Around this time of year ‘best of’ lists become popular. Best books, best movies, best albums – you get the idea. It’s hard to equate the word ‘best’ with anything to do with 2020, but there’s still some quality advice out there that deserves mentioning. Here’s my somewhat unconventional list for writers, influenced by the pandemic, but hopefully useful even when things return to a new version of normal.
Focus your energy on things you can control.
If nothing else, 2020 taught us that life can change on a dime, and many, many things are out of our control. In the writing world, there’s a lot we can’t control. Here are a few of those things:
- Reviews – I’m calling this category ‘reviews,’ but it really includes any kind of reader response. Reviews are just the most tangible since we can easily access them. Not everyone will love our stories, and that’s okay. We don’t love every story we read. Variety is the spice of life after all! Let this go.
- Sales or ‘Lists’ – There are many things we can do to impact our book’s visibility and accessibility, but ultimately, we have no direct control over this. We can’t force people to read our book.
But, here are some things you can control:
- Work Ethic – We can make a commitment to our writing career. Even if we’re still juggling a day job, writing can still be a priority.
- Professionalism – If we want anyone but our family and close friends to read our work, at some point we’ll have to navigate the business side of the profession. Honor your obligations, hit your deadlines, pay your bills in a timely manner, treat people with respect. It sounds simple, but we can get emotional around our beloved art.
- Industry Knowledge – While we can’t control sales or readership directly, we can learn about the industry. Have we researched the latest advertising tools? Are we developing our brand? Do we even know what keywords are? Today’s publishing industry is dynamic and complex, but there have never been more opportunities for writers to get their work to readers. Learn about the industry in which you work.
- Commitment to Craft – I’ve left this one for last, but ultimately, I think it’s the most important. We are writers after all. If our writing skills are lacking, a good marketing plan probably won’t matter. Commitment to good writing doesn’t have to mean an MFA in creative writing. It can mean joining a healthy writer’s group, attending conferences on craft, working with a critique partner, participating in a webinar, reading articles. Most of all, it means keep on writing! In this world, we get better by doing.
Set realistic expectations.
This year has been a challenge in so many ways. Our regular lives are on hold, and many of the things that used to fill our days are off limits. We’re living in one prolonged moment of pause. This extra time could present us artistic types with an opportunity – an opportunity to focus on creative things if we are so inclined.
We may feel like we should be super productive. After all, Isaac Newton invented calculus while in quarantine during the Great Plague of London. If he could accomplish something so monumental, we should at least be able to crank out a few thousand extra words. But, that’s not how it is. At least, not every day.
Quarantine hasn’t been like attending a writer’s retreat, where we’ve purposely cleared our calendars and removed ourselves to some peaceful cabin on a lake in order to get our creative juices flowing or finish up that manuscript on deadline. Nope. We are at home, worried about our families, our finances, about the possibility of getting sick. So, even though I have extra time, I’m not always in the frame of mind to use it. I bet you aren’t either. As you move forward, be gentle with yourself. Create reasonable, realistic expectations.
Take care of yourself.
This is important. My tendency is to let things go that I probably shouldn’t in the self-care department when I’m already feeling out of sorts, especially in the wintertime. Add a pandemic on top of it all, and well, it’s been rough. I don’t feel like working out. I want hot chocolate and comfort food pretty much all the time. Sweat pants and a baseball hat seems like a fine wardrobe choice. Instead of fighting these tendencies, I attempt to incorporate them in a healthy, balanced way. Here are some things I try to do:
- Get more sleep. I need it and the longer nights promote it. I pretend I’m hibernating.
- Make my work space more pleasant. Candles and twinkle lights. Seriously. They make the darkness, which lasts so much longer now, feel cozy.
- More yoga, less gym. I don’t stress myself about making it to the gym, when the gym is even open. Rather, I commit to more hot yoga. It’s great exercise, and it’s hot. Did I mention it’s hot?
- Outdoor time. It takes more effort, layers, and proper footwear, but when I hike in the woods, or even take a walk around the neighborhood, I’m in a better mood afterwards.
Your methods may not be mine, but can you get the idea. All writing days won’t be good ones, and that’s okay. You aren’t alone if you feel like your energy is low, your creativity stalled, or you’re just having a plain old bad day. Take care of yourself, adjust your expectations, and move forward.
So, there you have it. Nothing about word count, killing your darlings, writing every day, or anything else typically writing related. It’s been an unconventional year for sure, so I thought it called for a little unconventional writing advice. Happy holidays, writing community!