Weekend Writing Inspiration: 7 Simple Strategies to Stay Productive & Take Care of Your Mental Health
May 29, 2020
Writers around the world are writing under quarantine in solitary conditions that might not seem like anything out of the ordinary. In fact, many writers even prefer working alone (unless you’re accustomed to writing in a TV room and miss it), so what’s the big deal?
It’s simple. Writers are often empathetic creatures by nature, and as such, our ability to feel focused, safe and grounded are easily fractured by the current state of the world making any semblance of productivity right now near impossible. Writing is an act of creativity, and creativity doesn’t thrive when fear and anxiety are triggered.
Here are seven simple strategies to help you stay productive as a writer while also nurturing your mental health at the same time.
- Lean on your writing community
Even though you’re writing alone, you don’t have to write alone. Let me explain: All over the world, writers are coming together through online writing communities for writing sprints. I’m not talking about online Facebook groups discussing writing, I mean actually writing together, even if everyone is working on a different project.
For instance, John August frequently leads writing sprints on Twitter using the hashtag #writesprint. I lead daily writing sprints in my online Called to Write community. Writing sprints, by design, let us lean on each other for shared energy, purpose and support. It feels like we’re working together, gathered in a virtual co-working space—and these shared writing efforts can be a lifeline for writers right now.
- Focus on the day-to-day, and go easy
Exerting high levels of pressure on yourself is a deterrent to taking action rather than a source of inspiration or motivation. We’ve all heard how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. But rather than trying to force yourself to perform at Shakespearean levels, lower your expectations of yourself and focus on small amounts of daily writing.
It’s a bit of a mental gymnastics trick but completing multiple back-to-back short writing sprints is easier than aiming for big blocks of time. For example, try writing in 25-minute increments (also called “Pomodoro’s”) and completing multiple sessions of them. The normal resistance that gets triggered by bigger blocks of time will evaporate.
Focus on what you CAN do, so you can keep moving forward. On the hard days, do “ebb” writing (the easy stuff), like checking your slug lines for continuity or proofreading. You’ll keep your story top-of-mind and make it easier to dig back into the next day.
Pro tip: The earlier you write in the day, the easier it is to keep from getting sidetracked.
- Stretch your focus
If writing for any length of time feels impossible right now because your mind is constantly scattered, you’re not alone. Between any anxiety and fear you might be feeling, the intensity of the news, the impulse to stay in-the-know, along with social media and other apps designed to reinforce short attention spans, it’s harder and harder to concentrate.
Antidote your fractured focus by retraining and stretching your concentration muscle. Aim to limit any short attention span activities (Think: clicking, swiping, liking, texting, checking and skimming) and favor longer attention span activities (Try reading full-length books, scripts, and watching features and longer TV series). Learning something new will also help boost your ability to focus, like reading craft books or even using apps that emphasize learning, like Duolingo or Elevate.
While reading (or learning) might sound impossible right now, I promise you it is not. Find a script or book that hooks you—a great piece of thrilling or racy fiction would be perfect—and dig in. Ideally, you’ll read in print so you’re offline, but reading or watching on a device with disabled notifications will do. Yes, you will struggle at first. Yes, it will be hard to concentrate. But with continued practice, your brain will remember how to do this focusing thing.
From there, you’ll be better equipped to write for more sustained periods of time.
- Reflect on where you want to be when this is over
While “over” may not look like before the pandemic started, you still get to decide how you want to spend your time right now. While creating pressure doesn’t help, I want you to think aspirationally and inspirationally.
When you imagine the “end” of this period of time, where do you want to be with your writing? How will you look back on the way you’re spending your time? What would you want it to look like, in order to feel like this was time well spent for you as a writer?
- Hold writing as an act of optimism
If you find yourself falling into a place of despair about the world, your place in it as a writer, and the role of writing in the world in general, consider this: What if you held writing as an act of optimism? Writing can be a way of choosing to say to yourself and the world, I believe we will get through this. I believe we will be okay. I believe there’s a place for writing and entertainment, even when difficult things happen in the world.
If you have trouble holding on to these kinds of thoughts, reach out to a trusted coach, mentor, therapist, safe friend, or colleague who can help you manage any fear, doubt and anxiety you’re feeling and find your way to a place of stability. Know that this is an ongoing effort. This is not a one-and-done situation we’re in. Particularly given the ever-changing nature of our global circumstances, new fears or anxieties will get triggered or re-triggered, and we’ll need to regroup again. This is okay, and it’s okay to get help.
- Take care of your mental health with extra downtime and support
Even once you’re writing productively, take extra down time to support and nurture your mental health. This is a LOT to deal with. From the intensity of the existential crisis we’re all facing to the sudden complexity of previously simple day-to-day logistics we’re now saddled with, it’s exhausting. You need extra time and space to relax, rest and recuperate. You need to refill your creative well. Whether you’re going for safe walks, getting extra sleep, taking baths, watching more movies than usual, or sitting outside in the sunshine, you need and deserve extra care right now. Please give it to yourself.
- Create as much structure as you need
During this strange, seemingly structureless void of time, you may find that you need far more structure than you’ve needed in the past. You may want to get up at a consistent time of day, schedule writing sessions with writing colleagues or attend scheduled writing sprints, use apps to block out distractions, limit your exposure to the news, or even create “rules” for yourself about what you do or don’t do with your time, and when. You may also not need to do any of these things. But if you find yourself struggling to write and stick to a new routine, the more you try building in consistency and accountability to help yourself show up, the easier it will be.
Your weekend writer’s assignment
What’s supporting you right now to keep writing? What might you adjust to help yourself stay on track? How might you nurture your mental health with support and downtime? Break out your journal and reflect on these questions, and consider how you might want to design your writing days and week ahead.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter who 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-director. 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 and fulfilling your creative calling at calledtowrite.com, writes for ScriptMag and Final Draft, and teaches at Script University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers, including “How to Choose Your Next Book (or Script!)” when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list