Writing During COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve heard about COVID-19, unless you were on a 12-Day silent retreat like Jared Leto, you can’t miss it. It is everywhere, and it is all the time, and it is time-consuming. Where I live, we’ve recently been asked to all work and stay at home. Try not to leave, use social distancing, oh, and kids have no school so watch them too.

It sounds like a writer’s dream, but I’m struggling. My writing has been on major pause for at least a full week now. There is so much information coming at me, so many changes day after day, but I think the biggest change is the complete alteration of my routine.

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Currently, I’m a writer with a day job, but for the past seven months or so I’ve found pleasure in taking a morning coffee break from my day job at a cute little café across the street. A half-hour might not be a lot of time, but it was enough to get a page or two of writing done. And at a page a day, that’s a novel a year. I felt like I was making good progress. Now, I haven’t even been writing that one page a day.

So this afternoon I had to sit down and have a talk with myself. I needed to plan, to work out what I will work on during this lockdown so that I use this time at home to the best of my ability.

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Part of what I find hard about writing when stuck at home is that I’m a people watcher. I love watching people, observing them (not in a creepy way), but in order to see what makes us human, what makes us tick. I like to try to understand people and the choices we make. And I can’t do that anymore.

Sure, there’s social media. I’ve been on Twitter more than I have in a long time, but that is a black hole that’s easy to not come back from, and some of the news I read on there sets me so off-kilter that writing is even more difficult afterward. Social media just isn’t where I need my head to be at these days. So my first decision was easy: less social media, less news (I was checking at least once an hour), and more time with PAPER that won’t tempt me to check for the latest update or fake news headline. This is why paper is great, another reason why I will always love paper books, and writing in paper journals because when you’re focused on them, you aren’t sidetracked by a blinking light or a ping or low-power warning.

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My second decision was more difficult. I need a project that will consume my attention, that I am so tempted to be with that it is easy to write. I have many projects. I’m always working on more than one thing. And while I want to finish absolutely everything I start (I’m that kind of person I guess), some things take a lot more effort to get through than others. So, for a while, I’m going to switch focus. I’m going to continuing finishing my first edit of BY SAPPHIRE LIGHT, my young-adult fantasy steampunk novel that I love, but I’m going to press pause on the second edit because editing is WORK. In order to keep myself happy and writing while this whole COVID-19 thing is going on, I’m going to let myself go back to drafting, and I’m going to draft by hand a fantasy novel that I started a few years back and haven’t spent much time on, mostly because I promised myself I would write the entire thing by hand, and I haven’t had that kind of time. But now I do, so this project is perfect these times.

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And lastly, I’m going to continue journalling because journalling makes me feel good, it helps lighten my anxieties and sorts out my thoughts and my plans and my head in general.

So starting today, that’s my plan. Did you make a writing plan for COVID-19 and lockdown/voluntary isolation? What are you doing to keep working?

JEH

 

The Five Benefits of a Writing Retreat

Being a writer these days isn’t easy. The majority of writers have day jobs, especially those writers  just starting out, but even those who have been writing for many years often have day jobs to cover their bills. So with the stress of the day-to-day pressing in on you, it can be difficult to find time—or even the desire—to write.

Most days when I get home, all I want to do is cook supper and spend time with my loved ones. Maybe read a book. The last thing I want to do is often sit down and look at a computer yet again (my day job consists of looking at a screen almost 8 hours a day). Some days I push through, but other days it’s impossible. Sometimes, the best way to get writing done is to do it all in one large chunk of time.

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Which is why I love writing retreats. A couple weekends back, I had the opportunity to go on a quick two-and-a-half day retreat with my writing group. We’re lucky enough here in Saskatchewan that there are a few places built for retreats. Which means simple rooms with no distractions (just a bed and a desk), and three cooked meals a day (very time saving), all at an affordable price. Below are my top 5 benefits of a writing retreat, whether it be for two days or twenty.

1    Uninterrupted Time to Get Work Done

I’ve tried before to lock myself up in my house to get work done, but the fact remains that home has many distractions, from family members, to cute cats who demand attention, to the TV, the floor that needs sweeping and the bathroom that needs cleaning, and those distractions all seem pretty fun when compared to spending twelve hours a day rewriting that one pesky chapter. Going on a retreat removes all those temptations, especially if you pick a retreat out in the country, far away from the interesting hustle and bustle of the city.

2    New Sights, New Thoughts

This point slightly contradicts point 1 above, but sometimes what us writers need to inspire new work is a change of surrounding. A new place, new visual cues around you (or a lack of them), can spark the imagination in a different way.

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3   New People, New Conversations

While I went on my writing retreat with my writing group, there were other writers at the establishment as well that we shared meal time with. While conversations were saved for the dining table or the evening when most of us were wore out from working, there was still plenty of time for talking and sharing. We spoke about ourselves, our work, what inspires us, and even read a bit of what we were working on to get some feedback. All of this is much needed writer-therapy that I could probably use more of.

4   A Change in Habit

There are many tricks to try if you’re suffering writer’s block, however mild. Like changing the font set of your document, or writing with paper and pen instead of on the computer, changing your place of writing can also help you look at your work with new eyes. I often find that taking a piece I’m working on to a cafe will illuminate the manuscript in a unique way, and show me a new angle to take that will improve the work or help me just get on with it if I’m stuck. The change to regular habit that a writing retreat provides is a great kick in the pants.

5   A Lack of Connectivity

While there was internet at my writing retreat, it was slow. And if I didn’t put in the password when I arrived, it was non-existent. Even though I did end up connecting, the speed wasn’t the same as it was at home, which meant streaming endless cute cat vids on You Tube wasn’t the draw it sometimes is. Not only that, but being away meant if I wanted to use my cell phone, I would be chewing up data and paying more in the long run. Not to mention that since I’d announced I was going away and on a retreat that friends and family didn’t text me as much as they usually did. The decrease in interruptions meant and increase in productivity, and I got a lot of work completed during my time away.

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If you’ve never done a writing retreat, but have been thinking about it, I definitely recommend the experience.

Have you ever done a writing retreat?

JEH

What I’m Reading: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Young Adult Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Last year I reviewed Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse Trilogy, which I really enjoyed. I borrowed Six of Crows from a friend, and finished reading it at the tail end of last year (it has taken me forever to post this review but that’s another story of a busy writer’s life). I have to say that I was hesitant to read another book in Grishverse, but in the end I preferred Six of Crows over the initial Grishaverse Trilogy, mainly because Six of Crows was more adult than Shadow and Bone.

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I’ve written before about my preference for mature young adult fiction, books along the lines of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Raven Boys trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater, and anything written by Holly Black. These authors don’t treat their characters like sheltered teens with perfect, non-dangerous lives. Their characters are constantly being forced to make tough choices, and they do. Life is about tough choices, and I love seeing this in young adult novels.

Six of Crows is about a rag-tag team of thieves brought together for a singular purpose, but everyone has their own agenda (of course!). It is a fast-paced heist novel, set in the Grisha world, which is a near steampunk, somewhat Gothic, almost Victorian but kind of Russian fantasy world. It is so unique and fun that Six of Crows was hard to put down.

I guess I’ll have to read Crooked Kingdom, the sequel to Six of Crows, because I know it will be just as fun.

JEH

 

A Writer’s Plans in 2020

So far the start of the year has been incredibly busy! That’s a good thing, since I’m gearing up for a big year in 2020. The blog has been pretty quiet lately, and it will likely continue to be so until summer. Why? Because for the first half of 2020 I will continue to be a writer with a day job. This means that like 2019, I won’t get as much done as I dream of, but I still have plans. And what happens in the second half of 2020? Well, my savings goal will have been reached and I will once again be transitioning to full-time writing. I am so excited for this that the impatience is quickly growing.

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On the docket for 2020 are a number of things, first and foremost to continue working on my current work in progress, By Sapphire Light. This is a young adult steampunk fantasy that I just love working on! I finished the first draft in December, and have recently begun the first rewrite, which is moving along nicely! In early January, I also worked on a few other small projects that I plan to continue with for the rest of 2020.

My main goal this year is to get the entire trilogy for By Sapphire Light drafted. This means two more books to draft, and the first one to finalize. I would love to have this done by July 1st, before I transition to full-time writing, since I have many other projects that will be vying for my attention at that time.

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The good thing is I have a writing retreat booked in late February, which will carve out sometime in the first half of the year for writing. I’m continuing with my Wednesday writing night, and have been pretty good at chipping away on my project on evenings and weekends. I’m hopefully that I can get one more mini-retreat in before June as well.

When I did my writing goal planning for 2020, I actually only planned for the first six months, since I’m not exactly sure how things are going to line-up for July. I’m trying to let things flow, and see what comes more naturally now while I’m balancing work life-home life-and writing life. Here’s to a great year in 2020 for everyone!

JEH

How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: A year’s roundup.

At the start of the year I was planning to write a post a month about how to be a writer with a day job, in other words, how to find time for writing when you’re working 40 (or more!) hours a week! I managed to get out two posts! Which may tell you a lot about where my priorities lay when I’m a writer with a day job.

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It was much easier to fit in blogging when I was a full-time writer. But being a full-time writer isn’t always the most economical decision (though it is the most heart-lightening one). I switched my day job in June of 2019, and that day job currently takes up a lot more of my time than my old job did, but all for a greater purpose. I changed jobs (well aware that I would lose writing time) to make more money, to save more, to then get back to being a full-time writer sooner (once my cushion is adequately plumped).

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And taking that job has also taught me a lot more about being a writer with a day job. Here are some tips I picked up over the past six months:

  1. Make social media your last priority. Yes, that’s right. If you want to get writing done, or even worse, the dreaded rewriting, don’t go on social media. This may result in your on-line presence lagging, but hey, I didn’t get into writing fiction so I could write for social media 24/7. That said, I’m still trying to make time for some blogging, but I do this by trying time to pre-post once a week—or month! But even that doesn’t always happen.
  2. Keep your goals tight. When you have a day job, you don’t have as much time, which means you can’t pursue as many projects. While I love to have multiple things on the go: short stories, novels, novellas, fantasy, general fiction, I can’t work on them all when I’m already spending 40 hours a week at my day job desk. So pick one and work on it until it’s finished. Then pick something else.
  3. Find a community. I still get the majority of my writing done at my Wednesday night meet-ups. My like-minded community of writers knows we have to set aside time to get work done, so that’s what we do. But beyond writing together, we also have regular goals meetings to hold each other accountable to the goals we set at the beginning of the year.
  4. When you burn out, take a break. Having a day job might mean that you burn out sooner, more often, and harder. Make sure to give yourself a break, a night off, a night out, a morning to sleep in. You can always pick up the pen tomorrow. Just make sure you do.
  5. Drink a lot of coffee. I’m pretty sure that one explains itself.

Hopefully at least one of those tips resonates with you. It’s been a long haul this year being a writer with a day job, but I made it, and next year is going to be even better yet!

JEH

My Top 5 Reads of 2020

It’s that time of year! Taking a look back over all I’ve read in 2019, a few books jump out at me. I’ll get to the list in a minute, but first I want to congratulate myself on reading all I did. While I didn’t meet my GoodReads goal—set at 60 books this year—I did finish 48 books! Plus, I read my own books a bunch of times while writing and editing them, so all in all, I did a great job with reading (can I add the books I wrote to my favourites???).

No matter how much I read, I always want to read more! While I want to set my reading target high for 2020, in the hope that I will find time to read more books, I’m going to set it reasonable, since I know 2020 will be busy.

But now, out of those 48 books, what were my top five?

  1. Legendary by Stephanie Garber (yes I liked book 2 better than book 3)
  2. Finale by Stephanie Garber (but book 3 was still fantastic)
  3. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (a great stand alone epic)
  4. The Wicked King by Holly Black (I always love Holly Black, can’t wait to get to Queen of Nothing!)
  5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (I know it isn’t YA, but I was super into non-fiction in 2019, so one of those books was bound to make the list!)

Of course, there were plenty of books released in 2019 that I just haven’t got around to reading yet (not to mention in 2018), so there might be some books that should be on this list but I just haven’t got to reading yet. My TBR pile is out of control, so as per usual, my new years goal is to not buy any more books and focus on reading more of the books I already have (this resolution tends to never last long—hopefully this year it will stick as I’m getting back into using my library).

What were your favourite reads of 2019?

JEH