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The Hack’s Guide to Writing During a Pandemic

Hacks for Hacks: sense of humor required
* sense of humor required


Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

For years, you’ve thought to yourself, “If only I had more time, I could write a bestseller for sure!” The good news is your prayers have been answered. The bad news is they were answered by the God of Unintended Consequences. But the finger of the Monkey’s Paw has already curled, and I’m afraid we’re now stuck inside during the Coronavirus pandemic with no company but our thoughts, the blank whiteness of the word processor, and thousands of distractions including (but not limited to) TV, movies, books, and the abject terror of whether you’ll live long enough to finish any project you start.

At a time like this, writing may seem daunting, or not all that important given what’s happening in the world. However, being a writer gives you the freedom to work when you’re at home, and the ability to feel inadequate about your significance anywhere, so you really have no excuses.

Maintaining Perspective

People are suffering and dying, but the important thing is to make this moment about yourself and your writing career. A pandemic is like a really long writing retreat [1], except you can’t leave, and you don’t know when (or if!) you’ll see your friends again. Whether you’re social distancing, officially quarantined, or just deeply unpopular, you’re already doing the retreat part, so you may as well do the writing, too.

Setting Goals

They say Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague. This is not inspirational; this is the baseline. Shakespeare didn’t have wifi. With the tools you have at your disposal, and with the abject terror you have as motivation, you should expect nothing less of yourself than to create an artistic masterpiece that high school English students will write formulaic essays about for the next several hundred years.

Some people like to start with small, attainable goals and expand from there, but I recommend the opposite: set your objectives as high as possible, then watch them wither away as you check Twitter for the hundredth time to see a fresh dose of bad news. I don’t know if this is a productive approach, but it is astonishingly easy to execute.

Using Your Time Wisely

photo by Matthew Dillon

Don’t clog your schedule with phone calls and emails. Do you want to waste time having an edifying heart-to-heart phone call with your best friend during an hour of mutual emotional distress? Or do you want to get one tenth of one percent closer to finishing the second draft of the book you’ve been tinkering with for three years?

Coping with Failure

If, despite my advice, you somehow fail to create a masterwork during this pandemic, well, I suppose things could be worse. However, there must be accountability. Your punishment is to live your life knowing that, while the world was crumbling around you, you were too busy checking in on friends, playing board games with your children, and partaking in the sharing of human kindness to write a book that may or may not get read. You’ll have to live with this, friends, and because I am a mean jerk, I hope you live for a long, long time.

How much writing are you doing right now? Let us know in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [3]

After college, Bill Ferris [4] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.