Writing in the Time of No Time

It’s August. Five months and counting since quarantine began. Weeks upon weeks of being inside with a husband, an eight-year old, and two cats.

And now the heat. Open the door and it feels like an oven blast.

Stress. Distance learning, teleworking, global health crisis, injustice, political news that seems to spiral down every day.

But through all this, I have kept writing.

It has been a safe harbor for my mind. Self-care, something for me alone. It’s like meditation. It takes me out of my overthinking and lets me enter another world, focus in. Creativity can be stifled in stress, so I shifted: let it be an outlet.

#QuarantineLife

At the beginning of quarantine, I was in a pretty good spot. My work in progress (WIP, as we say) was out to beta readers and as the comments came in, I focused on addressing those. Then I got a few that threw me. They were consistent and were on an area of my WIP that I knew needed work.

By the time I got those comments, we were a few weeks into quarantine. Stress levels were high. I was trying to juggle work and distance learning and too much togetherness. I felt defensive about the comments. But as I sat with it, I knew I needed to rework a major plot point, which affected the entire rest of the WIP. Back in the trenches.

I did it. I reworked it and reworked it, sent it out to more readers, got more comments (fewer each time, thankfully).

Now we’re five months in and the honeymoon period of quarantine is over. We’ve entered quarantine fatigue. I’m outlining and plotting my next WIP while I wait for my final beta readers (who were also my first beta readers—wanting to get a full-circle impression from them). Most days I am so tired.

Continuing to press on contributes to my sanity while we remain in quarantine. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But it is worth it.

Some Days are Stone

Quarantine feels a little like grad school. When you’re not doing something, you feel guilty because there is always something you should be doing. There’s constant low-level stress and anxiety.

Writing can feel like that too. Binging something on Netflix all the while thinking, I should be writing. But just like in grad school, just like with the rest of quarantine, and just like with writing, giving myself permission for downtime is essential for recharging. Berating myself only makes it worse.

Since starting to work on research for my next work, I’ve found a new kind of challenge. My fiction is historical, which requires a lot of research. Focusing on reading and retaining information has been harder the longer we are in quarantine. I’m frustrated as I continually get stuck on plot points in my outline.

But Some Days are Diamonds

I’ve come up with a few things that have worked for me.

Community

Writing is a solitary endeavor. During this pandemic, as we are more socially isolated, writing can make that worse. We must reach out to our friends. The pandemic has, weirdly, made that easier. Happy hours are easier to schedule when you don’t have to work around commutes and intense schedules. I’ve had virtual chats with friends across the US and in other countries.

I found a local writing group that now meets virtually and includes people from across the country. I have been part of that community every week since March. We start every meeting with chats, ranging from personal updates to topics related to writing. Then we turn off our microphones and write. I joined a virtual critique group that meets twice a month, reading each others’ works and having my own critiqued (it’s a good motivator to get something done!)

Last summer, I started meeting a friend in a coffee shop once a week to write. We have continued to meet once a week—now on FaceTime—and we are still both very productive while on FaceTime with each other.

These communities are important under normal circumstances—for improving your craft, but also because of the solitary nature of writing. I’ve been able to talk through some sticking points and offer advice to others.

Self-care

I set up a self-care calendar. As a working mom, self-care tends to slide down the priority list in normal times. I make a list of things with a goal of times per week and put a check mark for each day I do it. Exercise at least 30 minutes 5 times a week, write or research 5 times a week, at-home facial once a week, talk to friends (text or video) every day, and writing group 1 to 3 times each week. They’re goals I can meet—maybe exceed.

Some days are harder than others. I’ve been really stuck on a plot point for my outline. So, I set it aside. I took a walk and listened to music, just let my mind wander. I read for pleasure. I went back to my first WIP that I hadn’t looked at in months and edited a couple of chapters. Then one morning, I woke up with a start. I had dreamed the solution to that plot point. I made a quick note on my phone so I wouldn’t forget. I even worked out how I wanted to write it. I flew to my laptop and pounded out a couple of paragraphs – in a work I hadn’t even started to write yet. When we give ourselves time to relax, our creativity will resurface.

It’s easy to go down an anxiety rabbit hole right now. I have significantly stepped back from the news. Some days I may only do a quick dip in the news pool to check headlines and then step back out again. Constant news vigilance only made me feel worse.

I’ve also shifted how I’m engaging on social media, particularly on Twitter. I have used Twitter mostly for my non-fiction writing. Since quarantine began, I started engaging more in the writing community on Twitter, following other writers and industry professionals who tweet about writing. It feels more like a community than Twitter did before.

I have done the same on Facebook, joining writing groups there. One person in a group posted a question about the 1960s, when my next project is based. I scanned the comments and one person replied with a comment that closely aligned with what I’d been researching. I reached out to him and he provided me with a wealth of resources on a slice of life from the time that I didn’t know existed. It sparked an entire minor subplot for me.

Make Time to Write

The most critical thing I have done is to ask for what I need. My husband asked me one time why I write. I answered, because I love it. For me, it is self-care and community. He meditates, I write. I ask him and our daughter for the space and time to write. I need it to be more present for the other times.

Some days I may get nothing done. Some days I may break a creative dam and the words flow. I give myself permission to have good days and bad days. And I write.

Published by katezerrenner

I write non-fiction environmental work, mainly climate change, energy, and water, with a heavy focus on policy. I also write historical fiction. In addition to writing, I work as a policy advisor at the State of Texas. Previously, I spent over a decade at Environmental Defense Fund, where I led EDF’s multi-year campaign to influence and enact state and national energy and water efficiency policy. I led the state legislative team, testifying before the US Congress and Texas Legislature. Prior to joining EDF, I worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office analyzing U.S. action on climate change and the voluntary carbon offset market; SAIC, on climate change projects for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and U.S. Department of Energy. I have a Master’s degree in International Energy and Environmental Policy and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, a Master’s in Comparative Politics from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and a Bachelor’s degree in European History from the University of Texas

2 thoughts on “Writing in the Time of No Time

  1. I think it’s great to have bad and good days, so that you appreciate the good ones when they’re there. Either way, I feel like the day’s a success as long as I made the attempt to write, of showing up, of putting my hands on the keyboard. I don’t judge what happens after that. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I love your writing voice!

    Like

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