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Pandemic Got You Blocked? Try These Ideas to Stay Active in Your Writing Life

Hello and welcome to another Monday, in this, the year of a thousand Mondays.

I don’t want to harp on the obvious, so I’ll just summarize it like this: For many of us, 2020 feels endless and relentless. We are drowning in our feelings about the pandemic, civil unrest, and the upcoming election — and that kind of anxious uncertainty is not ideal for creative pursuits.

Some of you are doing the work anyway, somehow. In all seriousness, kudos! I am eternally impressed by those who get their shit done no matter the circumstances.

Others of us… Well, we’re trying. And that’s not nothing.

But yes, I am finding it harder than ever to make progress on my manuscript right now. Once upon a time, I probably would have considered that a flaw in my character, a personal failure. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that beating myself up about not writing just leads to more not writing.

And if there’s a second thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that I am more than my work (or lack thereof).

So instead of falling into those traps, I have been trying to shift my energy toward other writerly things. Things that are still productive, even if they’re not directly related to my work-in-progress.

If you too are needing to come at your writing career sideways for the moment, here are some ideas:

Think practical

Now is a great time to update your online presence. (Okay, it’s always a great time to update your online presence, but how many of us actually do it?)

Craft a snappy bio, and make sure it’s consistent across all your social media, and on your website, if applicable.

Wherever you keep a list of your writing credits, add in the latest and greatest.

Take a new headshot.

These are the kinds of business-y details that can easily get lost in the shuffle, but they’re worth doing. If — no, when! — people Google your name, this is the stuff they’re looking for. Make it easy for them to find, and appealing to them when they do.

Think small

Look for “bite-size” opportunities. Maybe you can’t hammer out 500 words each day (or even each week) on your manuscript, but how about 100 words on a different project? Smaller scale successes are still successes, and can provide a boost in morale and momentum.

For example, I have long been a reader of the New York Times’s “Modern Love” columns, including their “Tiny Love Stories” spinoff. After seeing fellow Writer Unboxed contributor Julianna Baggott featured in June [1], I decided to finally sit down and take a crack at it too. (Note: I’d been wanting to do this for a while and already had a topic in mind.) My tiny love story came out in July [2], and it was such a thrill to be IN THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES.

A thrill — and a reminder that there are other ways to be a writer besides just toiling away on a manuscript.

Flash fiction and poetry offer similarly “small but mighty” opportunities, for those who are so inclined. And your work doesn’t need to get published to be worthwhile. Just crossing the finish line — any finish line — can be encouraging.

Think neighborly

At a time when the internet seems to be 28% vitriol, 57% outrage, 41% ignorance, 23% panic, 16% “remote learning” woes, and 100% exhaustion, the only thing I want to contribute is positivity. When I click “Post” anywhere online, it’s almost always to do one of these 4 things:

Amplify work that you love.

Talk up your friends and the cool things they are doing.

Share information that you think is important.

Express gratitude for something in your life.

I know that some of the unpleasantness is necessary — we can’t make omelettes without breaking a few eggs, after all — but joy is necessary too. Joy is necessary to bear us up through the unpleasantness. And few things bring me greater joy than celebrating good art and good people.

These are some of the things I do to stay active in my writing life, even when I’m not actively writing. What about you? What other writerly things can we do?

About Kristan Hoffman [3]

Originally from Houston, TX, Kristan Hoffman [4] studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and later attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now she lives with her family in Cincinnati, OH, where she writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist, multicultural stories. Her words have appeared in the New York Times, Switchback, and the Citron Review, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel, and is represented by Tina Dubois of ICM. For more, please visit her website [5].