It is time, dear readers, to admit a terrible truth.
Normally I love writing, researching expert advice, and looking for ways to guide you—and myself—through this strange and wondrous land of writing, publishing, marketing, and selling books. But the truth is, I am not feeling that joy right now. Not for writing. Not for researching. Not even for chocolate.
Not. Even. For. Chocolate.
As I write this, I am fortunate to be working from home during a second pandemic lockdown. Preceding that, I was in quarantine after two accidental “exposures” to COVID-19. The pandemic is still barreling merrily along, and it’s been suggested that if I am lucky, I might be able to get a vaccine in six or seven months. Like many of you, I’m tired and weary. My motivation left without a backward glance and, I am pretty sure, is hitching a ride somewhere in Nova Scotia.
February is the dead of winter, the herald of its sometimes cruelest days. While the days are growing longer, the temperatures have dropped further, and there is nothing more appealing than to get out of my home, out of my city, and disappear somewhere warm, quiet, and safe. Preferably with a pool and some palm trees.
But work continues. Life—even in its current, constrained form—continues. And so do deadlines, writing, editing, assignments, and the job I love dearly and have sacrificed so much for.
And so many others are in the same boat.
We’re in the slog right now, my dears, and we need to keep going. We still need to work. We still need to write. We still need to be there for our loved ones.
But how exactly do we get that mojo fired up enough to lead us back to our writing practice?
Treat writing as your escape
A number of writers and authors have been able to morph into superwriters. They’ve dived headlong into their writing projects, cranking out books, chapters, plans, publishing schedules, and more. Bless their little hearts. But that transition hasn’t worked so well for others. After all, we all cope differently when times are tough, do we not? And not everyone has the same privileges or circumstances, especially for parents who find them themselves juggling their children’s at-home education, a job, writing time, plus all their usual domestic responsibilities.
So try to reframe how you look at your writing projects. Rather than thinking of your writing time as “work,” treat it as an escape to some other reality. A place you can (at least temporarily) get lost in. Even if it means creating a new project or book, find a place you’d rather be, and create that new world for yourself. For a scant few hours a day (or more), you can dive into a whole new existence where you control almost everything—aside from one or two or thirty pesky characters who never do seem to do what you want them to.
The trick, of course, is to not have an agenda for this escape beyond just creating it. Do not imagine marketing or selling it. Just write and leave your life behind. When you’re ready to return to other work, it’ll happen.
Try a few Pomodoros
The Pomodoro Technique is a neat little trick to improve your focus. Set your watch or a timer for 25 minutes. Work as best as you can for that time, then take a five-minute break. Voila, one Pomodoro. Then try another Pomodoro or two.
Sometimes the way you work (and take breaks) needs a little tweaking. When you struggle to focus, this technique can sometimes help.
Make a plan for the future
When you’re facing trying circumstances, sometimes it can help to set some goals for yourself. How would you like to come through? What are your biggest priorities? Do you want a have a first draft completed? Two? A polished manuscript ready to pitch to agents and editors? Or will you be ready to hit the ground running and self-publish your book?
By giving yourself some goals to work toward, you can shift your brain out of survival mode and into looking-ahead mode. It might not work every minute of every day, but focusing on realistic, achievable goals might just be what your motivation needs.
Create writing “date” nights
A few years ago, I was facing some severe burnout. I had a very intense deadline schedule, and it was becoming increasingly challenging to focus on the work I so loved. Part of it was my own inability to recognize what was going on and slow things down. But regardless, I found myself facing a lot of late work nights when I was already just so done.
So I created “date” nights with my writing. Rather than approach my work trying to manage the same way I did during the day, I treated myself to a little soft music, some candlelight, delicious treats, a good glass of wine, and an acceptance that if I was going to work, I would change the intentions of it. Instead of working at my desk, I curled up in a comfortable chair in my living room.
Now, this may look different for everyone. Some people might opt to work in bed, or even the bath (not the best mix for electronic devices, to be sure, but it worked for Trumbo). If weather and living situations are flexible, you may choose to work on a balcony or in your yard. Some people might seek out a cozy pub, or even a bar at an eclectic restaurant. Treat it like a date. Woo your computer, give yourself a cozy or even a romantic atmosphere, and start your next chapter with a new approach.
Be honest—and kind—with yourself
Sometimes it takes days to recognize when you’re not in the right headspace to write. Sometimes weeks, or even a month or two. Your motivation doesn’t always call it quits at once. Sometimes it’s a slow, lazy departure that you hardly notice.
But when you recognize it, be honest with yourself. Call it out. Then you can do something about it. But also don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Sometimes things just are (or feel) hard. Whether you’re facing a personal crisis, a mental-health issue, or you know, a global pandemic, give yourself permission to feel not OK about things. The quickest way to increase your frustration is to demand your usual 100 percent.
Change up your routine
This has always been my go-to when I am stuck with writing and work. Get a change of scenery for an afternoon, or take refuge in another town. Try something new or teach yourself a new skill.
Many of us are living a Groundhog Day sort of existence right now, and not a few of us are starting to understand the sheer frustration of feeling stuck. So this might require feeling a little creative, like changing up your workspace or even treating yourself to some neat new office supplies and/or furniture.
Do the work that makes you happiest
When things feel difficult and you’re not feeling excited about your work, sometimes all you can do is focus on the work you can do and ensure it’s something you enjoy. Concentrate on the projects that make you the happiest and/or most excited, or even start a new one.
Right now, it’s so important to keep our writing practice as focused and “normal” as possible. With a few adjustments, you might just shift your focus back—and leave the door open for motivation to return.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.