6 Tips To Keep Writing When It Feels Like the World Is Falling Apart
September 25, 2020
Right now it feels like, one way or another, the world is falling apart. As a result, writers are more vulnerable to distraction, stress and anxiety than usual. I’m seeing threads, articles and discussions running the emotional gamut; from despair and rage, to hope and determination, while simultaneously making it clear how hard it is to write or do anything other than scroll the news and social media—at least for those of us willing to say so publicly.
Now more than ever, we need our writing community. In that spirit, here are six tips to help you keep writing, even when it feels like things are falling apart.
1. Preparedness is grounding.
Obviously, if your immediate world is literally on fire or being lashed by hurricanes, you’ll deal with health and safety first and you won’t be writing.
If you’re in a disaster prone area (who isn’t, these days?), be aware that anxiety, worry and stress impacts your ability to write (as a native Californian, trust me, I’m well versed in this department). In order to help ease the fears, gradually work on setting up your household as well as you can in case you need to evacuate, subscribe to local safety alerts, and whatever else you feel you need to do.
While this might not sound like it has anything to do with writing, it does. Taking care of practical matters is grounding and creates space so you can focus on writing. There’s only so much any one of us can do about natural disasters (or anything else), and doing what you can and releasing the rest makes it easier to shift your focus back to your work.
2. Limit the "doomscrolling."
I fall into the doomscrolling habit as much as anyone else, so I’m not going to tell you to stop outright, but I am going to remind you — us! — that it’s addictive. When we reach for our devices to scroll the feeds, we’re trying to soothe anxiety. But surprise! It turns out that while the quick hits of dopamine we get from “checking” momentarily soothes us, it doesn’t last, and it isn’t long before we need another dose.
You can offset some of your doomscrolling addiction by making “containers” of time for focused, deeper work, which, it turns out, boosts serotonin instead. Just like dopamine, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel better, but it comes from doing the harder work of life and is longer lasting. Activities like writing, long-form reading, and exercising — stuff we often have to force ourselves to do — is what ultimately helps us feel better than quick, addictive hits of dopamine.
While it might sound impossible to do any kind of focused, deeper work right now, I promise you it’s not if you design your day well. Put your writing inside a specific window of time (a “container”), and let yourself scroll the feeds to your heart’s content (well, maybe not quite that much) at a separate time.
3. Start writing early.
I’ve written about this many times before, but prioritizing your writing early in the day is often the best way to go when it comes to designing your writing life. I’ve been pushing my writing time earlier and earlier into the morning since the pandemic started (in part to deal with distance learning), and it’s helped my focus and productivity immensely. Forcing myself to get up early to write also has the added bonus of boosting my serotonin levels — the hard work comes with rewards! — helping me feel steadier and capable, shows me that I’m making progress, and keeps me grounded even as the various “storms” rage on around me. Plus, getting up early forces me to go to bed earlier, which in turn means I get better sleep.
4. Team up with other writers.
In my Called to Write community, we’re teaming up to write together in “writing sprints” four times a day in our dedicated online chat room. The camaraderie, community, group energy, witnessing, and support are hugely motivating. When you know that someone will be there waiting for you to show up to write, it’s much easier to do. Whether you join our writing sprints or look for sprints elsewhere (John August sometimes runs them on Twitter, for example), find ways to join forces with other writers to help make the work of writing actually happen.
As a bonus, once you’re writing consistently, it becomes a habit. And hard work, translated into a regular habit, becomes much, much easier.
5. Lean into writing, not away from it.
Writers make sense of life through writing. We have to be writing right now, for our own sanity if nothing else. On a given day, if you can’t face your script, that’s okay. Write whatever you’re moved to write — crank out a blog post, essay, article, morning pages, or anything you need to write to get the thoughts out of your head and onto the page in black and white.
After all, no writing is ever wasted. Writing begets writing. If anything, giving yourself space to release what’s swirling through your mind can be a cathartic exercise and will help the flow of words for your screenwriting, as well.
6. Use your voice.
If you’re overwhelmed by the state of the world, remember that you can be a voice for good. Speak up through your writing and be a part of creating solutions. The world needs us all right now.
And remember this too: stories are critically important. As Lisa Cron, author of Story Genius says, human beings are “wired for story.” This means that we learn, grow, heal and find relief, comfort and humor through stories. Your stories matter, even when the world is shifting and changing, and maybe even falling apart. As storytellers, we’re here to help make sense of the world, and even to help shape it as we move into the future. That’s what makes this a calling.
Your Weekend Writer’s Assignment
If you’re having trouble focusing on writing, take care of any practical matters first to put your mind at ease as best you can, then redesign your schedule to create dedicated writing time, ideally first thing in the morning before your mind can get hijacked by the situation of the day. While it will be hard to focus initially — all but guaranteed — when you keep it up, you will create a regular writing habit and train yourself back into focused thinking and productivity — and you’ll just plain feel better. And don’t forget to team up with your fellow writers for support!
If you want company for your writing journey, come join us at Called to Write. We’ll help you make it happen.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list