There’s no doubt about it. 2020 (edit: and 2021) has sucked so far. However, as the world begins to recover from Covid-19, normal service–or a new version of normal–must resume. If you’re a writer, that means picking up a pen again.
Here are five simple tips to help you get started.
Mental Health Check!
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you may recall an email from me in March (’20), telling you to go easy on yourself. If you didn’t want to write, if you didn’t have the capacity to write, then you didn’t have to. That advice still stands.
I’m a huge advocate for the importance of mental health and there’s nothing like a global pandemic and government-mandated isolation to really put a person under stress!
However, if you’re feeling the burning desire to write again, or just need a distraction that isn’t yet another Zoom quiz: read on!
Picking up a Pen (Post-Pandemic)
The following advice is list of quick tips to get your creative juices flowing again–without inviting the risk of burnout!
1. Clean up your space
Yes. My first tip on how to write post-pandemic is actually not about writing at all!
Millions of people have been forced to work from home over the last few months. Some of you may be great at compartmentalizing but others are not. If you fall into the latter category, your ‘writing space’ may be filled with all kinds of day-job debris. Worse, it might be filled with ever-encroaching house items, like the clean washing you need to put away, or three thousand paintings of rainbows.
Tidy everything away.
Clear a space for your creativity so you don’t get distracted. Getting back into the writing groove can be hard enough without spotting unfinished jobs or general mess around you. It’s best to go somewhere you can shut the door on the rest of the house but this is not always possible, so curate your writing space and keep it uncluttered. This space is now your ‘zone’.
All done? Great. Now let’s get in the zone.
2. Ease yourself in
If you’ve taken a lengthy break from writing, don’t rush the process of starting again.
It is not a race. You don’t have to make up for ‘lost time’. You simply need to start again and continue creating at regular intervals.
Everyone has their own habits with writing. Some people write 200 words a day, some write 50,000 words a week. (Honestly, if you’re in the latter group, you should probably ease up on the caffeine.)
I could pretend I know what’s best for every writer on the planet, but no one does.
My advice is this:
- Look at what you were regularly producing before pandemic hit.
- Halve it. That’s your new target.
Until you feel comfortable with resuming life as normal, take the pressure off. Aim for half of what you were doing before lockdown. If you previously wrote 200 words a day, squeeze out 100 words a day instead. If you write more than that, great, but keep your expectations low. The idea is to produce something–anything–to get you back into the swing of things.
If your word count has always been irregular (I am the poster-child for erratic productivity), average your time instead of words produced. For example, if you wrote for about sixteen hours per month before lockdown, aim for eight hours a month now. That’s about two hours a week or fifteen minutes a day. You can pick and choose when to write–creativity can ebb and flow, after all–but commit to those eight hours.
3. Recap before you write
Unless you have a photographic memory, taking a long break means you won’t remember every detail of your novel. Sure, you’ll remember the main themes, the characters and maybe a few stand-out sentences, but the rest will be pretty hazy.
This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing, for three reasons.
Reader vs. Author view
A long break from writing means you’ve stepped out of the ‘author zone’ and into the ‘reader zone’. Re-reading your novel after time away means you get to see it from the viewpoint of a reader as well as a writer. This perspective is invaluable because it will likely show you what’s working and what isn’t.
Fresh eyes equals fresh ideas
Reading over your notes and chapters can spark new ideas that you simply wouldn’t have thought of three months ago. Give your imagination a chance to gain momentum before diving into whatever you already had planned. You might find that there’s scope for a new, exciting character, or a plot point that’s too deliciously evil to leave out. Chances are that your new ideas won’t be anything major though, but even the smallest worldbuilding detail will add depth to your story.
The most important reason to recap your notes! Passion. Reignite your love for your story by revisiting your characters and plot. Not only will this help you get into the right mindset for writing, by reminding you of pace and narrative voice, but it will also give you the kick up the backside you need to get going again.
4. Hold yourself accountable
Most people need deadlines. I’m certainly no exception. As an editor, these are pretty easy to obtain: my clients expect their manuscripts back by a certain date and, if I ever failed, I’d be out of business.
The trouble with amateur writing–by which I mean any writing that is not financially compensated–is that it rarely matters if a deadline is not met. There’s no publisher moaning at you; no literary agent hyperventilating on the other end of the phone; no risk at all.
If you’re a superhuman writer who doesn’t need deadlines; who doesn’t need risk to keep their productivity on track, well done. For the rest of us, I strongly advise you create that risk yourself.
Hold yourself accountable by applying the Risk & Reward strategy. First, pick a significant treat for yourself–something you really want. It might be a film you want to watch on Netflix, a new outfit you want to buy or a new book you’re dying to read.
If you meet your word count / time spent target, you get the reward. Enjoy it. Savour it. You earned it!
However, if you fail to meet your target (and you don’t have a legitimate excuse), you don’t get that reward until you complete what you set out to do.
If you don’t think you can hold yourself accountable, ask a friend to do it instead, e.g. you agree to email a certain amount of words to your friend per day, by a certain time. If they don’t receive them, they get to withhold whatever treat you had bookmarked for your reward.
Don’t forget: writing is meant to be fun. If you have a legitimate excuse for not meeting your targets, or the thought of writing is causing you stress, now might not be the best time to resume normal service. Be honest with yourself and don’t risk burnout.
5. Read something!
I left this tip until last because it is the most obvious but the most important. However, I know that many of you will have experienced trouble with concentration over lockdown. Focusing on fiction isn’t the easy task it used to be.
However, any writer worth their salt will tell you that you need to read in order to write. I agree.
Even if it’s only 10 minutes a day, read.
It could be a book you’ve read a thousand times before. Read.
It doesn’t even have to be a novel. It could be a poem, or a screenplay, a graphic novel, a comic strip on your phone, or a piece of flash fiction on Twitter. Read.
Read anything that will dust the cobwebs from your brain and remind you why you love stories. It doesn’t have to be a lot but it does need to be regular.
Think of it like watering a plant. If you don’t regularly give your imagination what it needs to flourish, it’ll shrivel up and take longer to nurse back to health!
Leave a comment below!
Are you starting to write again, or are you not quite ready yet? Perhaps you’ve written throughout the pandemic and have some words of wisdom for those about to dive back in.
What advice (or questions) do you have about picking up a pen again?