Productivity for writers is always a sticky subject, but never more so than amid this pandemic. We writers like to make tons of excuses for why our productivity is down. Everything from writer’s block to my dog ate it can be an excuse for failing to write. A pandemic gives us one whopper of a glorious excuse. When the world shuts down, it’s super easy to turtle under the covers and binge crappy TV. After all, no one really expects you to get anything done right now, do they? It’s all so hard.
And, yeah, it is hard. And scary. But you can’t put your life and writing on hold forever. Or, if not forever, at least for the year or more it will take to achieve some semblance of normalcy over this thing. You need to stay productive and keep moving, otherwise you’ll face the unpleasant prospect of restarting your writing after you’ve lost all momentum. So don’t do that. If you stay productive now, your future will be easier. (Plus, you may gain ground on those writers who do turtle for a year!)
Some ideas for staying productive amid Covid-19.
Ditch the excuses. Yes, these are extraordinary times. Yes, things are hard for everyone. And, yeah, it’s all super weird and disorienting. But if you want to be productive during a pandemic, you can’t use any of that as an excuse. Unless something is directly wrong in your life, you have to put all the weirdness aside and get on with the work. It’s easy to say, “Oh, things are chaotic so I won’t work today,” or, “My schedule’s so messed up, I can’t write,” or “Everyone’s home and it’s just too hard to work,” but those are just excuses. You can find ways to adapt and flourish, even now. Stop making excuses and start making art.
Stick to a schedule. It may mean rearranging everything you know, but find a writing schedule and stick to it. If that’s writing while the kids do their schoolwork, or after you help them with the work, then so be it. If it’s after everyone has gone to bed, or before they get up, do it. Find the time that you can commit to every day and make it yours. Then show up every day and do the work. If you try to squeeze your writing into the “leftover time,” the time will always be filled up with other stuff.
Write down your (realistic) goals for the day/week/month. Like a schedule, goals keep you moving forward and accountable. Just make certain that your goals are realistic and achievable. Writing a novel in a day is not a goal. It’s insanity. A goal is to write ten pages a day. Or two. Break your goals into manageable chunks to keep you moving forward each day, week, and month.
Embrace new ways of working. Look, I get it. Having to learn new things like video conferencing, Slack/Teams, and different protocols for submitting and dealing with documents isn’t fun. It can be doubly challenging to learn these things while you’re on a deadline and dealing with everyone else’s problems. And I’ve seen an awful lot of complaining about this stuff. “Why can’t we just do it the old way? I liked the old way!” The old way is gone, at least for now, and you might as well just get on with making whatever adjustments you have to make in order to keep giving your readers and clients your best. Complaining only wastes time that could be spent in more productive ways.
Explore new research methods. Sure, Google still works and for many people that will be sufficient. But I’m a big believer in offline research and that’s difficult to do right now. Many libraries are closed and it can be difficult to visit physical places. For the time being, you may have to figure out other ways to get the information you need. See if you can set up video interviews with your subjects, or ask the curator if you can pick their brain about a collection or artifact. Think about the information you need and then get creative about accessing it.
Find new sources of inspiration. If you’re used to getting out and about to find inspiration, you may be feeling pretty screwed right about now. Writers who rely on people-watching, events, museums, bookstores, etc. to stoke their creativity are probably screaming in frustration. Instead of getting upset, try to find new avenues of inspiration. Is there a park nearby where you can safely wander and take in nature? I’ve never been much of a writing prompt person, but lately I find myself using them more to get things flowing because everything else is closed to me. Can you people-watch outside your window, or from a safe distance outside? Does looking at art or other exhibits online help? Try to find new ways to stoke your fire.
Find a buddy. If you have a writing buddy or mentor, this is a great time to bond together and keep each other accountable. (And vent and complain bitterly.) If you don’t have such a person, look online. Even a quick post on Twitter or Facebook, or in an online writing group/message forum is likely to yield someone else who needs a little push and a friend.
Make your work environment as comfortable as you can. If you worked from home before, you’ve probably go this covered. But if WFH is new to you, your setup may be less than ideal. It will cost money to upgrade your habitat, but it’s well worth it if you can do it without wrecking your finances. (And there are budget ways to do this, too.) Get a good chair that’s comfortable and ergonomically correct. Invest in good lighting. Repaint if you hate the wall color or it makes the room too dark or bright. Claim your own space, if possible. If not, try to create some borders and boundaries through creative furniture placement, or dividers like dressing screens. If you need noise cancelling so you can concentrate, get some decent headphones. Nothing kills productivity like being thwarted and frustrated by your environment all the time.
Attend virtual events or classes. Networking and educational opportunities are still out there; they’ve simply moved online. Programs from classes to virtual author events to writing conferences and bootcamps are still out there. If you need a little networking boost, or to learn something new, look for events you can attend online. Bonus: Since many have moved online they’re often much less expensive to attend. You don’t have to travel, and many have reduced their fees, as well, to compensate for their reduced expenses. Your education and networking don’t have to stop right now!
Don’t overdo it. There’s a lot of pressure right now to “Take advantage of this gift of time,” and “Use this time to better yourself.” We’re encouraged to make the most of this unhappy time so that we come out on the other side as better, more successful people.There’s always subtle pressure to remain busy, but it seems worse now. If you’re not doing something with all of your confinement time, you’re doing something wrong.
But… You can take it too far. It’s admirable to remain productive and even use your time to stretch for new goals. Just don’t get so caught up in “bettering” yourself, or engage in some kind of weird, imagined “who can use free time best” competition, that you make yourself miserable. It’s fine to use some of your time for fun and even sloth. Just don’t go to extremes there, either.
Embrace the lack of rules right now. No, I don’t mean go knock over a liquor store or shoplift a case of Twinkies. I’m talking about the fact that creativity is ruling the day. Those thinking outside the box are winning right now. How many companies/people have you seen step up and do things you wouldn’t have thought possible or logical six months ago? How many have pushed beyond the “That’s the way we always do it” mantra to accomplish some seriously awesome stuff?
Think about the opportunities that this time presents. Times are weird right now and weird times reward weird thinking. So embrace the freedom that this time is giving you to throw the old ways and the old you to the wind. Right now, anything you can think of is basically fair game so give your weird projects and ideas a shot. Who knows where they’ll take you?
(Image by StockSnap)