Writing Secrets: Writing in the time of Corona

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

It seems strange, in these apocalyptic times, to continue with my normal blog subjects. Instead, I would like to wish our community well and urge you all to remain safe as far as you are able.

The media has, as it should, been focusing on aspects of the virus we need to understand – most of it scary and negative. But it does have its positive side: it does provide an opportunity for creativity.

You may be working from home now, or released from your study environment, and we’re all spending more time at home rather than going out. Don’t let this time fritter away.

Netflix is not the solution. We need to take care of our mental as well as our physical health while we’re stuck at home. If you stare at the TV, you’ll eventually feel unproductive and become depressed. Yet, if you use at least some of your time on your creative self, you will feel you have achieved something worthwhile.

Read. You’re always too busy, or feel too guilty. It feels like an indulgence. It’s not. It’s good for you. It keeps your mind stimulated and active and it is good for your writing ability.

Carve out some time to write, to think, to dream. Free write every day. It also helps one remain calm. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write freehand until the timer sounds. Don’t stop to worry about spelling or grammar or what you should be writing about.

Don’t worry if you’re writing a stock-piling list. Write whatever comes into your head. You’ll find that, after a while, your thoughts will move into more creative territory and your ideas will flow.

Take an online writing course. Follow a writing prompt each day and write a short scene, just for the practice.

Beyond the daily writing exercises, though, this whole situation provides us with endless opportunities. You couldn’t have dreamt up a scenario like this. Use it to develop new writing ideas.

Focus on the small. Don’t think in terms of “themes”, grand sweeping sagas or lessons to be learnt. Look at how lockdown, or partial lockdown, impacts one family’s dynamics, workplace politics, a love affair, people in a small local supermarket, a nurse in a small clinic.

The virus, and the way it has affected the world, provides the perfect backdrop and context for drama. That’s the secret, though. Use it as backdrop. Don’t try to encompass the whole vast situation.

As readers, as humans, we can’t really take in huge issues. It’s only through individuals that we can appreciate the enormity of it all.

So, think about a character: what does he or she want? How does this situation affect them? What stands in their way? Where do they end up?

What are the stakes to them personally? These could be physical – and involve life and death – or emotional, or even spiritual, and signal a loss of faith.

Once you have worked out the general trajectory of your story, plot the scenes you’ll need to take your story forward. Show your story through vivid scenes in which we see your characters in their world, doing and saying things.

Once you’ve worked out more or less the scenes you’ll need, you’re ready to start writing the first of them. Throw us into your story and focus on the details which will bring it alive for us.

Don’t worry about an entire novel – unless you have an existing project you want to get on with.

Tackle a short story – one that provides your readers with a snapshot of human nature in extraordinary times. If you can do that, you will have been a witness to something we haven’t seen in our lifetime and hope never to see again. You’ll have documented something remarkable.

Your time in isolation will have been truly worthwhile.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Willow herb and hoary mullein

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