Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down in a multitude of ways. Publishing is just one example. Everything that can be is now online, masks are an essential part of our attire, and physical human contact has become an infrequent privilege. Day to day life has changed a lot, but so have bigger things. The economy, of course, is suffering. Industries are struggling to recuperate. While this is by no means the biggest issue facing us in 2020, as writers we have to be aware of the way the publishing is altering and reacting to the pandemic.
It’s a pandemic. You’re a writer. 2020 should be an idea goldmine, right?
Well, maybe. But it could also make writing and publishing difficult.
Sure, sitting at home all day with limited responsibilities and a sudden increase in free time sounded great in theory. But six months later, we’ve found that it’s been more complicated than that.
Your energy, mental state, and creativity are all affected by your stress exposure. You may find yourself facing that dreaded image--an impatient cursor on a blank page.
And isolation followed by a rush back into something we still can’t call normal is murder on your writing routine. You may have gotten used to the luxury of a lot of extra time early on, but the return to work and other aspects of life is going to throw that out of whack.
Try not to be too hard on yourself. Despite what viral tweets were saying at the start of the pandemic, this is not a time that is about productivity. It would be nice to use freetime to gain a new skill, or in our case, finish a piece you’re working on. But it isn’t always realistic. The added stress and anxiety to everyday life can be burdening and often hinders your creative process. It is perfectly normal to be struggling right now.
If you’re looking for specific tips on how to ease back into your writing routine, check out last week’s blogpost by Marissa Stanko.
If you self-publish your books, chances are selling them got a lot harder in the last couple months. Bookstores closing, supply chains and networks disrupted. The best way to keep on track as a self-publishing author? Embrace the internet. You probably already have a website and some kind of social media, but spruce it up and start pushing for more online engagement with your work. Try submitting or publishing something in the digital realm, or try a smaller project like a zine.
We already discussed how the pandemic is disrupting the writing process. But even if you’re able to combat that and manage to finish something, it often takes 30-60 days for it to hit stores. This is not ideal, especially if you’re in need of immediate income. It can help to sell directly to your customers. If you have an email list, you’re set. You might even want to offer sales or discounts from readers who are willing to buy from you directly.
There are a whole host of reasons that traditional publishing is suffering right now. International politics, economic shutdowns, the works. Libraries are shut down, independent bookstores are suffering, and even amazon has deprioritized books as an item. Publisher’s Weekly even has an ongoing list of book-related event cancellations. Sales aren’t looking too good.
So what’s the good news? It’s not as bad as it was. In April and May, sales were down 60% overall, but they have been making a slow comeback since. Most books are being purchased online, so be sure that you are offering sales online.
That being said, If you want to stick with traditional publishing, stay current. Address the social issues the world is facing. Some of the highest-selling books right now are those that discuss social injustices; even older books about racism and racial bias are being reprinted right now, according to USA Today.
Even when we’re not in the middle of what feels like the apocalypse, writers who want to make money off of their work have to tailor their pieces to seasons, trends, and societal demand. For instance, would you want to be reading The Hunger Games right now, when it hits so close to home? I sure don’t. I want to educate myself through a nonfiction book about current issues, or lose myself in my lifelong love of fantasy.
These times are unprecedented, and we can’t predict what’s coming any more than we can make sense of what’s already happened. Despite the hit the publishing industry took, it is important to recognize that we will be okay. At a time when things are anxiety-inducing, stressful, and uncertain--we do what we always do. We find comfort in writing, in books, and in words.
Thoughts and Tips on Jumpstarting Your Writing Routine When Life Interrupts Your Creative Flow by Marissa Stanko
As writers, we are constantly surrounded by a barrage of websites, blogs, studies, tips, and authors all telling us the same thing: take time to write every day. And that’s great advice. Writing every day, or as many days out of the week as you can, strengthens your style and keeps your creative juices flowing.
But sometimes, life gets in the way, and our writing routines quickly become a distant memory, replaced by family responsibilities, worry about international pandemics, and a fraught political atmosphere.
This summer, the cards dealt by life tossed my writing routine out the window. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was devastated and worried, always afraid that someone I knew would be the next to die from a rampant, mysterious virus. When I was furloughed from my job, I tried to make the best of all that extra time by tackling a new writing project. I’ve always stuck to short fiction and poetry, but I decided to try my hand at writing a very rough draft of a very rough novel. It was fun! I did loads of research and I had five chapter drafts written by the end of July.
I thought I wouldn’t have to put down the draft until I started classes again in September, but fate had different ideas. In the beginning of August, my boyfriend was in a car accident. I dropped everything to take care of him--medical and insurance claims, prescriptions, shopping for a new car. Then my manager asked me to come back to work. My free time had been totally annihilated, and my creativity was buried under a mountain of exhaustion.
If, like me, you’re struggling to unleash your ideas again after life got in the way, I have a couple of tips I hope can help.
Most importantly, ease yourself into it. Throwing yourself back into a dedicated routine will end in fifteen cups of coffee, thirty deleted Word docs, and uncounted tears making your coffee salty instead of sweet. Take your time. Be gracious with yourself. Try writing something small and unrelated to your current project. I’ve started thinking about my novel again, but for now I’m sticking to jokes and sketches for my comedy class. It’s helping my ideas flow and to build up my writing stamina.
Expose yourself to whatever sets your creativity free. My most unhealthy writing habit is staying up to write, because I always get my best ideas right as I’m falling asleep. But on days when I don’t have to get up for work the next day, I might indulge that. Or I’ll go outside and take a nice long walk and just maunder about little tendrils of plots, or I’ll use an avatar creator to design a character. Do whatever works. Don’t inhibit yourself just because your writing habits seem weird if you think about them too hard.
This is in direct opposition to what I just said, but make sure you’re sleeping! If your brain shuts down, so do your ideas.
Write down any ideas you think of, no matter how small. I recommend getting a writer’s notebook, a notebook you use specifically for writing ideas and plotlines and diagrams and whatever else helps you create. It’s nice to have something physical that you can carry with you--I find that my phone kind of takes me out of the moment and I may lose the idea if I attempt to record it electronically.
Need material? When you feel ready to talk about it, write about what caused your lapse in routine. Write about it, whether it’s funny or tragic or boring. You don’t have to publish it, just embrace it as part of who you are as a writer.
Next, write something lighthearted. A comedy sketch, a cheesy romance, a silly poem. Try to enjoy what you write, because getting back into a routine can feel like writing boot camp otherwise. Throw in some writing prompts and exercise to hone any rusty skills or obtain new ones.
Once you’re back in the swing of things, it’s time for the finale. Open up your abandoned draft, and greet it like an old friend! You’re ready to tackle plots and heavy editing, to world-build and characterize. Make your piece come to life the way you envisioned it before life got in the way.
One last thing. Be kind to yourself. You are a writer, and you will write again.