Welcome to First Monday Mentoring in a very troubling time. I had already drafted a column about the importance of “build” in a story – the craft of gradually lifting the story to almost unbearable levels as readers wonder if/how things will work out. But I decided that information will keep for another blog.
Instead, I’m sharing some outstanding advice for the times from bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. If you’re struggling to write, or craft, or art or simply get up and face the day, this is for all of us.
I’ve been a full time writer since before I knew what a writer was. My words have been my living through 90 published books, film scripts, newspaper columns, articles, short stories, magazine serials, speeches and masterclasses. You name it, I’ve written it. Having months ahead when we can only venture out for essentials should be my nirvana.
On my desk are ideas for a new Carramer royal romance, and a film script I want to turn into a novel. Yet I’ve written not one useful word. It’s as if my brain has forgotten how to do something that should be as normal for me as breathing. Not under the present crisis.
Yesterday I went to the supermarket for a few essentials. Chocolate is so too an essential. By the time I got back to my car I was terrified, feeling more scared than I’ve felt addressing an audience of two thousand people. I couldn’t wait to be “safe” in my writing cave. I had no reason to be scared. The store was quiet. Everything was sanitised. Yet the fear was real and left me feeling shaken and useless.
Then into my inbox dropped a blog from Chuck Wendig. Here’s what I wanted to share of his wise words:
“It’s hard to concentrate when everything is so strange, so broken, so dangerous. It’s like being told to paint a masterpiece while on a turbulent flight. It’s just not the time.
And so, I want you to know, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be somehow a better, more productive person in this time. You can be! If you are, more power to you. That doesn’t make you a monster. But if you’re finding yourself unable to concentrate, that’s to be expected. That is normal. Normal is feeling abnormal in response to abnormality.
You must be kind to yourself and to others when it comes to what we think people can and should be able to accomplish during this time. Ten million people are out of work, suddenly. People are sick and dying. The thing we crave at a base level, human interaction, is suddenly fraught and fragile. Hell, everything is fraught and fragile. We’re only realizing now that it was fragile all this time.
None of this is normal. You don’t have to feel shamed into forcing normalcy as a response.
So what, then, is the answer?
There really isn’t one. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing. No therapy regimen, no best practices. Best I can tell you, and this should be taken with a grain of salt so big you’d have to chip away at it with a pick ax, is that you try your best. And when you fall well short of that, you instantly, and intimately, recognize why. And you forgive yourself, and you forgive the rest of the world for also falling short (“rest of the world” does not include politicians or billionaires, by the way) and you try again.
And it’s okay if you can’t focus on writing, or reading a book, or planting a garden, or patching drywall, or whatever. Find a different thing. Keep busy when you must, but also don’t be afraid to sit with how you’re feeling and accept it. Accept it unconditionally. Accept your anger and sadness, accept your delirium, allow yourself the time to drift and to fail. Also accept any joy you feel, and do so without guilt. Joy is hard-won, and if you manage that victory, there’s no shame in that. Take the victory lap. We will have to hunt joy like an elusive beast across the wasteland.
If you capture it, celebrate.
I think most of all, don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Now, maybe more than ever, don’t compare yourself to others. Everybody’s not only trapped in their houses, but also trapped in their own maelstrom of emotions, too. Let that be true. You can talk it out. You can share how you’re feeling. But don’t compare in a way that punishes you, or that paints your own feelings as a transgression.
This is all very new to us.
Normal is gone. There will be a new normal. We’ll get there. We’ll get through this. But things will change and that’s going to be okay. Maybe better than okay. Maybe we’ll come out better in the end. But we don’t have to be better now, we don’t have time to be better overnight. This isn’t work-from-home. This isn’t your time to shine. This isn’t time to be productive. If you are, embrace it. If you’re not, forgive it. Do what you can do. Be safe.”
Read more at Chuck’s http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2020/04/02/none-of-this-is-normal/ As ever I add a language alert. Chuck has …ahem…an interesting way with language.
If writing is what you can do, great. If not, do what you can. Ask a question or share your thoughts in the box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on Sign Me Up at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Stay well.
The 2020 Valerie Parv Award is now open April 6 to 26. Details at
Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia
Author of 90 books in 29 languages
Australia Day Ambassador
Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia
Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient
On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com
Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney
Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring April 2020 – What to do if you can’t write during the Covid-19 crisis" (8)
Thank you for sharing part of Chuck Wendig’s post. You’d have done your usual brilliant job without it, but his words added to your encouragement! I have so many things to be thankful for: a house in which to isolate and a mum with whom to share it…food (even if we’re running out of our usual meals)…television (some of the time)…internet (when it works)…and April’s Camp Nanowrimo, which is helping me get past writer’s block. Also Facebook and a certain cave, the #ApartTogether church service via Facebook Live from one of our local churches livestreamed from the pastor’s wife’s phone, and the faith and hope in God that lives in our hearts always. I’m also thankful for you, Valerie, and the inspiration and joy you bring to our lives. Sending love & virtual hugs! Virtual not only because of COVID-19, but because we’re on different continents…but #ApartTogether in our hearts!
Apart/Together is a wonderful concept and sums up where we are no matter where we live. All the best to you and your mum and stay sfe.
Dear Valerie and I do mean dear. I am reaching out day by day in many ways to my friends to help them realize how very important they are to me nd also to let them know they aren’t alone.
As ever, your way with words is unparalleled. Siting with all you feel is what we should do all the time, but many of us do not know what that truly is nor how to do it.
Sit quietly and let the inner voice speak to you in what ever way is kind and loving. If you feel like crying, cry; if you feel like laughing laugh. There isn’t a right or wrong when you are being true to yourself.
If you feel like meditating, then meditate. If you feel like cooking cook. There is no right or wrong now in living your life other than staying healthy and safe. If you need to reach out then do so. The person you reach out to may be having worse day than you are.
As always count your many blessings and your many friends as one of them. Peace love and joy to all.
Thank you for your words.
Thnbk you Kathi, for adding your voice to ths essential message. I hope you and yoursd stay safe throughout this crisis and beyond.
This is so interesting …so this is what is happening here…
I find that I’m getting more done by not thinking. Not expecting anything.
There’s too much to think about so I stopped.
I’ve been just putting one foot in front of the other and quite often finding myself sitting tapping away at the keyboard and enjoying what’s flowing out of my fingers.
Why don’t I do this all the time?!
…the fact is, I am finding it’s more organic and because it’s just happening it’s more genuine. I’m learning to un-learn what I thought I should do. No more timetables for me. Whatever words get put on paper are better because they’re genuine.
Thank you for helping to sort this out in my mind.
Get Outlook for Android
Happy to be able to help, Janne. I get you on writing more organically. I wrote this blog in the same way, letting it come from what I’m thinking and feeling myself. People have said they’re surprised that someone with my publishing history is having trouble, but why wouldn’t I? As Chuck puts it so well, none of this is normal and pressuring ourselves to act as if it is doesn’t help. Thanks for stopping by.
It’s always comforting to be told “it’s okay”, and I do believe this too will pass. The world will take a deep breath and move on. My writing is coming along well … I have found I’m more impatient, less focused, with reading. Stay safe. Julie Holland 🌻
Glad you found this helpful, Julie. I think too many of us were telling ourselves it was “business as usual.” It helps to hear others are also struggling.