Yesterday, a student who deals with depression and anxiety and, like all of us, now this pandemic, said that looking at the instruction manual felt overwhelming. Yet still she had sent in her assignment. In my letter back to her, I commended her for her accomplishment and then gave her some writing “work” advice.
Writing it made me aware of my own creativity. Or should I say lack thereof. I’m finding it much easier to do a student lesson, critique someone else’s picture book or novel, than to actually create myself. It’s easy to jump on the news, Facebook (for socializing), etc. I need to take my own advice.
We all have upheaval in our lives right now with social distancing and worrying about the coronavirus. Some of you have children home full time now. You and/or your spouse may be working from home which is another adjustment. Or someone in the family has been laid off. It’s stressful. Perhaps these suggestions for making writing “work” easier will be helpful to you, too.
First, pick one task
Get that one done today and stop. Don’t worry about other writing things that need to be done. However, if doing one tasks leads you to wanting to do more, feel free. Just don’t agonize over those days when you can only do one thing.
But how do you know what task to do?
Set yourself a writing work schedule
1. Start by making a list of all the things you want to get done:
– read recent children’s books
– brainstorm ideas
– research for one idea
– work on first draft
– revise a short story, article, picture book, or chapter
– do market research
– listen to a podcast on ____ topic
– read blog posts on _____
– analyze feedback from others on my work
– write a cover/query letter for _____
– submit manuscript _____
Be as specific as possible.
See more sample task ideas at the bottom of this article and in the chart.
2. Commit to a time period whether it is a half hour or an hour or two. Pick three to five days a week.
3. Next, if you can, prioritize you list in order of most important. If none stand out, that’s okay too.
4. Then take your “to-do” list and plot them on a calendar OR during each scheduled time just pick one off of your list.
5. Add and cross-off items on your “want to get done” list.
Word by word, project by project, if you spend a little bit of time, you will make progress. Celebrate those accomplishments no matter how small.
Here’s a chart suggestion for recording what you’ve done so you can look back on it and be encouraged:
Second, remember you are not alone
We are all affected. Interacting digitally with others can help us not feel so isolated. My critique group is using Zoom to meet weekly. Don’t have a critique group? Offer to exchange critiques via email with other writers. (You can find them through SCBWI.org, on the Blueboard, through Facebook and Google groups, etc.) Talk to others in these groups. Comment on blog posts or podcasts that you found helpful. Share those links with others you know. And/or share on Twitter.
Third, encourage yourself
I’m finding myself doing a lot of what I call “comfort” reading—that’s rereading books that I know I’ll enjoy. Recently, it’s been the Harry Potter books. I’ve also connected with some old friends whom I haven’t talked to in years. I’m getting outside in the fresh air. What makes you happy? It’s necessary to take a break from all the bad news and uncertainty.
SAMPLE TASK IDEAS:
Subscribe to one blog post related to kidlit creativity. I don’t read them daily but spend time periodically to read posts. Some of my standbys are:
Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/
Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge
Susannah Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Book Friday” https://susannahill.com/blog/
Institute for Children’s Literature blog
Read recent children’s books. Whatever fits what you want to write. A novel. A handful of picture books. Chapter books. What did you learn?
Research one magazine market. Read about the magazine in the market book, go to the magazine’s website, read guidelines and editorial calendars, and sample copies if available. Take notes, if you like. I often write directly in my copy of a market book.
Search #MSWL on Twitter. Agents and editors give updates using this hashtag.
Brainstorm picture book ideas. January Storystorm posts on Tara Lazar’s site still up and can continue to be used. Here’s a link to day one: https://taralazar.com/2020/01/01/storystorm-2020-day-1/
Research agents on Manuscript Wishlist. https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/
Add sensory details to your short story or one scene in your novel. Taste, smell, texture, temperature, sound, and sight. What makes this setting unique?
Read an article on self-editing and practice one idea. Focus on a weakness. Do you have trouble with dialogue or punctuation? There’s help out there.
Read opening paragraphs in novels you like. Do you see a pattern? Can you apply it to your work?
Write up the backstory for one character. Then you can work in snippets of it throughout the novel. But beware of info dumps.
I could go on and on. All I know is doing something (like this blog post) makes me feel better than doing nothing creative. I bet the same will be true for you too.