Writing Advice In The Age Of The Pandemic

I’ve seen a lot of writing advice slung around, and I’ve had a lot of folks ask for it, too — sometimes it’s specific questions, but a lot of times it’s an aimless sort of well what the fuck do I do now feeling. Some of it spurred on by the fact that a few folks have encouraged (perhaps too vigorously) increased productivity during this time, not just in writing but in all things, as if we all magically have more time now, now less. Spoiler warning: I have less time now. Because there’s a kid at home and some of my day is devoted toward either whatever he’s doing and increased cooking and increased digital hunter-gathering as I try to find like, a black market dark web source for eggs or flour. That’s not to mention the rampant ennui bogging us all down. I know I find myself lost in the temporal river of the day, just swept away by it until I blink and it’s wait whoa 3pm already?

So, what does that mean for writers?

What does that mean for me?

I’m managing.

Not in a big way. My output is cut. I don’t feel burned out, exactly, but I definitely feel like I’m proceeding more slowly, more gingerly, through the work. I have to do a lot to suppress the feelings of guilt and pressure that arise as a result — as a once-freelancer, my life was driven so keenly toward GO GO GO and DEADLINES ARE LIFELINES, that it’s hard to break that. If I’m not turning out 2,000 words a day, what the hell am I doing? Who am I? So, I’m managing, but managing comes part and parcel with the feeling that mere “managing” is equivalent to treading water, or worse, just being two nostrils above the surface of the water — rising floodwaters and I’m breathing, but barely.

It isn’t that bad, and I have to remind myself of that.

Here’s where I land on all of this, or more to the point, what I try to remind myself semi-daily — this is for me, and maybe also for you, if you feel the need to borrow it.

The goal is simply to move forward.

The goal is to progress, however slowly, in a productive direction.

It is the realization that this is, now more than ever, a game of inches and not of miles.

It’s okay if you’re striding whole miles, of course. It’s great if you’re turning out five thousand words in a sitting. No shame in that — disappear into it, do what you need to do. Once I’m done editing Dust & Grim, I get to start work on a dream project — a big damn SECRET BOOK that I think I might be able to use to break into a sprint. But I’m not there now. Even this blog post has been a poke-and-peck endeavor. One sentence, then another, then a gentle slack-jawed hyuuuunngghh while I space the fuck out and lose my grip on the singular moment in favor of splaying out across all the moments. And then I’m back, and writing another sentence.

So, the advice is simply to do, to gain, to make, to write. Something, anything, as much as you can manage — write, yes, but cut the pressure, don’t let something need to be everything. Some days will be better than others, some will be worse, but the goal isn’t to force the bones to break, but to give time for muscles to knit. Time to heal, but time to walk, too. If that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t. Am I talking words? AM I WRITING SEMPENCES AHHHHH

Ahem.

Just move forward.

Do what you can do.

Push a little, but don’t push so hard you break.

Push a little harder tomorrow, if you can. If you can’t, ease off.

Test your limits every day, but detect the warning sensors going off.

Write some words.

Put them together.

A story forms, like a wall from bricks.

And those bricks will remain for a good while, despite the time, despite the weather, and you can build on them tomorrow, whether with one brick or ten. An act of building, and in a way, an act of erosion, too — like a trickle of water licking a canyon into stone over time.