If there’s one thing we’ve learned so far during this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that none of us is immune. We’re also not immune to worry, anxiety, and the exacerbating of other mental health disorders, which, for many of us, is leading to an utter lack of focus when it comes to our writing projects.
Stuck at home, it’s easy to get sucked into checking every virus update, news story, and constantly checking in with friends and family via phone, text, or group chats.
Is it possible to work on our writing during this challenging time? It is, with some discipline. If you simply cannot, I’ve got some alternatives to help your creative life along.
- Netflix and Chill
When I was writing my fourth book, Broken Places, exploring grief and relationships, my editor at the time suggested I take a break and watch Beyoncé’s Lemonade movie. I did, of course, along with the rest of the world, bulldozed by her talent and guts.
Why did my editor want me to watch this? She said, “Watch this as a viewer once. Let it flow over you. Then re-watch it as a writer.”
And this is the lesson I want to share with you today: watch well-written shows on Netflix (or Amazon Prime or Hulu or whatever you use) as writers. Notice the story arcs, themes, the hero’s journey’s, scene settings, timing, use of color…all the tiny details that make what you’re watching great, or look at what’s missing.
Keep a notebook handy just for this purpose. Call it your IDEA NOTEBOOK.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King
If you didn’t have time before to get through your TBR pile, perhaps you do now. Most every writer I know is an avid reader. Don’t stop now! Fill your brain with amazing writing. Need recommendations? Dig into Goodreads and BookBub — they regularly share awesome lists by genre, or better yet, reach out to readers of your genre and ask them what they like (more below)!
We are living in a time when nothing like this has ever happened, on this scale, before. How can we not journal about this? Our daily lives, while seemingly boring, stuck at home, etc., will make fascinating reading one hundred years from now.
Not a journal-er? Try focusing on one emotion or word each day. Doodle instead. Take a photo and write some notes (works well on your phone). However you do it, I recommend doing some sort of journal-keeping, if for no other reason than for your own historical perspective, which could lead to book ideas!
Perhaps simply note what movies or shows you watched or which books you’ve read while holed up. I promise you, keeping notes about this time in history will be important to you or your descendants at some point, even if it seems mundane.
4. Go For Walks
Not much of an exerciser? That’s okay. Go for a walk. Leisurely strolls still get you out of the house (and are considered safe as long as you maintain safe social distancing). Not only will you get a bit of exercise and clear your head, but you may also find a little inspiration in nature, your surroundings, or a writing prompt for a poem, short story, or chapter.
If walking isn’t your thing, do whatever inspires you as long as you keep safe.
Listening or playing it (or both), music stimulates our creativity. Some writers find it distracting while they write, so they eschew it completely. Cool. Not what I’m talking about here.
How about listening to it while you walk or journal?
“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes one otolaryngologist (Source: Johns Hopkins).
In fact, listening to new music you may not even like (yo, old people!) is especially good for our brains. The challenge lights up that gray matter. Same with learning a new instrument. Now is a great time to do both (lots of online videos around to learn a new instrument you might have laying around the house).
6. Make Lists
I started making lists in high school as a way to quell my anxiety with so many activities and classwork. I still make daily lists in my planner.
Whether you’re a list-maker or not, lists are a great way to get all your thoughts and tasks organized. You can write them out in a trusty Franklin Planner, put them in the Notes app on your phone or computer (with an app like Evernote), or check out this article on any number of list apps.
What kind of lists are helpful? This is super individualized, yet here are my suggestions for writers:
· Daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals
· Blog post ideas
· Social media content ideas
· Book promo ideas
· Story ideas (fiction, non-fiction, poetry)
You can put all of these ideas into a larger document at some point or simply work on one goal daily. Whatever works for you.
7. Outline Your Book
If you’re having trouble focusing on your entire book right now, don’t focus on the entire book. Break it into manageable chunks with an outline first. Here’s a great source for a fiction outline here and a non-fiction outline here.
Do I outline my books? For my BROKEN books, kinda: I write down words or topics I want to cover in my essays and poetry in my first draft.
I let the ‘word vomit’ flow, as I call it.
Once I’m done with that first draft, I see if what I’ve written fits into the outline, and, along with my editor, piece together that draft into a second, more organized draft. And on and on, until it becomes a book.
For my business books, such as my BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, I’m much more specific with my outlines. I know exactly what I want to cover in each chapter, so an outline is particularly important.
If you’re not writing books just yet, use this technique for outlining blog posts or even social media posts to help you become more professional and, more importantly, stimulate your brain in a way you might not even realize. True story, bro.
In a study by German researchers led by Martin Lotze, unique brain activity begins before the writer actually began writing. The visual centers of the brain “lit up” as people planned stories. The planners were seeing the stories in their heads.
The most experienced writers also showed activity in speech centers as they planned. They not only “saw” their stories, they “narrated” them in their heads with words. The more you write, the more this “narration” becomes simply part of what you do.
Are you interested in learning more about whatever it is you’re writing about (or want to write about)? Now’s the perfect time to dig deeper into research. Tons of ebooks are either free or sale-priced right now. Museums around the world are offering virtual tours. Newspapers and various other online publications are removing their paywalls.
Take advantage and feed your brain. Learn. Become a student of the world again. There’s no downside to learning more information that will enhance your creativity and enrich your writing career, so push yourself to narrow down what you want to learn about (see Lists, above!), and make this downtime work for you.
Or don’t narrow it down — let yourself be inundated with creativity for a while and then figure it out later. Creativity vomit! Ha.
9. Update Your Website
Is your website up to date? I know mine isn’t — working on it, though. Writing books, updating books, social media, events — something is always changing (and events are all canceled now so…).
We have the time now to focus on updating our sites, writing new blog posts, adding in a media kit if we don’t have one, creating a free download for newsletter sign-ups — whatever it is, now is the time to do All The Stuff we haven’t had time to do before.
Your website is your home, so make it welcoming.
10. Social Media/Author Platform
Most writers complain they don’t have time to market their books, don’t have time to learn how to do it, can’t figure out social media, can’t this or that.
Well, guess what? Now you have the time.
I’ve written several articles here on Medium on author marketing, author branding, blogging, social media, so get started. You can also read my book (mentioned above) for day-by-day instruction on book marketing and social media (and I’ve lowered the eBook price to only $2.99 to make it affordable to most everyone).
Attend my weekly Twitter chat, #BookMarketingChat at 6 pm pst/9 pm est. Join my free Street Team. Join Shaunta Grimes Ninja Writers and take workshops with her many talented instructors!
Bottom line: interact with readers on social media. Be authentic. Have a strategy. It’s easy, soooo easy, to get sucked into the social media black hole of constant notifications, politics, and trolling.
Resist, writer friends! You have it in you to make use of this time, as anxiety-filled as it is.
We’re all scared and none of us knows when this terror will end. Do what you need to take care of yourselves and your loved ones.
I hope this list helps you create a focus on your publishing career. Please comment below with what’s working for you!
To learn more about Twitter, Facebook, and book marketing in general, visit Rachel’s BadRedheadMedia.com site, or connect with Rachel on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or join her Street Team for insider tips and general booknerd fun.
Join her #BookMarketingChat on Twitter every Wednesday at 6 pm pst/9 pm est. Just type in the hashtag to join the conversation!