Reading time: Roughly 8 minutes (but very skimmable)
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
I’m starting to think of COVID-19 as the pandemic that won’t end. Last week I had the suffocating feeling of being a prisoner in my own home, which I expressed to a friend who has a plethora of common sense. He texted me right back saying, “remember that your prison has Netflix, comfortable furniture and your husband in it. All it’s missing is a cat. And if you got rid of your husband, [who is highly allergic to animal dander] you could have one of those, too.”
The text made me laugh. And it gave me the fortitude to search the internet for posts and videos that might inform, help or amuse you, too. Here are the 10 best that I found:
Consider advice from Stephen King
I love the way National Public Radio (NPR) is able to find novel twists to stories — like the pandemic — that are starting to feel more than a little tiresome. The headline, “Stephen King Is Sorry You Feel Like You’re Stuck In A Stephen King Novel,” not only made me smile in self-recognition, it also made me want to listen to the entire 42-minute interview between Terry Gross (@nprfreshair) and novelist Stephen King (@StephenKing).
If you don’t have that kind of time, spend a couple of minutes on the NPR web page and scroll through the interview highlights. Lucky Stephen King is not being undone by fear. Instead he says, “I’ve made wonderful progress on a novel, because there’s really not too much to do and it’s a good way to get away from the fear. It’s not panic. It’s not terror that I feel, that I think most people feel, it’s a kind of gnawing anxiety where you say to yourself, I shouldn’t go out. If I do go out, I might catch this thing or I might give it to somebody else.”
Soothe yourself with a Shakespeare sonnet
I was fortunate enough to be able to see noted Shakespearean actor Sir Patrick Stewart (@SirPatStew) perform on Broadway once (I can’t remember the name of the show but it was a contemporary one and it also starred T.R. Knight — “George” from Grey’s Anatomy.) And I’ve had the chance to reacquaint myself with Stewart’s mellifluous voice thanks to his pledge to recite a Shakespeare sonnet per day on his Instagram account.
Music has charms to soothe a savage breast. And so does Patrick Stewart’s voice.
Stop the quarantine from ruining your marriage
Stay-at-home orders can be tough on significant others. If you want to protect your relationship with your partner, consider some advice from TED speaker Carol Bruess, (@carol_bruess) a professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota.
My favourite tip of hers is to focus on creating new rituals. One couple she describes has chosen a special sweatshirt — and wearing it comes with a rule. When the other spouse sees them in it, they have to pretend that person is invisible. No talking to them, no looking at them, no asking any questions. It’s the marriage version of an invisibility cloak. Love it!
Learn how to pivot your writing business
I’ve always found that mystery author and blogger Elizabeth Spann Craig (@elizabethscraig) has a kind and compassionate approach to the writing life. In a recent blog post titled “Pivoting,” she describes her own reactions to the pandemic and offers some gentle advice. As she puts it:
“Remember there can be too much time to write: We’re all dealing with different circumstances. Some of us may be put into a spot where there’s much less time to write because we’re caring for our kids or working a demanding job from home. Some of us might be in a spot where we think there’s a lot of time to write, but the words don’t want to come.
“If you have too much time to write, try setting a very specific point in the day (limiting your time) and use a timer. Or just mull the story over in your head. It may not be realistic to knock out as many words in a day as you’re used to.”
Get better at working from home
Author K.M Wiland (@KMWeiland) often has great, practical tips for writers and she’s done it again with a post titled “8 Challenges (and Solutions) When Writing From Home.” Her tips include:
- Starting with the right morning routine
- Choosing the right time to write
- Putting strict limits on phone and internet consumption
- Filling your well and being kind to yourself
- Nourishing and exercising your body
- Forgetting about breaking bad habits and focusing on creating good ones
- Scheduling time to connect with others
- Ending with the right evening routine
I agree with all of these!
Make BAD art
Artist and bestselling author Austen Kleon (@austinkleon) holds a spritely attitude towards art and we need more sprites in these challenging times. In a blog post titled “Make bad art, too,” he suggests that we shouldn’t listen to people who want to remind us that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. “We’re living in King Lear!” he says.
Instead, he argues, “Good can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Just make something.”
Enjoy breathtaking music from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
A benefactor for the Milwaukee Symphony (@MilwSymphOrch) recently died from COVID-19 and the musicians decided to do a virtual performance (from their homes) of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod, so called because Elgar dedicated the piece to his friend Augustus Jaeger, who encouraged him to continue writing music after having recovered from depression.
The name of the piece of music is a play on words as the biblical Nimrod was a hunter and Jaeger is a German word meaning hunter. The video is only 4 minutes long and the music is exquisite. If you want your spirits lifted, listen to it. My thanks to reader Philomena Sucharda for forwarding this beautiful link to me.
Learn how the pandemic is affecting the book publishing industry
Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) is a former literary agent who has become an author himself. I’ve long appreciated his blog, which is both intelligent and well informed. In a recent post — under the headline “How coronavirus will change the publishing industry” — he interviews Mike Shatzkin (@MikeShatzkin), founder and CEO of The Idea Logical company, a consulting firm that assists book publishers.
Here is one comment from Shatzkin that really made me pay attention: “ I think one of the things we’re going to see is that the supply chain for books will have dramatically altered. The whole notion of printing lots and lots of books in advance and sitting on them in a warehouse is going to look a lot less attractive for a lot of stock.”
If you’re a publisher, a bookstore owner or an author, read this post and prepare yourself for the different world that’s going to emerge when this pandemic is finally over.
Leave work at home (even if you never leave the house)
Since you started working from home, have you noticed that you’re working a lot more than you used to? Your computer is so close at hand (maybe even in your bedroom) and you appear to be “on” all the time, constantly thinking about work, even if you’re not doing it. As well, you’re likely feeling guilty for having paid employment when so many people you know have been laid off and may be struggling to put food on the table. Getting exercise is harder too, and you no longer have a commute, which you used to hate but which now looks like a pretty good chance to decompress.
All of these feelings are likely leading to burnout according to Jory MacKay (@JoryMacKay) from the RescueTime blog. He offers five great suggestions for containing your workload:
- Create a dedicated space
- Use rituals to start and end your workday
- Set realistic goals and track your progress
- Go offline when you need to focus on your most important work
- Stop checking emails outside of working hours
I have used similar guidelines for most of the last 24 years of my working from home and they not only make me more efficient but also more cheerful, as well.
Reminisce over M*A*S*H
TV was different when I was a teenager. In the late 1960s and early 70s — before personal computers and before even video recorders — you had to make an appointment with your favourite TV shows. You couldn’t record. You couldn’t even pause. You had to be in the room with the TV, at the precisely scheduled time. As well, most TV comedies were relatively gentle and slow paced — they didn’t have much edge (at least not until All in the Family in 1971.)
The 30-minute sit com M*A*S*H (an acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) was an American war comedy-drama television series that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. It was set in the Korean War and it starred Alan Alda (@alanalda). I remember watching the show every week and looking forward to the lightly sarcastic humour Hawkeye (Alda) employed to skewer his costars. If you’re younger than 40, the show may seem hopelessly old-fashioned to you. But anyone over that age will likely enjoy the 5-minute video titled M*A*S*H and the coronavirus.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. If you already know you want to apply, go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. If you want to start May 1, the deadline for applying is this coming Friday, April 24/20.
My video podcast last week addressed how freelance writers can cope with COVID. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
What are the best blog posts you’ve read in the last month? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/20 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!