Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Writing During Difficult Times

Writing isn’t always easy at the best of times, and I think you’ll agree with me that what the world is going through right now with the Covid 19 pandemic doesn’t even come close to the best of times. Most of us have day jobs or, if we’re full-time freelancers, we cobble together a living from different types of writing and writing-adjacent activities. We’re used to having to squeeze in our creative writing when we can, and we give it what energy we can muster.

But writing is even harder during times of great stress. A pandemic – with its health and economic effects – is obviously one of these times. But are there are more than enough personal stresses that we must confront in our lives. Illnesses, divorces, troubles at work, problems with our children, difficulty paying bills . . . It’s not a stretch to say we’re always dealing with stress of one kind or another in life, and while some creative people may thrive in the midst of stress, many of us – maybe most – find stress to be a creativity-killer.

So if you’re having trouble writing during quarantine (or any other stressful time in your life), here are some ideas that might help you get the words flowing again.

Before I continue, I should say that I’m well aware that I have it much easier right now than a lot of people. I’m an English professor at a community college in my day job. I’m full-time and tenured. My college closed down several weeks ago (like so many schools) and the faculty are working from home, teaching remotely. I’m still getting paid my regular salary (with its attendant health benefits), and there’s no reason for me to worry financially. Even so, my wife and I have some money saved up for emergencies. Not a ton, but some. My wife is great at managing money – me, not so much – and we have very little debt beyond house and car payments. We have a home to live in, and we have no reason to think we can’t continue paying the mortgage until things return to normal (or return to a new normal, whatever that might look like). I’ve also been writing and publishing for a long time, and I’ve had a lot of experience writing through hard times in my life – death of family members, my divorce, struggles with depression and anxiety . . . That experience is helping me keep writing now.

Plus, while we haven’t been officially tested, our family doctor thinks my wife and I had Covid 19 already. For me, it was like a medium-bad flu. It was more serious for my wife. She has asthma and other health issues. But we’ve both recovered, and we’re relatively confident that we’re going to make it through the next few months okay.

I don’t pretend that I know what your life is like right now and what you’re dealing with. It’s easy for me to give advice when I’m doing okay. I know that. But I hope some of what I offer might be of help to you.

And let me say this: you don’t have to write. You’re probably under a shitload of stress right now, and you don’t need to add more by thinking that if you’re sheltering at home you should be producing a ton of work. It’s okay not to write for a while. When things are better, you’ll write again. However, if you want to write during these trying times – if you find writing a good coping mechanism/release/escape – read on.

  •       Don’t tell yourself you have to produce a specific amount. If you decide you should write five pages a day, every day, and you don’t make this quota, you’ll feel like a failure and get down on yourself. Mental and creative energy is hard to sustain during extended stressful periods. If you write ten pages one day, two pages the next, and none for the next five days, that’s okay.
  •        Write when you can. You might not be able to follow a set schedule for one reason or another. If that’s the case, fit writing in when you can. Try to write something between the time you wake up in the morning and the time you go to sleep for the night. However much it is, whenever you produce it, if you get it done before your head hits the pillow, that’s all that matters.
  •        Write in short bits of time throughout the day. If you find it hard to concentrate for any length of time, write for five or ten minutes, then go do something else. Come back later and do another five or ten. Repeat this as many times during the day as you can manage. You can also set yourself a schedule: write ten minutes every hour (or every two hours or three hours). Set an alarm to help remind you.
  •        Write small stuff. Write flash fiction or poems. Write one paragraph, one sentence. Writing small can not only relieve the pressure to produce a lot of work in one session, it’s easier when you can only concentrate for short periods as well.
  •        Write something that’s not for publication. Forget the markets. Write something for the sake of writing it. Write something that’s just for you. Write something fun. Maybe it’ll turn out to be something you’ll polish and submit to a market later, maybe not. All that matters is that you’re feeding your creative self.
  •        Write for (and maybe with) your family and friends. Connecting to our loves ones during difficult times can make all the difference in how we get through those times. If you have kids and they’re home all day, write a story for them. Write a play for them to act out. Write stuff with them. Collaborate on a story with a friend. Do a round-robin story with a group of friends.
  •        Keep a quarantine journal. If all you can focus on is Covid 19, then write about it. Write about your thoughts, fears, hopes . . . If this is all you write, that’s okay. You’re still writing. But if you get your feelings out in your journal – especially if you write it earlier in the day – you might clear enough mental and emotional space in your head to write your creative work later.
  •        Write to your new biorhythm. If your daily schedule has changed, your biorhythm might have too. Maybe you used to write at night before bed, but now you can’t. Try writing first thing in the morning. Or if mornings used to work for you, try nights. When do you feel you have the least stress during the day? Try writing then.
  •        Try something new. The old saying “A change is as good as rest” applies here. If you normally write fantasy, try writing mystery. If you normally write fiction, try nonfiction or poetry. Write song lyrics. Write a script. The novelty of trying something new might give you fresh creative energy. And don’t worry about how good or publishable this new stuff might be. Just write it. Use it as therapy. Have fun with it. Learn from it.
  •         Write outside. I’m not big outdoor person, but my wife is. She needs to be outside every day, even if she just goes into our backyard and putters in the garden. If you find yourself getting depressed during quarantine (and unable to write), maybe you should try writing outside and see if that helps. If nothing else, it’ll probably be good for your soul.

Whatever you do, don’t put pressure on yourself to be anything than other than who you are at any given moment, and don’t put pressure on yourself to work more than you can at any given moment. Be good to yourself. Take care of yourself. The writing will follow when it follows.


The Forever House Released

My new horror/dark fantasy novel from Flame Tree Press came out on March 26th! I’m extremely pleased at the response the book has gotten so far. Here’s a sample:

“The horrors inside the Eldred house are spectacularly realized . . . Waggoner’s tale delivers some solid scares.” – Publishers Weekly

“By and large, The Forever House works on multiple levels. It is a meticulous character study, a well-written social commentary without becoming overtly heavy-handed, and ultimately, a terrifying horror novel filled with creatures out of nightmare that will stay with you long after its astonishingly semi-hopeful yet dread-inducing ending.” – iHorror

“Fast-paced, hair-raising, and with a twist ending with enough spin to make you rethink who the real monsters are, The Forever House is the sort of phantasmagorical terror that keeps you reading through gore, grit, and grime until the very end.” – Seven Jane

Here’s a synopsis:

In Rockridge, Ohio, a sinister family moves into a sleepy cul de sac. The Eldreds feed on the negative emotions of humans, creating nightmarish realms within their house to entrap their prey. Neighbors are lured into the Eldreds’ home and faced with challenges designed to heighten their darkest emotions so their inhuman captors can feed and feed well. If the humans are to have any hope of survival, they’ll have to learn to overcome their prejudices and resentments toward one another and work together. But which will prove more deadly in the end, the Eldred . . . or each other?

You can order all three versions – hardback, trade paperback, and ebook – at the Flame Tree Press website here: https://www.flametreepublishing.com/The-Forever-House-ISBN-9781787583184.html

You can order from Amazon here:

Anathemas: Warhammer Horror

The Black Library has started publishing horror fiction set in their Warhammer universes. I’ve got a Warhammer 40K story called “Skin Man” in their latest horror anthology Anathemas. Check it out!


I send out a newsletter every month or so with information about new releases and writing tips. Most of the time I try to present different tips than I do here on the blog. If you’re interested in subscribing, you can do so here: http://timwaggoner.com/contact.htm

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