Surely you’ve seen some of the jokes circulating the internet about how literary types have been training for quarantine our whole lives. Someone I follow on Twitter posted a meme claiming Shakepeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic. Given this, I almost would’ve expected to get more done during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.
And surely you know how that’s panned out. While work hasn’t stopped, some of it has gotten more challenging. Those of us who already worked from home may feel less isolated than we did before — and not in a good way. I’m ill-accustomed to spending my weekdays with a full house and I’m still figuring out my new rhythm.
As I start week two of our household’s Camp Covid-19, I thought I’d share some of the measures I’m taking to keep my writing life alive.
Preserving as many pre-coronavirus routines as possible
In a recent post on The ADHD Homestead, I talked about ways I’ve tried to keep life the same since we started quarantining and social distancing. This includes going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time we usually would for work and school, getting dressed and making our beds every morning, and keeping an expectation of quiet work time until at least 3:00 every weekday afternoon. In a world that becomes less familiar every day, our family (and my sanity) has benefited from preserving as much consistency and sameness as possible.
Recognizing when I need to adapt
That said, I haven’t buried my head in the sand or tried to power through without acknowledging change, either. At the same time as I work to maintain a healthy level of familiarity in my days, I remain open to what my brain and body are telling me in the moment.
On our first weekend of stay-at-home life, I took frequent breaks from my normal productive work to do physical tasks. I cleaned my (now our) office and zip-tied the cables beneath my desk into submission. I cleared clutter from our common areas. These tasks gave me a feeling of control over my immediate life and surroundings, but they also got my body moving and gave my mind time to process the changes coming to our lives.
In week two of our isolation, I’ve discovered other ways I need to adapt. While blog writing and administrative tasks come easily in a shared office, fiction writing does not. I’m used to doing it in solitude. Yesterday I had trouble getting to the end of a paragraph, let alone a chapter.
Rather than try to force my way through it, I unplugged my computer from my desk and moved to the couch in my office. According to a book I read about productivity, simply changing the height of your desk chair can release chemicals in your brain that make it easier to focus and get things done. Perhaps the novelty of the new location or more reclined pose gave my brain the nudge it needed to keep writing.
Long story short, sometimes the strangest things help us stay productive. I’ve been trying to keep an open mind and give my brain what it needs.
Asking for help and support
While moving onto a couch to revive my writing brain is a great trick, I’ve also stressed to my household the need to function as a team. Instead of having weekdays to myself to do my work, I’ve had to make room for my family — both their physical presence and their needs. My kiddo requires oversight to ensure he finishes his responsibilities during the day. My husband requires eight hours of productive work time in our house now that his office is closed indefinitely. I don’t mind running interference, but it takes a toll on my focus and productivity.
This weekend, I made it clear I wanted my husband and kiddo to do some helpful jobs around the house. My husband has also taken point on cleaning up the kitchen and doing our kid’s bedtime most evenings to give me extra decompression time. I’ve bent to accommodate my family, but I haven’t been shy about asking for accommodations for myself.
Forgiving myself for distractions
I had high hopes for my submission to this month’s writing group. As recently as a few weeks ago, part of me secretly wanted to finish my current project and draft a new novel before a writing retreat I have booked for July. I suspect I’ll fall short of the mark on both of these goals, plus many more to come.
The reality is, our productivity is going to suffer. While I’m trying to limit time spent obsessing over news headlines and tweets, I also acknowledge I can’t totally insulate myself from those things. I will get distracted, and I will end some days feeling off-balance and underproductive. That’s part of being human right now.
Forgiving myself for these inevitable speed bumps and distractions doesn’t mean giving myself permission to stop writing. I’ve committed to spending at least a little time with my manuscript every day, with the time itself — not the word or page count — as the goal. Life is different and challenging and often scary right now. Abandoning my writing completely would only make it more so. Distraction is okay, even expected. Throwing up my hands is not.