I’m Struggling

Originally posted on Word Play, an excellent podcast hosted by Kristine Raymond who interviewed me last month.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve sat down several times to write this blog post, word jumble, rant, whatever you call it, and each time I’ve struggled. We’re all stuck at home, writing should be easier, right? Actually, it’s been the opposite. I don’t have anything particularly grand to say about the current crisis we all find ourselves in, but as a writer, here’s how weeks of isolation is affecting my work, and hopefully a few words of encouragement to keep us all going. I may have also memed my cat a few times along the way, because I’m stuck inside, and what else was I going to do?

I may not be a famous writer, but I am a prolific one. Every morning, I’m up a few hours before I need to leave for work (when I used to go in to work) so I can get in some time for edits, rewrites, and if time allows, a new story. Through that process, I’ve learned to embrace that some of the things I write will be horrible (that’s how this feels right now), but I’ll fix them in edits. Usually, that strategy works well, and I’m able to push out a lot of content I’m proud of. Not so in the current climate.

Every morning, I’m waking up to far too many texts, news articles, tweets, angry cat meows, all about the coronavirus and how it’s going to destroy life as we know it. That’s a lot to be assaulted by first thing in the morning, and it’s distracting. Every time I’ve sat down to write this post, I’ve been pulled away by a tweet, or an errant thought, and it’s been hard to get back on track. The truth is, I’m not writing as much as I was when I had less time.

I think the problems I’m experiencing stem from a single question: Why does what I write matter right now? In a time where people are starving and losing their jobs, it’s hard to think about a drunken monster hunter blundering his way through another adventure. Sure, I could go into a darker headspace and write some Black Mirror sci-fi shit (happens every few years), but I think that’s more likely to bring people down than lift them up. The point is, I’ve lost my drive, and getting it back has been a hell of a process.

Alright, that probably seems bleak, but here’s the good part. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who’s been struggling with their own brain right now. It’s easy to forget we’re not alone. This pandemic is weird for everyone, and no one in the writing community is experiencing ‘normal’ right now. Whether you’re Stephen King or someone who hasn’t published yet, you’re experiencing radical change.

So, we’re not alone, but that’s still a lot of negativity to deal with, right? Yes, it is, but I’ve been working on a few strategies that have helped me significantly. My writing is not back to normal, but I sat down to put this post out, didn’t I?

  1. Media Blackout Times – I’ve started shutting my phone off from 8PM-8AM every day. The evening helps me sleep, and that unadulterated time in the morning helps me write before I’ve read my daily news. Getting that time to put words to paper before I’ve been exposed to the world for the day is a blessing. I’ve wanted to check my phone a hundred times while writing this, but so far, I haven’t (well I did once), and these words are on the page.
  2. The Egg Timer – Look, most of us don’t have egg timers, but I’m willing to bet you’ve got something that can be used as a timer. Set twenty minutes where you’re going to sit and write. For those twenty minutes, you aren’t talking to people, you aren’t checking anything else, and you’re not staring blankly at a screen. I don’t care if it’s “and then my characters went to the next scene because I was stuck”, make your fingers move and put something on the page. It’ll feel weird at first, but that’s going to help you get it out, and that is a damned fine feeling.
  3. Interact with People Honestly – It can be very tempting on Twitter or elsewhere to put on a persona that you’re thriving and doing your best work right now. If that’s true, more power to you, but I doubt it. When you’re interacting with people, show your true and honest self. Projecting a falsehood helps no one and is likely just discouraging other members of the community (I’m guilty of it, but I’m trying to stop). Talk to other writers about your experience and build new relationships. What else are you going to do, write?
  4. Remember Why You Started Writing – I started writing to give myself an escape from the real world, and I need it now more than ever. While that may not matter on the global scale, it matters to me, and that makes it important. Whatever your reason for writing is, it’s a good one, and it matters.

Look, even reading through this post, I still have my doubts about sending it off, but I sat here and wrote a thousand words this morning. That’s something to be proud of. Take the small achievements where you can find them, and remember, keep writing. One day, things will get better, but before they do, stories are a great way to pass the time. If you want to connect, you can find me on Twitter (@RealMacAshton), and I wish you the best of luck with your work in progress.

We got this.

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