commentary by Cathy Petter
If there’s one refrain I’ve heard over and over again these last two years, from friends and colleagues, it’s “The Pandemic has killed my ability to work.” Gosh, this time has been hard. Super, super hard. You’re not imagining the difficulties you’ve faced since January 20, 2020, when the CDC announced the first case of Covid-19 diagnosed in the US. But that’s not what we’re here for.
You’re reading this blog post because you want something different. You can bond with friends over not working later. Right here, right now, you’d like to work. So let’s go. Get to work!
Begin by celebrating you
I find it hard to believe that you, the person who would read this blog, have been completely unproductive. Let’s begin with an honest assessment. Open up all the work you’ve done since January 1, 2020. Look at the side writing, look at the drafts, look at the ideas you’ve had, the projects you’ve started, the comments you’ve given, the books you’ve read, the craft ideas you’ve considered, every single bit of it. Ok, that is remarkable. You have done an astounding amount of work. Did you even remember to give yourself credit for all of that? Take ten minutes and make a summary list of all of it so you can refer to it later, the next time you are about to tell someone that you can’t work. Then take another minute to celebrate your commitment to your artistry.
Strategize ways to get your focus back
It may be different for you, but I find that one of the biggest obstacles to me doing work is distraction. I’ve always been easily distracted, but the pandemic definitely turned this up to eleven. Now that you’re in list-making mode, I’d like you to make a new list. Write down all the ways you can help yourself get back on track. Here are some of my best strategies:
· Schedule your e-mail I am an early bird and do my best work in the morning. To support my work I look at e-mail later, after I’ve finished.
· Take a bath PJs at the bus stop? Check. I get clean when I get stuck instead of scrolling the internet. Some of my best ideas came floating in my bathtub.
· Take a walk When I find myself mindlessly scrolling the internet, and I want to get back to work, sometimes the only answer is to close my computer, throw on my walking shoes and get outside. A half hour of fast walking can buy me another hour or two of good work.
· Find your place This one happened by accident. I can’t concentrate when there’s a lot of noise. For months and months we had five zooms happening all day long at my house, and my people are loud. In desperation I bought a small metal table, found a folding chair and set up shop outside, on my porch. My body started getting used to the idea that I only work there. Now that it’s too cold, I’ve tried to use that same trick with a corner of my dining room.
Plan your year
Periodically, like maybe once a year, it’s a great idea to prioritize all the coals you have in the fire. Remember that list you made of everything you’ve done in the last two years? Use it to create a new list: open projects. Think deeply about the items on this list. Consider identifying the steps needed to make each one viable. Finally prioritize this list. Now you’re ready to make a plan for your year.
· Create some deadlines Set yourself up for success. Under promise and over deliver. Be specific in order to help you hold yourself accountable.
· Plan community Writing is such a solitary activity! What are the ways you keep yourself in community with other people that supports your work? Create some aspirations that support having a successful year and write your intentions on the calendar as well. Maybe this means signing up for a class or conference, joining a critique group, or zooming with friends to read to one another.
· Read good books There’s nothing like a great book to inspire me. Read widely and deeply this year. When all else fails, a good book heals like nothing else.
Good luck, my writer friends. I’m wishing you a rich and rewarding writing year. Next year at this time I hope you’ll tell me about all your awesomeness. Please take good care of your precious writer self.
For more writing inspiration, check out our other commentaries!
Cathy Petter lives outside of Boston with one wife, three kids, and seventeen dogs. She writes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels. She is a member of the New England chapter of SCBWI, she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she works as a reader for a literary agency. Find her on Twitter @cathpetter.