As I write this, people all over the world are staying home to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, and writers all over the world are struggling to relax and write. For those of us who can’t do other work, it seems like we ought to write more.
Yet the news, our own fears, and the change in routine all can make it harder, not easier, to tap into our creativity.
Here are 5 ways, though, that you might be able to help yourself relax and get your stories written.
But first: I am not a doctor, therapist, or medical provider, and these suggestions aren’t meant to take the place of professional guidance. If you’re struggling with mental or emotional health issues, please reach out to a trained professional or talk with your doctor.
Not Sleeping – Creatively
The other night I joined a Zoom call with multiple people to celebrate a birthday. Almost everyone on it said they're having trouble sleeping.
It’s been a little more challenging for me too. I find it harder to fall asleep, and I’m more apt to awaken during the night.
While sleeping less isn’t ideal, it is a great time to consider your characters’ backstories. You can imagine their childhoods, key moments in their lives, and what they want most in the world.
Let go of the story you’re working on now – untwisting plot issues may keep you awake or raise anxiety about getting pages or words written.
Instead, let your mind wander and see what pops into it about your characters.
Put Your Plot – And Yourself – In Motion
When I’m feeling blue or tired, moving helps. Walking, dancing, aerobicizing.
The great thing is that repetitive, aerobic motion can also help your mind relax and roam freely. And once you relax, you tend to generate ideas. You might come up with a great non-fiction book topic, solve a thorny plot problem and get your novel unstuck, or discover the start to that short story you’ve been wanting to write.
Bonus: Not only are you more likely to relax and write, you’ll probably feel more energetic and upbeat too.
Expand Your World
When I’m feeling like I’ve spent too much time inside or alone, I use my imagination. I remember trips I’ve taken and places I went, drawing on all my senses.
All of these can be rich sources for adding depth to your stories. Towns, buildings, or countryside may become settings in your next novel. New people you met can be the basis for character traits or entire characters. The smells, tastes, and sounds you experienced and anything you saw and touched can add richness to the way you write describe scenes.
Binge Watch With A Purpose
If you have access to a streaming service (or DVD box sets), this is a great time to rewatch a series you loved. This time, in addition to enjoying it, think about why you love it so much.
Is it the characters? Now that you know where the series takes them, consider how the writers and actors built these characters for you step-by-step. Ask yourself what worked and what didn’t.
Do the same thing with the plot of each episode or the series as a whole.
Late last year I started doing this type of rewatch and analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for my podcast Buffy and the Art of Story. Now I’m examining other series I love as well.
Getting To Know You
Even if you can’t meet in person (and so many of us can’t these days), you can probably connect via online tools or by talking on the phone. When you do, it’s easy (and normal) to fall into talk about worries and fears about the virus, the economy, and other issues the world faces now.
But why not use the time in a different way, to really get to know one another?
Ask a parent or grandparent to tell you about their first job, or the person who most influenced them, or pretty much anything you’ve never talked to them about before. Ask a friend to tell you something they’ve never before shared that happened to them.
These types of topics can help you feel closer in these challenging times. And there’s a side benefit for your writing. The more you learn about and understand other people, the more nuanced and well-rounded characters you’ll be able to create.
So you can connect, relax, and write all at the same time.
I hope the above helps during this challenging time.
Until next time –
L. M. Lilly
P.S. Trying to get your novel started? Stuck in the middle? Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel might help.