How to Write When Struggling – Part II

Making Changes Can Make a Difference

Writers write in the best of times: when they’re healthy, working full-time, parenting, maintaining their homes, special celebratory events, births, and socializing.

They write in the worst of times: when ill, laid off, dealing with toxic neighbors or family, moving, and deaths.

And then there are the anormal times, such as the one we’re currently dealing with: Covid-19.

Up until now, I’ve been able to write through anything. I’ve written in playgrounds, noisy coffee shops, airports, and complete silence. I’ve written through two divorces, several moves, even the loss of jobs. I’ve written when sick with colds, fevers, stomach cramps, aching limbs, short-term migraines, and other ailments. However, having the flu for the third time in six weeks, three-day migraines I used to have, and vertigo have been the exceptions. Anytime my eyes are affected or when I’ve been lain out flat from an illness wishing for death, the actual task of putting words on paper or screen becomes non-existent.

One would think that during this current pandemic, especially while in lockdown, writers would be celebrating this huge chunk of solitary time, time they’ve wished for.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that I’m a full-time writer, I discovered I was struggling. So were many of my writer friends, plus thousands of other writers who are in my online writing groups.

For the second time in my life, I found myself facing depression even though my life wasn’t changing much. The things that changed for me were meeting friends and other writers in person and book club meetings.

While I’m not an expert on depression, from what I’ve read and researched, my depression came from loss. A loss of routine. The loss of physical connections. For me, the pandemic was a profound distraction, not to mention the fear of getting the virus.

Even though it was heartening to learn I wasn’t alone, it didn’t my problem.

After struggling through March and April of little writing or even the ability to concentrate on the most mundane of things, like paying bills or doing laundry, and feeling like every little task was a monster chore, I was ready for a mental spring cleaning.

I wanted to write again, and now, I am. So, what changed?

1) Recognizing Concentration Limits

During this pandemic, my ability to concentrate for long periods of time diminished greatly. I discovered if I did 15-45 minute sprints, I could do 1-3 sprints a day and write about 300-700 words per sprint, depending on the material I was writing.

2) Obtaining Accountability

I’ve always tracked my writing: how many words, how long, the tasks completed. Now, I’ve added an accountability partner. We check in with each other in the morning with either a live chat or a Messenger message, naming our goal(s) for the day. Then, we check in with each other in the evening, reporting what we’ve done.

Most of the time, we’re making forward progress.

On the days, where we did next to nothing, we acknowledge that we’re allowed. We’re exhausted, been injured, or just needed a day off.

The accountability works because 1) we’re verbalizing our goals and 2) we’re cheering each other on with positivity. It makes us want to do more!

3) Making Good Food choices

Since learning a year ago that I had a pile of allergies. celiac disease, and a high inflammatory rate, I changed my diet in big ways: avoiding the allergen foods and eliminating all grain, dairy, and sugar. I was doing well: losing weight and reduced my inflammatory rate to near zero. In fact, when I had one minor surgical procedure done last fall, the doctor expressed surprised at how fast the wound had healed. Additionally, all my aches, pains, and psoriasis had disappeared.

In February, I started cheating with just a couple foods. Then in March, April, and May, I jumped into the rabbit hole of unhealthy eating. No restrictions. All my previous comfort foods were back: ice cream, mac and cheese, cereal, sweets, and bread.

By June I was paying for those dalliances. All the previous ailments had returned and I was suffering, including gaining back all the weight I had lost.

Now, I’m eliminating all foods that are poisonous to my body again. I’m feeling better and I’m losing weight…again. The returned aches and pains are disappearing.

4) Connecting with Family and Friends

With all my writing meetings and weekend write-ins getting cancelled, online meetings became the next best thing. We can talk, laugh, and share our screens as we talk about the craft and continue to help each other with writing and publishing issues.

In fact, our monthly meeting this past Saturday was an all-day online write-in. We met in the morning, checked in a couple hours later, and then, checked in at the end of the allotted time. Everyone had met or were close to meeting the goals they had set for the day.

Online meetings, whether with one person or a group, have made a huge difference. I feel connected again.

5) Limiting Social Media

I’ve discovered the more I’m on social media reading the posts, comments, and tweets, the more likely I am to become angry, frustrated, or depressed about things I have no control over other than reposting, retweeting, writing a letter to my Congressional Representative, donating money, or venting to a friend. In the end, all of these things keep me engaged in obstacles to my writing. It’s one thing to stay informed; it’s another to spend hours learning nothing new.

The one change that has made the biggest difference for me has been the writing sprints, writing in short periods of time. Even during our recent online all-day write-in, I found that I couldn’t sit there for two hours at a time. I had to do a sprint, get up do a chore like load the washer or get the mail, then do another sprint, another chore, another sprint, and so forth. By the end of the day, I had written 3941 new words on my WIP.

Forward progress indeed!

About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
This entry was posted in Struggling to write, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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