Even if the only change you’re experiencing is the distraction and stress of the news, you may (like me) be figuring out solutions for some of these new challenges of writing from home in these unprecedented times.
The good news about being writers is that we not only have built-in self-entertainment for the duration of the quarantine, we also get to entertain ourselves in ways that are purposeful to ourselves, meaningful to others, and perhaps even eventually profitable. The less-good news is that writing from home—amazing opportunity that it is—can be challenging even at the best of times.
Just in case you’re trying to figure out a new schedule for your days, or perhaps just struggling with getting your head back in the game (I hear ya!), today I wanted to share some of the top solutions I’ve learned during my years as a full-time writer. The last year, in particular, challenged me and stretched me in ways I’m now profoundly grateful for, since I was able to learn and implement some crucial habits that are now helping me cope with Life in the Time of Coronavirus (the title of my next book—JK!).
8 Tips for Successfully Writing From Home
Even though the global situation is hardly ideal, this is still a time during which an incredible number of people will be given the opportunity to experiment with the dream of being a Full-Time Writer. Maybe you’ve already tapped in to some of the awesome parts of this. But particularly in light of the stress and uncertainty we’re all facing, I’m betting you’ve also probably already found yourself neck deep in some of the more challenging bits.
The need for self-discipline, the isolation, the lack of accountability, the frustration of stories that aren’t working, the very real urges toward procrastination—all these things and more can interfere with your ability to capitalize on writing from home.
Let me start by saying there’s a time and a place for lying on the couch and processing how the world and our lives have changed so rapidly. Self-care should be a priority for all of us—and writing may not be at the top of your self-care list. If that’s so, don’t beat yourself up. We’re all under enough pressure as it is right now. It is love that drives out fear, and that starts with loving ourselves.
But for many of us, one of our best self-care tactics will be the writing. As Christine Hennebury shared in her recent post “5 Ways Writing Can Help You Calm Down“:
It might seem a little weird to think about writing at a time like this but it isn’t silly or frivolous to try to keep yourself calm and grounded by sticking to (or creating) a routine. If you are calm and grounded you will be much more likely to be able to make good decisions and to take good care of yourself and your family.
Christine talks about how writing right now doesn’t have to be a full daily regimen focused on churning out thousands of words. It might just be a journal entry or morning pages.
You’ll know what is right for you. Whatever the case, here are my top eight tips for creating a solid daily writing routine. This reflects my usual routine, which I have consciously built to support me not just in doing the actual writing but in helping me feel like writing every day. It’s ultimately a routine that is more about the not-writing stuff than the writing stuff. But I think we all know the hardest thing about writing isn’t the writing itself but the getting-into-the-writing-headspace part. That’s more true now than ever.
So if you’re struggling with any part of your writing (or honestly with anything else you’re trying to accomplish during this period), give the following a try.
1. Start With the Right Morning Routine
This is crucial. We all have different preferences for how we start the day. Some of us hit the ground running; others take a while to get revved up (*raises hand*). Some of us like to start out with our writing; others prefer to schedule it later in the day.
Whatever the case, your entire day will be affected by the success of your morning routine.
Wake Up at the Same Time Every Morning
Our bodies crave homeostasis. Our circadian rhythm sets itself by the time at which it sees daylight each morning. The more regular your sleeping and eating schedule (even on weekends), the better. Your body (and your mind) will thank you and repay you.
Eat a Healthy Breakfast ASAP
Eating right away keeps your hormones from crashing, which helps fend off anxiety and depression later in the day. I prefer healthy proteins and fats—a baked egg with cheese, a small bowl of yogurt, and an apple. The first thing I do when I get out of bed is go to the kitchen, pre-heat the oven, and stick the egg in to cook. By the time I’ve finished my other morning prep, my breakfast is ready to eat. It’s just part of my routine now. I never have to wonder what to cook or feel guilty for making do with a too-small breakfast or a less-than-healthy breakfast. Nor do I have to spend more than three minutes prepping it, since I always keep grated cheese in the fridge.
Open Your Curtains First Thing
We need to see the sky these days. We need as much of Mother Nature’s healing light as we can get. Go around your house and open every curtain you closed the night before—then park yourself in front of a window for whatever’s next on your schedule.
Other Good Habits to Consider
Those three things are my morning must-haves. Beyond that, everyone’s preferences will vary. What’s most important is finding a rhythm that helps you optimize the day to come. For me, this involves a short time of sitting, looking at the view beyond my deck, and eating breakfast. I follow that with at least thirty minutes of yoga, before making coffee and fitting in some morning reading or research.
I finish my morning routine with a walk in the woods. Even if you live in the city, I encourage you to get outside as much as possible. If you’re unable or uncomfortable walking where you might encounter others (definitely keep your six feet of social distance!), you might at least spend time sitting in the sun on your front step—or maybe just standing in front of an open window for a while. Nature remains one of our most healing forces.
2. Choose the Right Time to Write
Full-time writing actually isn’t as full-time as it sounds. Especially if you have other business to take care of (emails, social media, stuff from your actual day job, homeschooling your kids, etc.), the writing is only part of your daily to-do list. You may also have multiple projects in various stages of completion. These days, my work day is divided between fiction writing in the morning, email and “business” stuff in the early afternoon, and (on certain days) non-fiction writing in the late afternoon.
Whatever your writing to-do list, one of the most crucial challenges is figuring out which time of the day is best for each task. I wrote about how figuring this out was crucial for me and how implementing my new schedule was one of my top goals for this year.
Largely, the challenge here is to organize your day so your energy is optimized to each task. Do the work that requires the most mental “oomph” at your best time of the day. Which task actually is the most energy-demanding may not be what you initially assume. Implement some trial and error until you find a maintainable flow to your day.
3. Put Strict Limits on Phone and Internet Consumption
This is always important for anyone doing creative work at home, but especially right now. At this point, most of us are now informed of the most important details about the virus and our responsibilities in dealing with it. Whatever new info we require can probably be gleaned in as little as five minutes per day.
Guard yourself against spiraling down the Internet hole. Potential anxiety triggers aside, time spent browsing the Internet is time not being spent writing. Put your phone in the other room. Unless you absolutely need to be available for others, turn on Airplane Mode while writing. While on your computer, discipline yourself not to browse for anything but the most necessary information. If you’re struggling, turn off the Internet during writing or install an extension that limits your ability to access certain sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.
Limiting social media during this time can feel even more difficult than usual, but it’s much better to schedule the times you connect with people and to connect in a controlled way that shields you from unnecessary anxiety triggers or overload.
4. Fill Your Well and Be Kind to Yourself
Almost all of us are feeling stressed (or perhaps even sick) to one degree or another. Although this quarantine is the perfect opportunity to create good habits and discipline ourselves to improve our writing lives, it is not the time to beat ourselves up or force ourselves to do tasks for which we really don’t have the energy or motivation.
Be honest with yourself: is your resistance to writing today just the usual urge for procrastination—or is it because you really need to chill and let your body process its tension?
Just as important as outputting is inputting. Writers must fill the well if we’re to draw the bucket. You may find this quarantine period time more suited to well-filling than to massive productivity. Or you may find you need a balance of both rest and work.
Listen to your body. Listen to the tension in your chest and your stomach, the stiffness in your neck and jaw, the tears that are always close to the surface, and the racing thoughts that just won’t settle. Everything you’re experiencing may be telling you to write. But it may also be telling you to go read a jolly new novel or watch something that makes you laugh. Be kind and do what’s right for you at any given moment.
5. Nourish and Exercise Your Body
Even though we’re all hyper-aware of our health right now, we may also be craving loads of comfort food. Aside from the pressing health concerns of the moment, it’s important to remember your brain is part of your body. If you want your imagination and your word skills to show up during writing time, then you need to keep your entire body in top shape.
This starts with eating a healthy, nourishing, and regular diet. #QuarantineLife is the perfect time to learn more about healthy eating habits and to start weaning yourself off junk food (sugar’s a good place to start).
Same goes for exercising. Choose your flavor. For me yoga and walking outside have been transformatively positive.
6. Forget Breaking Bad Habits, Just Create Good Ones
This is something I’ve realized lately: I stink at breaking bad habits. The more I try to quit whatever it is, the more compulsively I do it. But when I instead try to channel that compulsive tendency into a better habit, suddenly I’m back in the driver’s seat. Dan Millman said:
The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new.
This is a useful tidbit in just about any area of life, but definitely when it comes to creating solid work-from-home skills. Were you planning to write today, but now Netflix is calling (and you’re pretty sure it’s more laziness than a genuine need to rest)? Try promising yourself that you’ll schedule a movie into your evening routine, so you can focus on writing now.
Another useful trick (which I heard on John Tesh’s awesome Intelligence for Your Life radio program) to disperse compulsive and unwanted thoughts (whether they be cravings or anxiety) is to visualize a flock of birds spiraling up into the sky. Try it! It works great for breaking up thought patterns, but you do have to follow up by redirecting your subsequent thoughts in a disciplined way.
7. Schedule Time to Connect With Others
One of the reasons now is a prime time for getting more writing done is because we’re not around people as much (unless, you know, you are). But we need to connect more than ever. Whether you’re at home with your family, staying with friends for the duration, or living alone—be proactive in scheduling your together time. Let people (and yourself) know when you’ll be hanging out—whether in the living room, on Skype, or on Netflix Party. That way, you can enforce your writing boundaries both to yourself and to others without feeling like you’re missing out on the crucial nurturing of facetime.
8. End With the Right Evening Routine
Finally, make sure you end the day on a positive note. For some, this may be your best writing time. For others, like me, this is a needed wind-down time before bed. Whatever the case, this is your set up for tomorrow‘s success.
Try to Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night
For many of us this is even harder than trying to get up at the same time every morning. But disciplining ourselves to maintain a regular bedtime that allows for at least eight hours of sleep (I seem to do best on eight and a half) can make all the difference in our daily health and energy.
Log Off the Internet as Soon as You Reasonably Can
After supper, I check email one last time, then turn off the computer for the rest of the evening. I don’t need anything messing with my head at this point—whether it’s an email, a tweet, or a news article. Whatever it is can wait until morning.
Shut Down the Screens as Soon as You Can
If you watch TV in the evening, do it without your phone in your hand. This is a good habit, period, since it helps ward off Internet brain, but putting aside the phone also helps you avoid anything disruptive your sleep. It also prevents the brain confusion that comes from your device’s blue light. If you do watch, read, or scroll (naughty, naughty) before bed, at least try to use blue-light inhibitors (which may be built in to your device or which you can wear as stylish glasses), so your body doesn’t get confused about the fact it’s nighttime.
Save Your Most Relaxing and Fun Stuff for Right Before Bed
This is the perfect time to get your reading in, to hang out with loved ones (in the living room or on Skype), watch a movie, or take a bath. Choose something both rewarding and relaxing. You earned it.
Self-care often seems, well, self-indulgent. But it’s not—and especially right now. Rather, it’s a crucial foundation for everything we do throughout our day, whether that’s cooking meals for family, bolstering our own spirits so we can bolster others, or maybe even writing a book that changes our wonderful, insane, frightening, amazing, one-of-a-kind world for the better!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What challenges (and solutions) are you discovering while writing from home? Tell me in the comments!
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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland