Writing Through 2020 and Other Hard Times

Writing Through 2020 and Other Hard Times

Let’s face it: 2020 is a dumpster fire, in a train wreck, at a goat rodeo. If it were a novel synopsis, editors wouldn’t get past the first paragraph before saying it was too unbelievable.

It’s hard to write when the world is on fire*

Every writer I know is struggling to be creative and productive in these hard times. Heck, every person I know is struggling with this.

There are so many reasons to struggle: lost income, stress, working from home, pandemic schooling your kids, stress, illness, social isolation, and, of course, stress. Also, the U.S. is finally grappling with 400 years of racial injustice (which is necessary and good, but not exactly fun to make happen.)

The perfect meme for 2020:
Two panel comic.
Panel 1: of a dog sitting placidly in a chair in a room that is on fire. 
Panel 2: close up of dog saying "This is fine."
This meme perfectly encapsulates our current dystopian reality.

And now the world is literally on fire. (*Note that I wrote this header before wildfires turned the US west coast into a hellscape.)

My writing struggles (aka where we get serious for a minute)

2020 hard times meme:
Text: Waking up every morning in 2020 be like
*stills from Princess Bride movie* "Let's see... where were we? Oh yes. In the pit of despair."
If anyone knows who made this meme, please share so I can give them credit!

This year I’ve been more scattered, more stressed, and less productive.

My critique groups have been a good litmus test for myself: the number of times I’ve missed critique deadlines and skipped meetings in 2020 is higher than the whole last decade.

But August was the epicenter of my personal year of awful: my dad died suddenly. And just for fun, I also stepped on a 30-year old roofing nail and was hobbled while trying to sort out his estate, in another state, in a pandemic, while also preparing for the kids first day of school.

So while all of us are generally struggling, it’s been particularly hard for me to write the past month. I’m writing this post because I need it for myself, but I suspect many writers can relate.

Writing through hard times in the past

A white kid in a helmet falling off after trying to ride a goat in a goat rodeo. In this metaphor, the goat is 2020 and we are all the kid.
I was today year’s old when I learned that a goat rodeo is a real thing.

I’ve been writing seriously for almost a decade now. I keep thinking back to other hard times and how I got through those.

Which is to say: this is not my first goat rodeo. And while grief and stress don’t get easier with practice, you do learn some things.

When my first book published, I was at my stepmom’s bedside in hospice. After she passed, I didn’t write anything for awhile. I just couldn’t.

But I had deadlines. My first work for hire books were already in progress when she passed. So after a couple of weeks, I got back to work. I didn’t particularly feel like writing. I didn’t feel particularly creative. But I sat down to work and the muse showed up.

When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”

Maya Angelou

I definitely did not expect writing to help me get out from under that cloud, but it did. I love writing. I really do. It was hard to start, but once I did, doing something I love helped me feel better.

The Writer’s Roadmap Through Hard Times

That was a hard period in my life, but it taught me a few things. It taught me to trust in myself more and doubt less. It also gave me a roadmap to get through other tough times.

1. The fastest way to recovery is to rest and take care of yourself.

Take a break from writing if you need to. Rest. Destress. Recover.

I’ve spent more time resting and guarding my mental health this year than ever before. After the initial hecticness of sorting my dad’s estate, I slept. A lot. I needed it.

2. In dark times, we need joy to keep us afloat

The day before we drove back home for the funeral, I found myself trying to explain a wake to my tween.

TWEEN *incredulous*: You have a party to celebrate someone being dead?!?!?!?

ME: *snort laughing*

Once I stopped laughing, I explained. It’s not about being glad someone is gone – it’s about taking time amid the sadness to remember the good, the funny, and the beautiful. To spend time with the people you love and remember all the people and things you still have in your life. It helps.

We spent an hour recounting happy memories when we should have been in bed. I laughed, I cried, and I felt a bit better afterward.

Appreciating small joys is an important part of getting through hard times. It’s not just a relief from sadness and stress, it’s a way to reorient so you can find the light amidst the darkness.

That’s also why so many of us have taken up pandemic hobbies. Dying our hair blue. Learning an instrument. Rereading your favorite comfort reads.

And why some of us continue to crack (ever darker) jokes. *Gestures at this post*

3. Ease back into writing, with your expectations low and your joy high

From Incidental Comics

Read a book, watch a webinar, write something totally unrelated to your manuscript, buy yourself a bookish coffee mug – any little bit of writing progress is great.

At some point you’ll have to sit down and just do it. You probably won’t feel like writing. You won’t feel particularly creative, either. Write and the muse will show up.

I’ve managed to keep writing through 2020. Not as much as I would normally write, but more than enough considering the dumpster fire/train wreck/goat rodeo situation.

It helps that writing is a joy for me. It actually helps me get through. I didn’t write this blog post on a Sunday evening because I had to.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Ernest Hemingway (maybe)

For some, writing is more of a chore. If you’re one of those bleed-on-the-paper writers, it may take a bit longer to get back to it. That’s ok.

Start by finding the ember of joy and fanning it – for many, that means immersing yourself in books you love. Any book you love is a good start. But if you want a writing book, try Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon. I’m not saying it’s the perfect writing book for 2020, but…

How I’m getting through

I’m resting when I need to. I’m thankful I have the work flexibility to take a nap when I’m exhausted. And the dishes will still be there after I finish my book. And I need less rest as time goes on.

I’m laughing when I can (and crying when I need to). I joined TikTok and learned I’m an Elder Millenial (and feel like that title should earn me a staff or at least a wizard’s robe.) I’m reading books just because I love them.

Also, we got a puppy a couple of weeks before August went sideways. Puppies inject a lot of joy into your life. (And chaos. But let’s focus on the joy.)

I have books coming out soon. (Again.) And slowly, I’m writing again. I have to – I have work for hire books to write. (Again.)

Come on, Muse.

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