Writing in a Pandemic: An At-Risk Writer’s Productivity Tips

Carol Tice

You thought you had your writing productivity down. But now, you’re writing in a pandemic. And the days are melting.

As a former severe asthmatic who used to be a regular ER visitor — and who stopped breathing and was intubated once, in my early 30s — the undertow of dread is always with me. My husband is overweight and has high blood pressure, also bad comorbidity factors for the virus.

People are dying, all around us. Even though we’re isolating, we do occasionally go to the store… and I could catch COVID-19 and be very, very sick. Or die. Or he could. That’s reality.

Meanwhile, kids are underfoot. There’s nowhere to go blow off steam. There’s also little stimulation to spur creativity, since we can’t go anywhere.

And clients still want their deadlines met. But it’s hard. To. Think. Straight. Hard to reliably pull the creativity out when we need it.

Sound familiar?

Welcome to my world. As I write this here in Seattle, I’m into week 8 of isolation, with at least 3 weeks more to go. Our numbers here locally look pretty good, we’ve flattened our curve… but still.

Despite this, I’ve kept the productivity going. Still writing for clients and my blog.

Plus, in my *free* time, I took 3 days and cranked out a new e-book about how to be a recession-proof freelancer, on top of everything else.

How does an at-risk writer like me keep writing in a pandemic? Here are my tips:

 

Begin with the basics

Obviously, if you do nothing but eat ice cream and binge Netflix and stay up all night, you’re unlikely to produce much good writing.

When we began isolating (mid-March, around here), we quickly established a routine of healthy habits that everyone here at home (me plus hubby plus 17-year-old daughter) is keeping up, best we can.

I’m talking the three foundation blocks of any good writing practice:

  • Regular sleep
  • Healthy, regular meals
  • Regular exercise

On the sleep front, want to say I got by for years of 6.5 hours a night. Now, it appears, I’ve developed the ability to sleep for 10 hours, sometimes. Other nights, it’s only 4 or 5 hours, and I have to catch up with a nap later. So I do, because getting enough sleep to cope is mission critical.

Food is one of our few remaining joys, and we’re trying to eat nourishing food (along with treats). I’m doing some of that #isolationbaking, with help from my Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook, cranking out some good bread. (Here’s some wholegrain rye, this week’s choice.)

Boosting our immune system in case we become infected is just smart — and makes me feel like I’m doing something to give myself the best shot at survival.

Exercise. Writers. DO it! Writers were always too sedentary.

There’s no excuse, even if you can’t go outside at all. YouTube is full of great body-weight workouts that require no special equipment. My daughter is doing the calisthenics workout she learned competing in gymnastics, that she’s outlined on a whiteboard. My husband is graveling new paths in the garden.

I’m keeping up my biking routine, trying to strap on the bandanna and do 35 miles or so a week at least. Other days, I lift weights, do yoga, or grab a Tabata workout off Amazon Prime. It’s a rare day when I don’t do some sort of workout.

With all the anxiety, exercise is what makes me tired enough to still get restorative sleep. It’s a must.

Acknowledge and process trauma

What’s happening right now hasn’t happened in a century. No one living can remember ever experiencing anything like this.

And it’s sad. The loss of loved ones for some, and the loss of the many, many freedoms we all enjoyed but never truly appreciated, until now.

You feel like if you could just go to a restaurant and get served a craft cocktail or a side of fries, you’d weep for joy. But you can’t.

It’s traumatic, and pretending it isn’t won’t help you function well.

Process what’s happening. Take time to grieve the life we’ve lost. (I personally bawled my eyes out watching the One World: Together At Home concert, don’t know about you.)

Writers flourish when we’re in touch with our feelings. Don’t stuff this down. Process your grief, and see what creativity flows out of it.

Bring on the joy

When you could possibly be dead 3 weeks from now, how should you spend your time?

Doing things that bring you joy, of course! Every single day needs to have something that makes you laugh, smile, feel happy. That makes you take a minute to just appreciate that you are alive, in this moment.

I have a long list of things I rely on to refresh me and help me forget about all the worries of the world we currently inhabit, and keep me writing in a pandemic. Just a few of the big ones:

Flowers in my garden- inspiration for writing in a pandemic

  • Looking at flowers in my garden (sample above)
  • Zoom calls with my faith community and distant family
  • Binge-watching new shows, or classic cartoons
  • Watching parody videos on YouTube
  • Playing board and card games
  • Doing jigsaw puzzles (it’s a mania now, in my neighborhood!)
  • Eating chocolate
  • Playing mah jongg online
  • My daughter’s body art (sample below)

My daughter's body art -- writing in a pandemic

Honestly, don’t deny yourself. Live each day at least a bit like it’s your last, now more than ever.

Of course, you don’t want to get too far into that head space, or you won’t write anything. Right? But on the days when you decide to just enjoy…

Cut yourself some slack

Seriously. There’s never been a better time to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness.

Right now, every day is not going to be super-productive. If you think some other writer out there is getting all their to-dos checked off each day, I think you’re nuts.

Understand that some days, the undertow just drags you under the wave. You feel like you’re drowning. Your brain is stuffed with cotton. You make mistakes.

Honestly, my husband backed the car over one of his cameras this morning. True story.

We are all… not quite ourselves. When a day goes down the drain, breathe and let go. Tomorrow is another one.

Accept what you cannot change

Does your mind fight against the reality of our current lives? It’s time to come to a place of acceptance. You need that to move forward and write productively.

Awaken each day to what is. Decide that just for today, you can be OK with it.

Don’t think about where this all might be going. Just be. Take it one moment at a time. Right now, that’s a good block of time to work with.

Focus on what is in your sphere of control, not what is outside it. Then, do some writing — it’ll probably make you feel better.

Even if it’s just free writing, journaling, anything. Writing anything keeps that writing muscle in shape.

Use time creatively

If you’re like me, you have writing habits and rituals. You know your best productive times. You need to write in that one spot in the house.

Well, all that is out the window now. Because we are different people than we were before.

I say, throw out the old rules and discover what works for you now, as someone writing in a pandemic.

You think you can’t write late at night, or early in the morning? Dunno, maybe try that again and see what happens. The conventional wisdom doesn’t fit unconventional times.

Figure out your new normal for writing. Experiment and be playful with it. Bet you discover some new ways to produce writing you like.

Jump on any block of creative time you can find, no matter how tiny. If you’re juggling kids and homeschooling, see where your writing time fits.

Nobody’s going to judge you right now, if your kids watch a 2-hour movie in the middle of the day (or even two movies), so you can get some writing done.

Writing in a pandemic — yes, you can

You can do great writing during COVID-19’s reign. Maybe, you’ll do some of your best work ever! Adversity brings out the creativity, in some.

But first you have to believe you can do it. I already believe you can. Writing in a pandemic is harder, for sure. But be confident that it’s possible.

If you need to write affirmations on your wall to look at each day, do it. Be open to the possibility that today could be the day that, despite everything, you write something extraordinary.

Many great businesses you know and love today began in hard times like these. Recession means change, and that means opportunity. Think about where yours might lie. Then, pursue it.

This could be the time period that transforms your whole writing career. So challenge yourself to write — and see what sparks for you.

What are you doing that helps you write during a pandemic? Leave a comment and share your tips.

And the winners are…

Results from Writing Contest: Tell Us What You Learned to Win

Grand prize: Two, 40-minute 1:1 coaching sessions with Carol Tice: $500 value.
Patricia Salem: “
This is crucial right now during the pandemic…Carol has been inspirational in helping me realize that there are always writing opportunities out there, even during economic downturns.”

Runner up 1: A 20-minute flash-coaching session with Carol Tice + Pitching 101: $200 value
Sheryl Williams: “have a great deal of confidence in the fact that I’m learning from someone who has gone through a crisis before and came out to thrive on the other side of it. She’s got the footsteps that I want to follow.”

Runner up 2: A copy of 11 freelance writing e-books by Carol Tice + One FREE month in the Freelance Writers Den: $125 value
Abdul Rauf: “Carol Tice gave me a brain bomb about the potential income I could earn as a content writer.”

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20 Comments

  1. Stephen Barber

    This post is so inspiring and I have been in desperate need of just that. I have been finding it impossible to focus but this is the time to avoid the news and simply write as you said even a journal entry or whatever to keep the creative juices flowing. I will review this each day until I am back to being productive again.

    Reply
    • Carol Tice

      Wow — glad this post is such a useful resource for you, Stephen!

      Whenever I’m stuck on a paid writing assignment, I try to write ANY part of it. The middle bullets, the conclusion. If you need more tips, check out my e-book 13 Ways to Get The Writing Done Faster, on the ebooks tab. 😉 Me and Linda Formichelli’s combined 40+ years of writing on deadline and how to get it done, no matter what.

  2. Cevia Yellin

    Thanks for these words of wisdom, Carol. It is a gift to get a glimpse into your life and how you are making this work to the best of your ability. Most of all, we know we are not alone in our struggle, which is a HUGE comfort.

    Reply
    • Carol Tice

      Glad I could help, Cevia!

  3. Katherine Swarts

    It’s not 100% true that no one alive now can remember experiencing anything like this: I have eighty-something relatives who recall polio epidemics and mass shutdowns near the middle of the twentieth century, one of which cancelled 1946 high school graduations in San Antonio.

    I’m not bringing that up as a matter of “caught you in error,” but to note one more productivity tip that’s useful in this or any tough time: don’t make a big deal over “unprecedented,” and especially don’t fall into the self-pity trap of “everything always happens to ME, no one else has problems like this.” Everything is unprecedented AND precedented in its own way; every life is lucky and unlucky in its own way; and no one is singled out for the one completely hopeless situation that ever existed. Stay proactive, stay realistic, and keep believing that things will work out.

    (And stay in contact with good friends/colleagues to keep your spirits up. And remember that we also have unprecedented advantages in the many forms of high-tech communication available right now.)

    Reply

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