woman gazing out window

Living and Writing In Uncertain Times

We’re living through an unprecedented event in our modern era. Life has changed, radically, in what felt like over night. The word “unprecedented” feels wholly inadequate, honestly. Surreal? Unholy? Disastrous? LIFE ALTERING. Nothing will be the same after this. At least I very much hope that will be true, in the sense of the many broken systems in our world improving for the better as a result of all this. 

I’ve been watching this virus since January, feeling like Cassandra, but hoping I was wrong (usually my fears DON’T become reality). And yet, here we are.

I (fortunately or unfortunately?) just read two books about pandemics right before all this started. So. There you go. Lots of swirly bits of fear, dread, terror, hope, and love all twirling around together in an angsty pile of … angst. It’s not like I didn’t already have a full soundtrack of existential dread playing in my mind, what with the state of our government and climate crisis already in play. 

So. Mostly, I’m working to stay as calm as I can (which is entirely variable from moment to moment), take care of myself and my family, look for ways to help, and write as I can. And “can” sometimes means “can’t.” Sometimes it means writing articles like these, just to keep putting words on the page. 

And speaking of writing, writers everywhere are suddenly facing new circumstances. Some of us have kids at home, for an unknown duration (my guess is the fall start of the school year). Some of us (like in California) have been under a “shelter-in-place”/”stay at home” order for some time already (thank goodness). Some of us have more time on our hands than we’re used to because we’re working from home or unable to work. Some of us have less time than usual to write because of all the other external impacts on our time, plus the internal stresses we’re managing. 

It’s easy to think we “should” be writing and writing and writing. But it’s not like this is just some kind of global vacation. There’s a lot going on, constantly, much of which we can’t see. 

In some ways this could be a writer’s dream. Lots of forced time at home, with potentially lots of time to write. But that’s only a percentage of us. If we’re homeschooling and working from home, things are actually more complicated, not less. 

So what do we really do about writing during times like these? 

On Writing

Here are some thoughts on writing for you in this current period of uncertainty:

  • Please don’t feel guilty if you’re not writing (yet). This is an entirely unusual situation and we’re all grappling with a massive reorientation of how life even works on this planet. Give yourself space and time to be, rest, think, and process. If the moment arises when you’re struck by the urge to write (anything), go for it. Some are pointing out that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague. That’s lovely. Did he have his kids and family home 24/7? Who was getting him food? You don’t have to be Shakespeare. Everyone’s circumstances are different. 
  • It’s okay if your pre-pandemic writing projects change or hold less interest for you mid- or post-pandemic. Your interest may return in a few weeks, months, or never. Your projects may change. (Stephen King tweeted about this recently.) Regardless, it’s okay to trust yourself and see what comes. Intense times result in massive shifts in culture, consciousness, and creation. We are likely to have epiphanies about what we want to write mid- and post-pandemic. I expect an entirely new wave of creativity to explode as a result of this period of time. 
  • It’s also okay to keep working on what you were working on before. If you’re able to keep writing, go for it! Writing is a sanctuary for writers. A place to escape, as well as our job as professionals. In many ways this can be an incredible opportunity to hunker down and focus. (I’ll be sharing an article on the Final Draft blog soon about some tech tools to help.)
  • It helps to hold writing as your important work in the world. Even if you’re not working professionally as a writer, thinking of writing as your calling, vocation, and/or profession can help you remember — even in the middle of a pandemic! — who you are and what you were put here to do. Of course, if the house is literally burning down or you’re sick, you won’t be thinking about writing. Of course not. But assuming you’re healthy, safe, and have your basic survival needs taken care of, writing becomes more possible, and sticking to your work is your job.
  • If you’re writing with kids at home, get really creative. I’m doing most of my writing while my husband takes care of the kids (a rare treat since he can’t go in to work and he can’t work from home) as well as getting up before the rest of the family to write when I’m alone. For other writers, we might have to write later in the evening, or at lunch time, or while the kids are having some screen time. (And yeah, we’re letting our screen time rules be looser, while also having them do their homeschooling work.)
  • On the hard days, write from bed, do “ebb” writing, or write morning pages. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with grief or fear, it’s hard to be creative. I’m finding that sitting in my bed with the covers drawn up, the cat on my feet, and my laptop on a bed table helps create a little cocoon of coziness that’s easier to write in. You can also focus on the easy stuff (that’s the “ebb” writing, hat tip to Naomi for that one) and work on formatting or continuity checks. And sometimes morning pages or love letters to yourself are the way to go. Writing is writing. 
  • Even if you suddenly have tons of time on your hands to write, you’ll be dealing with resistance, maybe even more than usual. Writers often fantasize about writing in isolation (cabin in the woods, anyone?). But the reality is that suddenly having lots of time can trigger more resistance. And especially when fear and uncertainty take hold, it’s super hard to focus on ANYTHING, let alone write. Remember that writing also involves a high level of decision making, also difficult in times like these. However, you CAN make small moves and take small actions to move forward, even now.
  • Reach out and connect. Writers are often used to working from home, but we’re not used to being limited in our interactions quite this much. There are lots of lovely ways to connect with other writers at this point, including on social media. In my Called to Write community, we’ve switched over to meeting on Zoom so we can see each other’s faces. We’re also meeting more frequently, and the turnout for our daily writing sprints is high. It’s SO nice to write together. (Please come join us if you’re looking for structure, support, and community for your writing.
  • Know that writing and art have a huge role to play in survival and recovery. Art, entertainment, fiction, and non-fiction are needed right now, and will continue to be needed as time goes on. How we deliver and receive writing and movies may change. It may not. We don’t know yet. But as writers and artists we have a role to play in the emotional well-being, mental health, and recovery of our global community. The world needs us.

On Self-Care and Grounding

And a few thoughts on self-care and grounding:

  • STAY HOME and take care of yourself and your loved ones. At some point or another, we’re all likely to confront this virus personally, somehow. Above all else, your health and well-being must come first. This means doing all the things we’re reading about online, like washing hands, wiping down surfaces, staying home (please stay home, no matter how low risk you might be, in order to help flatten the curve for everyone), using social distancing if you must go out (and making sure it’s a “must” not a “want”), touching faces only with clean hands, staying hydrated, eating healthy food, getting as much sleep as you can, exercising in creative ways, and resting.
  • Do things that feel good to youAt my house, with the kids home, in addition to homeschooling, we’re playing games, working on a garden project, baking, exercising, and watching movies together. 
  • Acknowledge the grief. This is a massive change and loss we’re all experiencing right now, together. We’re grappling with hardcore survival fears right now and seeing the world change in a way we’ve not experienced in our lifetimes. This means we’re grieving. Grieving the restrictions we’re facing, grieving the future, grieving personal losses. So much. And the sensitives and empaths among us will be particularly affected by the collective energy of grief, fear, anxiety, and sadness right now. IT’S OKAY to be having a hard time right now. Grief is heavy, and hard. It helps to acknowledge what we’re feeling. This is grief. 
  • Remember that things will change, eventually. Elaine Aron mentions this in a blog post written for highly sensitive people (many writers are HSPs). Things may change for the worse before they get better, but they will change. If or when you can, notice that we may see some positives ultimately coming out of this situation. I hope already that voting by mail could become the norm, which will help so many more people be able to participate in our democracy. Carbon emissions are dropping, and we may realize we can make more radical changes to protect the climate. We now have a much, much better understanding of what it means to share a planet and be in this together. There are dolphins in Venice. 

A few things helping me right now…

Your turn

How are you? Are you able to write? What are you challenged by right now? What’s making it easier to write? 

Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you right now, and I’ll happily answer questions in the comments if you have them. 

Image credit: Photo by Trent Szmolnik on Unsplash

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