As Megan pointed out in June, the world has changed a lot since March. Some days feel a little less disheartening, others stranger than fiction. For those of us with children, when schools closed (for Knoxville, the rest of the school year), we were thrust into the role of a cross between Principle/Teacher/Parent/all-powerful crisis maven while watching our hair gray at an abnormal rate (I’m letting my crown reign, call it performance art). I know personally, some days I feel effective, most I do not.
On top of a shift in how we move about our communities and job situations, as writers, we’ve had to change the when and where our writing happens. Some days I feel good, even excited about what I’m writing. And then some days I feel it’s unimportant in light of “the sickness”, as my youngest calls it, or Black Lives Matter, or Standing Rock (which as I write this has finally seen a great victory), or the people in my live fighting cancer or other ailments. On those days, when I can’t let go of my grief, that is when the writing is hard and feels like a frivolous luxury. But it’s also when I’m not writing, that I feel the saddest, because while I don’t see writing as a form of therapy, I do see it as a form of caring for myself and my ideas. Writing is the clearest way for me to navigate through this crazy world.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.
Between the sage advice of my writing mentor (writing matters!) and other writing friends, and a reminder of what I need to help my wavering moods, I offer you a few things that might help if you are struggling, as I often have lately, to find the time, the space and the energy to write.
Read On Caring by Milton Mayeroff. My husband and I returned to our old habit of reading aloud to each other, a habit we established when we were first married and too poor to do much else. For the last few weeks, in lieu of our evening streaming, we have been reading On Caring, along with N.K Jemisin’s Broken Earth series (which is excellent). I have to say that Mayeroff’s book has made me look at the concept and importance of caring for a person or idea in a whole new way. The book is short, my copy is about 110 pages, and is broken into small sections that can early be read in a few minutes.
Get physical before you write. Before all the changes to my daily life, I had a whole routine I did before sitting down to write. This included yoga. Now, doing yoga is less of a mind cleanse and more trying-to-stay-focused while my son giggle-farts his way through a sun salutation next to me, because that’s what 7-year-olds do. Seriously, try not to laugh; I’ve never succeeded. In the shift of my routine, I’m learning that gardening and practicing my cello before writing helps me relax and clear my mind. And if your life allows, take a walk (sans kids, partner or headphones) and just walk and listen to world around you ( this is more great advice from my mentor).
Post a Reminder. This list is posted next to my bed so the first thing I see when I wake up is a reminder to do the things that help me feel grounded and centered.
Do Rainbow Breaths. I love Rainbow Breathing and there are a ton of different ways to do it. When my youngest was feeling overwhelmed with homeschool and the changing world, we would practice this and then go back to work. Begin with your eyes closed. As you inhale, imagine you are breathing in the color red, as you exhale image your breath turning the room or outdoor space where you are that color. Follow the sequential order of the rainbow for each inhalation and exhalation; repeat if you feel so inclined until your mind is nice and gooey and calm. This is head balm!
Make yourself a 15, 20 or 30 minute playlist (or whatever your schedule allows). It took me a long time to be one of those writers that could write with music on. There’s a good reason I’m not a coffee shop writer. Music makes me daydream. It makes me think about the notes being played. It takes me away from my story. With that said, I decided to try and see–after hearing so many other writers talk about writing to ambient or softer music– if I could make it work in my writing practice. I made a 30 minute (technically 31:24) playlist on Google Music of songs I’ve listen to so much that it’s almost like a blanket when I write. It’s a very pleasant timer that gives me a perimeter in which to sit down, focus and write. Bonus perk, I notice my kids settle into an activity as well, leaving me feeling guilt free for ignoring them for 30 min.
Seek someone to chat with either about your writing or the purple flowers in your yard. There’s a very human aspect to writing and we need to stay connected to other humans. Chat on Zoom. Talk on the phone. Write a letter (there’s been a lot of snail-mail happening in my house lately.)
Check your emotional state. I didn’t feel comfortable for a long time saying that I was feeling okay. I’m learning that it’s okay to not always feel okay. It’s okay to feel sad and angry and uncertain. These are uncertain times. My husband and I have started to ask each other through out the day about our CES (current emotional state); we do this with our kids too. In the last three months, I’ve had to admit on multiple occasions that I am not feeling hopeful, or happy. That I am, on some days, feeling flat-out sad and depressed. It’s important to be honest about this things, and pretending it isn’t is really harmful to ourselves, our families and to the whole world. Acknowledge this and then seek out what you need to help pull through, be it a friend or family member or a therapist. Find someone safe to talk to. Also, there are a lot of writers discussing mental health as well as their writing, I encourage you to check them out. I’ve been loving Jason Reynold’s Brain Yoga (Fridays @ 1:30 on InstagramLive) , David Arnold’s Five Live, and Nina LaCour’s Slow Lab posts and her podcast, Keeping a Notebook.
For awhile now I’ve been living off of LaCour’s mantra “Some Words, Most Days,” especially on the days when getting to my writing desk feels like too much. If nothing else this wisdom is a reminder to myself to choose quality or quantity on the days I care for and nurture my writing.
Be Well! Be Safe!
P.S. If you know of any more podcasts or author talks, please share in the comments. Or if you have things you are doing that help you through this time so you can write, please share!