The practice of writing at its best can be full of enthusiasm for life. When writers are at the top of their game, they want to play at and with everything. A writer performing at the peak of his or her abilities can give others a glimpse of what life can be like and perhaps was once like for everyone: sharp, quick, connected, meaningful, deep.
And now, in this period of social isolation, the writer is presented with what appears to be the ‘perfect environment’ for doing the above.
So what happens?
Many writers slump into apathy, either overcome by anxieties about the state of the world, worry about family and friends, or just overshadowed by a strange sense of ennui.
How can you snap out of that and make the most of this time?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Set up an anxiety timetable
Instead of browsing through news channels or social media randomly and fairly constantly, design a schedule so that you have particular times when you are going to check in on news broadcasts or friends. You’ll be surprised by how effective this is. Yes, you need to stay in touch with what’s happening and with friends and family, but you don’t have to do so every second of the day — be at cause over the amount of anxiety you expose yourself to.
2. Use Games
As I’ve written elsewhere, when you need your child to do something, it is usually successful to make a game of it: ‘Race to get your teeth brushed’, ‘Who can get pyjamas on first?' and 'I bet I can tidy up more than you!' are some examples, tried and tested, that may appeal to young children. You can probably think of many more.
The same principle can be applied to your writing life, in the short medium and long term, especially when the absence of external timetables leaves the days feeling rather empty.
You have a draft to complete? Set yourself the game of doing it before a key event in the calendar — like before it rains again or before the sun sets. This works better than saying ‘I’ll do it by tomorrow’ because ‘tomorrow’ is an abstract term - ‘when it rains’ or ‘when the sun sets’ are real incidents, with more life and weight.
Like to achieve a certain number of words on a particular day? Challenge yourself to do it before another member of your household does something else — for example, before a teenager completes their homework (double win there, as it might encourage the homework to get done too).
Mundanity can be charged with life and electricity — but it’s up to you to instigate it.
3. Let Yourself Win!
Life is going to throw various obstacles in a writer’s way soon enough, and right now there are a few more obstacles than usual mentally, if less physically — what you need with these innocent games is the writer side of yourself winning and wanting to play again next time, not an upset writer who feels the loss and will soon lose interest in the game altogether. Don’t outmanoeuvre or trick yourself: let yourself do it!
Winning people want to keep on playing!
So set your targets so that they are do-able. Don’t tell yourself you're going to write 2,000 words today if you know you’ll barely scrape 500. Set 500 as a target knowing that you will meet it. Then celebrate!
Celebration, consistent target accomplishment, pacing yourself within workable frameworks, has a cumulative effect — before long, you’ll be achieving more and more.
When a musician picks up a violin for the first time, they don't expect a concert-quality sound to come out of it immediately — that would obviously be ridiculous and counter-productive in terms of morale. Writers are doing the same thing, but their instrument is something called ‘the imagination’. It takes practice, and steady accomplishment, to stay on track and to hone talent.
4. Education, Education, Education
For writers, education can be virtually continuous. People-watching, listening to the news, reading both fiction and non-fiction, even social media — plenty of opportunities arise in daily life for observing and applying basic knowledge.
A writer is always ‘at school’. Not a single incident goes by without it potentially adding something to a particular story, to a general understanding of things, or to a sense of colour and reality.
Absorb. Process. Create. Repeat.
5. Praise, Praise, Praise!
You should heap praise on yourself whenever you get something right, and brush off or make light of anything you get wrong. This boosts confidence quickly — and more importantly, keeps you wanting to keep writing.
Received a bitterly critical review? Go and read a good book. Had someone criticise a turn of phrase? Write a poem. Not heard back from an editor? Contact a friend on social media. Fixating on the negative drains morale. Take affirmative action and switch it around.
Importantly, you should work out what makes you feel good — in life, and as a writer. Once you have discovered these wellsprings, don’t stint on them: drink from them. Taste the water that heals you frequently and deeply.
6. Reward Everything Good
In line with all of the above, you can’t go wrong if you reward anything positive that you have accomplished. This can be in the form of small treat, time doing a favourite activity, extra time for family, a favourite magazine or TV show and so on. When a writer’s life is full of rewards, then he or she reaches to write more and try more; if there are few or perhaps no incentives, writers, like children and everyone else, tend to lack motivation and lose interest.
Ideally, you want to associate writing with good things, more fun. Then the practice itself becomes a joy and you have started off on the never-ending road to better and better writing. And made the most of the social isolation phenomenon.