No, it’s not just you. It is really freaking hard to write right now. The world has gone mad, everything is terrible and all that continuous fear and rage and stress makes it really hard to focus on anything, much less fiction.
Creatives, like writers, are particularly hit by this because that same empathy that makes us able to get into the skin of a character or the hearts of our readers makes digesting everything happening right now especially hard. Empathy is a very good thing, especially when it comes to survival and getting along with your fellow humans, but it means you can’t just be like that jerk on the bus happily shouting how he doesn’t care because it ain’t happening to him or your co-worker who “Just ignores it all because talking politics bums me out! Tee hee!.
You care, you rage, you hurt and you want to fight. And I love you for it.
But when writing is your release (not to mention a big part of your income), how do you justify looking away to work on a silly story? How do you push through anyway? Believe me, it’s something I struggle with every single day too but I have come up with a few coping strategies of my own that I wanted to share. Keep in mind that I’m a mostly NT white cis lady with a ton of privilege so your mileage may vary but hopefully everyone can find at least one thing helpful in the list below.
Cut yourself some slack
Pretty much everything you need to know about me is that it didn’t occur to me to add “take a break” to my first draft of this list but now it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. You need room to breathe and enjoy yourself all the more when things are stressful. Rest, renew, recharge. Take time to do the things you love.
And, believe me this is coming from someone who in credibly hard on themselves but… cut yourself some slack. These are definitely extenuating circumstances so maybe you could grade your progress on a curve? The fact that you are doing anything is, frankly, amazing. Now is NOT the time to compare yourself to anyone, even yourself at another point in time.
Stay informed, but don’t obsess
I’ve seen a lot of advice the gist of which is “Just ignore the news!” and… no. None of us can afford to ignore what’s happening right now. But it’s far too easy to fall into the latest headlines and analysis, obsessing as if you can somehow fix everything by the consumption of knowledge alone.
So, DO stay informed, but limit it. I have apps running on all my computers and mobile devices that cut me off if I spend longer than 30 minutes on social media or the news. This gives me enough time to catch up on whatever happened today but not so much that I end up circling the drain.
Schedule your freaking out
This sound ridiculous but it’s helped me a lot so hear me out. At any given moment, you can tune into the world at large and there is almost always guaranteed to be something terrible going on that’s going to immediately make you angry, sad, or completely disgusted. And when you let this news ping you as it happens throughout the day, it’s just this continuous onslaught of blows to your empathy until you feel like you’ve been physically beaten down. It doesn’t just ruin your day, it poisons the parts of your life that are good when you’re in an otherwise lovely moment and your phone offers up the latest news turd.
Instead of letting the bad drip drip drip out to you over the course of the whole day, schedule a block of time once a day, preferably near the end, to just get caught up on everything and ignore it the rest of the time. I do this right after I get my kids to sleep, late enough that all the hot takes have cooled and we usually actually have the real story instead of the rumors they were reporting earlier in the day, but early enough that I can still do something else before bed so I can actually sleep without worrying myself sick. I take half an hour to catch up, completely freak out about whatever the latest horror is, sob and / or rant with my husband for a while and then that’s it. I’m not allowed to look at the news again until tomorrow.
The most important part of my daily scheduled freak out, though, is the part when I do something. So many people say they feel helpless and you know what’s great for that? Actually doing something that might help make things better! Doing something every single day is a very good way to at least help you feel like you have some control over the situation and are helping to make tomorrow a better day.
What can you do? It depends on what’s going on that day that’s important to you. If there’s a group on the ground fighting and I can afford it, I make a donation. I also make at least one phone call a night, usually to one of my representatives in Congress or my governor. If you don’t know what to call about, 5Calls has a great list with sample scripts. And if you have phone anxiety, calling at night means the office is closed so you can just leave a quick message and never have to talk to a human!
Since there’s usually more than one nightmare going on at once these days, I also spend every other night writing a bunch of letters to ALL my reps (using 5Calls as inspiration if there’s nothing specific I’m already fired up about) than I use resistbot (which is this really cool free app that automatically formats your message and sends it to all your reps at once or even to your local paper as a letter to the editor for more impact) to send them out over the course of the next week. Just text RESIST to 50409 to start using it. I write my messages in bulk because that’s how my brain works but then I space them out so the person checking the mail isn’t getting like five letters from me in a row.) As a writer, you are already super good at writing so this is a great option to stay on your elected’s case even if it’s not as effective at getting their attention as a phone call.
There’s plenty more you can do. Check in with the local office of your political party and help register people in your community to vote. You can virtual phone or text bank (call people and help convince them to vote) with a candidate you want to help out even if you’re not in their area. Volunteer with the organizations on the ground making a difference and combating evil.
These are all small things that often only take a few minutes but it’s always better to do something than nothing and you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel after taking action.
When it’s time to write block it all out
Once you’ve gotten caught up and done something to make the future a better place, it’s time to block all that out and start to write. Easier said than done, right? For me, this starts with a block on social media and news sites so I can’t even think about looking at the bad again. Then I put on my happiest music, get my favorite flavor of tea, and get in my comfiest chair, everything that puts me in my happy place. And while none of this really blocks it out entirely, it all helps to get me into my writing head space.
I find that a tight deadline, even if it’s self-imposed, can really help because you don’t have the luxury of dawdling and you’ve got no choice to get right down to it. Once I force myself to start and get to work, I usually get involved enough in what I’m writing to tune most of the outside world out.
Or don’t block it out and use it
And sometimes I 100% can’t think of anything other than what kind of garbage world I brought my poor kids into and all I have is fear and fury and disgust no matter how loud I blast my music. And on days like that, I don’t bother to block it out. I use it.
Write your resistance
Words are powerful. Stories worm their way into readers’ heads and change minds in a way no internet argument ever could. Your story could save someone’s life.
Before I said talked about justifying working on a “silly story” because that’s how it feels sometimes, that stories are a game we’re playing while the world burns down around us and what’s the point of any of it? But I want to make sure you know that your story isn’t actually silly. I mean, I am literally person whose new play is a slapstick comedy about magic goose poop so I know what I’m talking about here. Because it’s not really about magic goose poop, is it? It’s actually about kindness being a kind of magic anyone can wield but sometimes you have to cover an important message in a coating of, well, magic poop to get people to listen to it.
What does someone just like you need right now? What do you wish you could read on the darkest days? A story that really sees you? A fluffy escapism? A call to arms?
For that matter, what do you wish your enemy was reading right now? What do you wish you could say to them, to get them to finally understand? Write that. Write wish-fulfillment, write the future you want, write yourself a better world.
Be like Hamilton and write your way out.
If all else fails, I want to share a small petty thing that helps keep me writing on the days when things feel the blackest. Sometimes I think about the writers who aren’t having trouble right now. Those empathy deficient, stone-hearted souls who don’t care or, worse yet, celebrate these atrocities that make the rest of us nauseous. Who are happily writing on without that pesky reality weighing on their shoulders.
Their stories are getting done. Their words are getting out into the world and getting ready to fake news the future.
And when I think about this, all I know is I will be DAMNED if I’m going to let those people be the only ones who get to tell the story of this moment. Their words must not be the only ones to survive this. And beaten down and weary though I may feel, that gets me back to work every time.
Words our powerful
Yeah, I said that already. I’m saying it again because it’s important. Writing right now is not silly, not frivolous and can make a difference. And even if all you’re doing is journal-ing and writing CatThor fan fiction (yes, that was a Squirrel Girl reference), that’s important too because it gives you an outlet and escape and helps you survive which we all need to do if we’re going to make it through this.
It’s hard. But it’s possible. And it’s worth it.
Keep resisting, yes. But keep writing too. We need you and your words.