5 Tips for Writers Stuck in the Covid Doldrums
I have a confession to make. I haven't written nearly a darn thing since Covid first hit American shores in February of 2020. If you clicked on this article, then you and I are sitting in a very swamped boat together, trying to navigate through either massive writer's block, depression, or some other crippling emotional slump.
Well, I'm here to give you some encouragement.
Saturday I had scheduled and purchased a table at a nearby casino for a science-fiction/fantasy convention. Uncanny Comics Expo was a pretty large convention for our community, and it was a lot of fun, however, I didn't have any new books to sell. I'm great friends with a very successful comic book artist named Jerry Bennett, and he came over to my table to chat. The conversation went something like this:
Jerry: Hey look at all these books! Do you have anything new out?
Me: No. I've been in a real writer's slump. I have several ideas for novels cooking, but can't get going on any one of them.
Jerry: Well, you really are prolific, Roger. Just look at all the books you have written. You just have to get started on one. Just go for it!
I'll have to say, I fought tears when he said that. I've been through some pretty rough life struggles since March of 2020. I've changed jobs, I've had family struggles with one of my children, and I'm navigating the harsh minefield of being a public school teacher in this world where everything I say is being monitored by the thought police.
But, yes, I need to get busy on that new novel. I decided to start from scratch and just take the three or four characters I've already created, create a few more, and build a story around them. It's set far in our future where earth has become a dump where nobody wants to live, a time where we've been conquered by one alien race and alternate dimensional threat after another, and now a group of powered individuals must come together to save the universe from certain doom. It's a satire.
So, on to the advice...
Here are some things I've learned over the course of dealing with the deep depression that has plagued me, and how you can crack through to produce something again:
Make a Routine: I used to write 1000 words a day even if I wrote crap. I've decided to get on that again. I also would write one blog post a week chronicling my process. I'm going to do that again. Find a place to write like a carpenter finds a workbench and a set of tools to create things out of wood. Your writing space should be a place free of distraction, a place where you can be surrounded by the tools that would help you create. If that's a cliche coffee shop or a library, then do it. Mine's my recliner in my living room with my earbuds in playing science-fiction movie soundtracks.
Patience Like a Fisherman: David Lynch famously went to a Bob's Big Boy restaurant every day at 2:30pm, would order a hamburger and smoke some cigarettes. He did this for seven years. He had created a routine, but when he went there he would use the opportunity to clear his mind so that he could create. He did this every day because he was being patient with the process. He often says that creating is like fishing. There will be days when you put your hook and bait in the water and you will not catch a thing, but some days you will land a record sized fish. We have to be patient with this craft. The ideas will come. Sometimes they will come when you are out doing other things.
Bum Glue and Fingers Moving: Before I wrote my first novel The Transgression Box in 2009, I read an excerpt from a book that told me matter-of-factly that real writers write. If you are not writing, then you can't call yourself a writer. The only thing that will indeed get your book written is "bum glue and fingers moving". Even if you write crap for a few days, you will eventually hit on something that will make you sit at your laptop for hours just lost in the process. Ultimately, you have to get words on the page. You can always edit the thing later.
Planning is Important: However you plan, you should plan. Even if you are a pantser (a person who writes by the seat of your pants) you should have a rudimentary plot outline in your head or where your characters should go. You can always change it, and it will indeed change many times before it is finally published. I use Scrivener, which is probably the best program to use to write a novel since the invention of sliced bread. It has a cork board mode, which allows you to create digital note cards and plot out your novel one chapter at a time or one section at a time. I find it invaluable to "see" my story take shape. Even Stephen King admits to planning out his novels even though he's a serious pantser. However, in my opinion, some of his books could use a little outlining.
Get Over Yourself: You can say you have "writer's block" but to quote David Lynch again, if you say you have "writer's block" then you give that thing a life and make it true. If you ignore the idea of "writer's block", then you can say you don't have it and you can get busy writing. I used to think there was no such thing as "writer's block", but then I gave it life by giving in to it. You either write or you don't. I've decided to just write and get things on the page, laugh at my horrible mistakes, learn from them, and then keep writing.
I really hope these observations will help you on your journey. If you need encouragement, then just message me directly. Go to my Twitter page or you can send me a message directly from this website. I'll be prompt in responding to you. I'm happy to help you work through it, as we writers need to lean on each other.
Thank you for reading!