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


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.

19 responses to “Writing Advice In The Age Of The Pandemic”

  1. Will you stop posting things that make sense–it’s killing me! Now I’m going to do this the right way? Who does that to a person? How dare you, sir. In all honesty, your posts keep me sane and put things in perspective. I have a three year old daughter and like you I don’t have more time, I have less, but I’m using that to get the most out of my time co-writing a script. Can I say script here? Is that like Voldemort, and you never speak it’s name? Heh, you book people.

  2. Oh, well. We all know nothing – NOTHING – is going to be the same…after. If there is an after. I think there will be. But we will be changed; we’re changing right now. It’s our job to make “after” better.

    I don’t write, other than random comments at certain places. I make things. I haven’t made anything for a while. Like two/three years of a while. The drive just isn’t there. I’m lucky if I can get through a day just keeping life going.

    But I won’t lose hope. And thank you, Chuck, for doing what you do. These posts help. (Yeah, I loved “I Made A Bread”.) ;-D

  3. Not a writer, though I am sure I have the Great American Novel in me if I only tried…lol or /s, just couldn’t decide.
    Your advice hits home, and, really needs to be our mantra. Thank you

  4. Big fan, thanks for the bricks in the wall as words in this article. I always love your perspective, and it helps me find a way to process my feelings with your thoughts. Inspiring. Well done.
    FYI-digital hunter-gathering is not always the way to go. Our neighbor, and I’m 18 miles from the GWB, has always had a milkman. TO THIS DAY. No cell phone, but still a milk man. Well, I got myself a ticket on The Way-Back Machine and dialed up the milkman, who…of course, did NOT have a website. Eggs, milk, butter, cheese, yogurt…YOOHOO, all magically appear in a cooler weekly. Ask around, see if you can hire a milkman. It’s great. They are all out of milk boxes, btw, so I imagine there is a run on this industry lately. A cooler works. Good luck. Stay safe.

  5. Thanks Chuck, I always appreciate your posts and advice. It’s rough man, glad you’re here. Also… Wanderers… Too real. But great job. Love you man, take care of yourself.

  6. Thank you. Worries–about health, about my job, about my and my family’s ability to cope–are exhausting. I’m good at stiff-upper-lipping my way through stuff, but I’m tired. Your advice is just what I needed to keep moving forward.

  7. This post is another brick for me. And now I am singing Pink Floyd. I will say that’s good and just keep moving forward. Thank you, Chuck, you said it very well exactly what’s been happening to me.

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