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Coronavirus: 7 Ways To Cope During a Crisis As a Writer

March 20, 2020
4 min read time

Fear and panic (not to be confused with the shape-shifting imps, Pain and Panic, from Disney’s Hercules, which also seem apt considering the circumstances) are spreading as fast as COVID-19 these days. In response to the global pandemic, we’ve either been politely asked or mandated to stay in lockdown, depending on where we live. The hope is social distancing will flatten the curve of cases, while the result is people stuck indoors slowly going stir-crazy.

While writers used to working from home are now forced to do so—as well as spend all of the rest of their time there as well—there are ways to curb the crazy and be productive, if not prolific, in our chosen passion.

1. First up, BREATHE.

It’s the easiest, most natural thing in the world. Vital to our existence, breathing is also the first thing a lot of us forget to do in times of crisis. But the benefits of deep breathing are essential to survival: stress reduction, improved immunity, increased energy, and it even stimulates the lymphatic system (read: detoxifies the body). Check, check and check in times of an outbreak like this. 

For how to practice breath focus, try these relaxation techniques from Harvard Medical School. Need more assistance? Free meditation apps like InsightTimer offer a whole library of meditation music and ways to manage stress.

2. Create ROUTINE.

For writers, sticking to a writing schedule can be hard enough with only self-imposed deadlines to work with. Working where you live is also a little like that other old adage; don’t *you know* where you eat. So, staying at home and on task is full of all kinds of challenges. I’ve been told repeatedly I’m lucky I get to work from home—especially now. True fact. Also true: it’s harder than it looks, like most things worth having. There’s also a household and kids to manage facing me behind my desktop screen every time I sit down. Kind of hard to mute the movie when it’s happening in real-time around you…

That’s where implementing a routine is crucial. Maybe you had a 9-5 “regular” job and only wrote on the sly. Structing your day around scheduled work, break, eating and family times, just like you would if you “left for work” can mean a world of difference to productivity now that you’re home full time. Start with incorporating regular breath work (see above) as part of your morning routine. And if you have kids at home, why not include them? It’ll be like Bring Your Kid To Work Day, every day, but man do they have imaginations. Who knows what (PG) plot point they can help you talk through.

3. Take a deep dive into your CRAFT.

Learn something new. Take this “bonus” time we’ve all been gifted to really study the craft of writing. While normally we’d take the five minutes here or there to type furiously in Final Draft, constantly open behind all the other desktop windows, why not use the time where we would’ve chosen to go out and be social to write, and the five minutes in between to listen to pro tips or pick up a book on craft, like Story Consultant Jen Grisanti’s “Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story”—because there is plenty of gold to mine in our current life situation. Or if you really want to get crazy (read: nitty-gritty), David Trottier’s “The Screenwriter’s Bible” is a classic.

4. BINGEWATCH like never before.

We could also put this under ‘diving deep into craft’ depending on how you do it! Watch the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can learn from it all. Watch shows in your genre, the ones you’ve been meaning to ‘when you have time’, and the ones that are in the current zeitgeist. They all offer teachable lessons for writers. While you watch, take notes. Break down the episode or feature for lessons on structure and pay close attention to your own reactions to what’s on screen. Discovering why you react the way you do to certain storylines, characters or thematic choices could inform your own writing.

5. DECLUTTER your space to declutter your mind.

From the anxiety, from the writer’s block, from all of it. Methodically detoxing your living—and now working—space can create mental clarity. When a thousand things aren’t in your line of vision, your mind has the ability to focus better. Creating a dedicated space to work from could also help you focus on tasks at hand rather than homelife.

Another added bonus of decluttering is the physical act itself. With your hands distracted with repetitive action, your mind can wander and work through plot points where you might be stuck, stagnant character arcs, or even dreaming up your next best spec.

6. Find online BALANCE.

Limit your news and social media intake while creating a stronger online community. Sounds like a paradox, you say. What I mean is, refer to trusted sources only for COVID-19 news (like the WHO and CDC, namely), and limit world updates to scheduled check-ins per day. Say, ten minutes to check three social media outlets, twice a day. Set a timer if you have to. It’s important to note that there is also a lot of positive press happening out there, like how companies are helping the community, personal messages of hope, and for writers especially, Screenwriting Career Coach Lee Jessup’s insights on how you can be proactive during this “interruption to regular programming”.

Tip the scales from reading sad stories and mindless scrolling to cultivating strong, meaningful bonds online. Combat isolation by creating weekly check-ins via FaceTime or Skype with family, friends and writing accountability partners. Use Final Draft’s real-time collaboration feature for a fun, new way (if you’ve never written with a partner) to write without feeling even more isolated than usual.

7. Write, then WRITE some more.
Productions may be halted, but this is the time to be creative. Not only is writing a cathartic release, content creation is what keeps the wheel of Hollywood turning. As writers, we are in a unique position to not only capture the moment in all of its raw authenticity but translate it for better or worse. Sure, we aren’t saving lives in the trenches like the medical community, but there is a lot of power in words. Spread the love. Make good choices that have positive impact for a suffering community. Stay positive.

We’re stronger together.

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