Reading time: Just over 6 minutes
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
We live in the time of coronavirus, worried about the world’s health, scared about our financial security and bored from being stuck in our homes or apartments.
The situation makes me think of my maternal aunt, Elaine MacInnes, now 96-years young, who spent a number of years as director of England’s Prison Phoenix Trust, teaching meditation and yoga to prisoners.
Why prisoners? Well, they are people stuck in a frightening, captive environment and meditation can be freeing. Sound familiar to coronavirus?
Consider using self-isolation as your opportunity to build a sustainable writing habit. (And if that sounds too demanding, remember that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague of 1606.) To help keep yourself safe and manage your fears, I’ve scoured the internet to uncover the best possible advice related to coronavirus and writing. Here are 10 germs of ideas for you:
Wash your hands properly
Handwashing might sound simple but the vast majority of people don’t do it right. Watch this silent, half-minute video from Tara Parker-Pope (@taraparkerpope) and the Well team at the New York Times and you’ll never wash your hands the same way again. I was initially skeptical of the manoeuvre in which you buff your nails on the opposite palm. But when I thought about it, I realized that, of course, my nails were just as capable of picking up germs as the rest of my hands. And I now also pay special attention to my wrists – another spot that many people miss. I now spend about 45 seconds with each hand-wash, and I do it multiple times each day.
Disinfect your phone
Did you know that our phones are the most disgusting things we ever carry in our pockets? They are germier than most bathrooms and kitchen floors. In the last few weeks I’ve taken to disinfecting my phone at least once a day. (Shameful admission: Before the pandemic I did it maybe once every six months…) Cleaning your phone is more effective than wearing a face mask, according to Debra Goff (@idpharmd), a pharmacist and recent appointee to the World Health Organization antimicrobial stewardship program.
Just be aware that you should never put liquid directly on your phone. Instead, spray it on a cloth and then wipe down your phone with that cloth. My phone is protected with a clear plastic screen so I can use isopropyl alcohol directly on it. If you don’t have such a cover then be sure to dilute the alcohol with water so it doesn’t damage the glass. Even if you don’t go out much, remember that you are probably touching your phone thousands of times a day, exposing it to every germ that is on your hands. For more tips, check out the full article on the Prevention website by Elizabeth Millard (@EMillard_Writer).
Review your social distancing plan
I cancelled my haircut for last Saturday. This was exceptionally painful for me because I have very short, very thick hair that’s hard to pin back. But I checked with a family friend who’s a doctor and she confirmed I needed to cancel. We have also cancelled a family-only birthday party for our triplets who will be turning 26 on March 30. Three of the seven people (my son, his fiancée and my brother-in-law) don’t live with us which would put all of us at increased risk.
Social distancing confuses a lot of people. It’s extreme and it requires diligence. Read this incisive New Yorker Q&A with public health researcher Asaf Bitton (@Asaf_Bitton) on some of the trickier questions you’ll want to have answered.
Stay informed about the stats
Pandemics are hard to monitor in advance. At the beginning it sounds as though public health officials are over-reacting. Later, it seems as though they didn’t do nearly enough. If you want to monitor the spread of this disease in a fast and easy way, 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann (@AviSchiffmann) from Washington State has created a tracker that “scrapes” information from public health websites around the world. It’s updated every minute (!) and millions of health officials now are checking his site every day.
You can learn a little bit about him in a charming interview with Democracy Now (@democracynow). I especially love the part where Shiffmann tells the interviewer that he’s been coding for over a decade (which means he started at the age of seven.) Kids!
On the other hand, don’t obsess over news
Computer scientist Cal Newport has built a reputation on focusing on deep work rather than the ephemera of social media. I think he goes too far sometimes, but his advice for dealing with pandemics is spot on. He suggests we check only ONE reliable national and ONE reliable local news source each morning and then put news aside for the rest of the day. There is nothing to be gained — and a lot to be lost — in reflexively checking news every couple of minutes. Following the news or social media obsessively is only likely to ramp up your anxiety, making your work harder to do and your life more miserable.
Prevent COVID 19 from killing your business
The immediate danger with coronavirus is to our health. But by far the bigger danger is to our economy — both worldwide and personal. Carol Tice (@TiceWrites) often provides useful, valuable advice and I thought her recent post on how to insulate your freelance income from damage gives great tips for gig writers. Her two most useful tips?
- Be ready to sub for ill workers. Target big companies who might have multiple marketing people go out. Consider checking in with local temp agencies about emerging needs.
- Don’t stop marketing. Because you may lose clients in the coming weeks. Poorly run companies will freak out and stop marketing. Prepare to replace any flakes by keeping fresh leads coming in.
Document the days
Many great stories have been born out of other tragedies. (Think of both World Wars. Think of 9/11.) If you’re a fiction writer there are going to be hundreds — maybe even thousands — of plots arising out of this painful moment in history. Capture the details so you can remember them and use them later.
I like the way Ann Kroeker (@annkroeker) suggests keeping a diary — whether written, audio or video. Of course, this type of documentation will also be important for historians. But even if you have no desire to write fiction or history, think of this diary as a valuable bit of your own family story you’ll be able to pass along to future generations.
Consider how you might support the book industry
This is a particularly tough time for the book industry what with retail shops being closed, book fairs being cancelled and libraries being shuttered. Read about the situation in Italy in a fine Lit Hub post by Aaron Robertson. And learn about the situation in the rest of the world in an excellent New York Times piece by Alexandra Alter (@xanalter).
The fallout is especially ironic because reading is one of the best things you can do when you’re stuck inside. I’m going to be using this time to re-read some favourite books on my shelves and to buy some new Kindle titles I want to enjoy. Reading is relaxing and uplifting and far more useful to writers than watching endless episodes of Netflix. Then, once the pandemic is over, I’ll take my credit card into a local bookstore and buy a bunch of books.
Learn how to deliver virtually
Even if you can’t go to work, you can still deliver presentations digitally. I know because I did one last Friday and I had 100 people attend. If you’ve never done such a presentation yourself, they can be a little intimidating so be sure to learn how to present effectively and dynamically. I always like the advice from Throughline (@throughlineNPR) and they’ve outdone themselves in this detailed post on how to deliver a great virtual presentation.
My favourite tip? “Go ahead and smile. Research has shown that people can “hear” you smile so don’t let the lack of a camera stop you from expressing yourself. It’s okay to smile on camera too, if the subject matter warrants it.” Throughline suggests sitting up straight when delivering a workshop, but I always favour being upright on my own feet. I believe that the energy that standing requires results in a more energetic presentation.
Keep yourself calm
Both posts describe the need to keep moving (despite being stuck inside) and the value of maintaining social connections via “safe” tools such as telephones, texts, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. Both posts also emphasize the importance of limiting your exposure to news.
As physician Melissa Shepard (@mshepard_md) puts it, “If you are anxious about COVID-19, you may find yourself spending a lot of time searching for updates and reassurance. This is usually counterproductive, as many outlets and social media networks draw on catastrophic or sensational stories to get views. Limit yourself to checking news stories once a day. Turn off automatic news notifications on your smartphone. Trust that if there is an important development, you will hear about it quickly.”
Finally, if you’re into worst-case scenarios, remind yourself that the fatality rate associated with COVID-19 is thought to be somewhere between 0.5 and four percent. (We won’t know the real number until the pandemic is over.) But flip the equation, reminding yourself that at least 96% of people — even if they catch COVID 19 — will recover just fine.
PS: It’s still worth using social distancing to help protect hospitals from too much demand all at once.
Want to use your stuck-at-home time to develop a sustainable writing routine? Consider applying to my Get It Done program. Application deadline for next month is this Thursday, March 26. To apply, go here, scroll to the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.
My video podcast last week addressed the safety of entering writing contests. 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 March 31/20 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!