Writing in a Time of Uncertainty

Like many of us (all if us?) I’m having trouble concentrating right now. There’s nothing surprising in this: our world has been turned upside down; many of the things we took for granted are on hiatus; some of us are losing jobs; some of us are losing family or friends. We’re frightened and confused.

What I’m going to talk about in this blog post is what worked for me in a similar situation before. It won’t work for everyone, so let me say that right at the beginning. I have no experience in dealing with the added stresses of having kids at home, or not being able to pay the bills. I’m not pretending these ideas will work for everyone – I’m not even sure they’ll work for me this time. But for what it’s worth, these were (and are) my coping mechanisms.

Six years ago I was diagnosed with a stage 3, high grade cancer. A terrifying diagnosis, and a shattered world. I had a 50% chance of survival. But: in the first year of treatment  – major surgery, chemo, and radiation – I retrieved my first book from its bankrupt publishers, got it out to the world, began the second book.  How?

  1. Accept that your mind is not working at its full capacity. Don’t expect it to,  but help it out. In my case, and to this day, this means starting each day with a set of goals. Not just for writing, I will add, but with all the things I both want to do, and need to do. (In that first year of anxiety and chemo brain, it included things like ‘shower’ and ‘get dressed’.)
  2. Be gentle with your writing goals. Don’t overschedule. Give yourself time to relax, too, however you can: watch half an hour of tv; play a video game; read, draw, bake, play music – and schedule that in as often as you need it. Schedule exercise too; outdoors if you can, indoors if you can’t. Even if you only write for half-an-hour a day, you’re still writing.
  3. Accept that things will take longer, and you will find yourself scattered and losing your train of thought. This is normal. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
  4. Accept you may not produce your best work. (Or maybe you will, through channeling your emotions into your writing.)
  5. Consider exploring other forms of writing: poetry, creative non-fiction, short stories: the challenge distracts the mind. I wrote a creative non-fiction blog for about two years, which was really about finding gratitude in little things, like baking bread. I may go back to it. It helped ground me, and everything we write hones our craft.
  6. Share. That was partly what my creative non-fiction blog was about, too. Talk about your writing to someone who cares, if you can; it solidifies it as important, and helps you with perspective.

I lived with uncertainty for the five years for ‘official’ survival, and I continue to live with uncertainty, because cancer could well still be lurking somewhere in my cells, waiting. I am at a higher risk with COVID-19 because of my medical history and my age. But as my character Casyn tells the young Lena in the first book of my series: “We cannot shape the circumstances to fit our lives, only our lives to fit the circumstances. What defines us, as men and women, is how we respond to those circumstances.” There’s no one right response, but for me, it is taking control of those factors in my life I can, but being gentle with my expectations of myself, both as a writer and a human being. We’re all in this together. Hang in there.

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