and healthy.
I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, in fact I pride myself on my organizational skills, but the first two weeks of this ‘shelter-in-place’ order challenged my ability to concentrate. There were days it was as if someone had dropped a rubber ball through a trapdoor in my head leaving it to bounce wildly off the walls of my brain. One day I was energized and productive, and the next I’d sit down at my desk to write, only to find myself minutes later standing in the closet throwing clothes into a pile on the floor. I must say, it’s better to find yourself mindlessly cleaning out a closet than the snacks in the pantry. Am I right?
While social distancing is very important right now, it’s still difficult. My brother and I were talking and he said he thought we should be saying physical distancing and not social distancing. I have to agree. After all, haven’t we all adapted and found new ways of connecting socially? You don’t need to be in the same room to have a cocktail party … just ask my Thursday bridge group about that! I’ve never had so many zoom meet-ups, in fact the visual of all my family lined up on the screen Easter Sunday as if we were filming an episode of the Brady Bunch will forever be ingrained in my brain.
So am I writing? Yes. I’ve finally settled into a routine and my fingers are crossed it sticks. This may sound strange, but the other day it occurred to me how lucky I am to be a writer. Having the opportunity to throw myself into a make-believe world each day has been one of biggest blessings during these trying times. Along with the weekly, soon to become daily, virtual cocktail parties of course!
Don’t forget, we are alone, together. Y’all take care of yourselves!
For this month’s inspiration diaries I want to talk about burnout. It’s a horrible feeling, a feeling of physical, mental and creative emptiness, and yet it’s something all of us will probably face at some point. It’s something I’ve felt before so I recognise it now that it’s attempting to visit me once more.
Lots of people are using this time at home or away from work to be creative, to take photographs, bake, make art and of course write and I have to admit I feel a bit jealous of them. My first thought on being told not to report to work was ‘oh ok I suppose I can work on my book’ but it’s not that easy.
It’s not just that the kids need help with their schoolwork and that dinner has to be made every single day but with everyone in the house together it’s loud, it’s messy and there’s no space to work and on top of that anxiety is gnawing away at me, at all of us, eating up our concentration, our energy. I find it hard to focus on reading never mind writing but I remind myself that I have dealt with this feeling before and the key for me at least is to focus on the things I can control. I can rest, I can sleep, I can spend time with my kids, I can bake, and I can write if I feel up to it. I can listen to an audiobook, or watch a favourite movie and it WILL pass eventually.
I hope everyone is doing ok and if you can write during this strange time good for you, but if you can’t, that’s ok.
The sun is shining, the garden is coming together nicely, the shed has been cleared out, and the windows will be washed this week. We’ve made Guinness bread, roast dinners, watched movies and shared Easter eggs. We wallpapered that last bit that never got done in the Teen’s room, we’ve found old vegetable seeds and resurrected the raised planters that had been abandoned. Yup. We are displaying symptoms of Quarantine. For once it’s not all procrastination. It’s a coping mechanism.
There is so much to think about, to try distil, to mentally and emotionally digest what is happening to the world around us, to people we know and people we don’t know, that some of us can’t write, cannot create, cannot paint or draw, sing or compose. On the other hand, some of us are finding a release in being creative and are producing a huge amount of work. In a brief conversation via Twitter I discovered that quite a few writers are changing genre or form, now whether or not they can say that this change is a direct consequence of the Covid-19 crisis is for them to say, but it was largely hinted at.
Early on in this time of restricted movement I decided that I needed to write something different. I put aside my rewriting of my first novel and began a whole new project, one that had been on my mind for a while. I’d even plotted it out about a year ago. So I left my dark grim miserable normal writing for a Christmas romance – Hallmark style – set in Ireland though, but filled with everything I love – snow, snuggly jumpers, Christmas trees, dark handsome men in check shirts and work boots, love and hope. It’s a fun project, it’s a hopeful project, it’s exactly what I need right now and I will see this novel to the end. The set form for a Harlequin/Mills & Boon/Hallmark romance is really helpful and it’s nice to be able to write something prescriptive. I find having guidelines a huge comfort in this confusing time. Take a look here for more information: https://harlequin.submittable.com/submit or google how to write for (insert either Hallmark, Harlequin, Mills & Boons).
I have also found that writing poetry is a release and is allowing me to work with another form that I’d been neglecting of late. Sometimes all of this being at home, shopping once a week, planning dinners, schooling the kids, catching the Government updates, it all reminds me of other times and time has become jumbled up. What is now and what is the past are mingling despite our technological advances. Poetry, using a semi-strict documentary form allows me to think about that and to explore our past and present, and how to manage the time that we find ourselves in. I’ve a feeling I’ll have enough poems for a book after this, but first, I have to go wash those windows.
Stay safe and healthy. x
Join us next month and each month for the rest of the year for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes. In the meantime, we hope you and yours are safe and well.