How to write when things are hard

From someone who knows

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Hi friends,

Things are hard for a lot of us right now. Between wildfires and climate change, the fight for racial justice, income inequality — and, oh, you know, the pandemic — it’s not surprising that many of us have lost focus.

It’s times like these when we all dream of a salaried job: one where, if you’re having a rough week, you’ll still get paid (as long as you send an occasional Slack meme and show your face on Zoom). It’s times like these when freelancing — where you literally won’t eat unless you sell a story or finish that goddamn blog post about credit cards or CBD oil — can feel really hard. 

I feel you. I recently lost a pregnancy halfway through the second trimester, and have since been struggling to put words on paper. When I lost my boyfriend five years ago, I had a similar experience. But I kept at it, and eventually the words did come

So while I can’t say I’ve been in your shoes, I do know how hard it is to write when writing is the last thing you want to do. And here are some ways I’ve coped: 

  • Commit to 25 minutes: I mention it so much, you’d think I was sponsored by the Pomodoro Method. I’m not — I just harp on it because it has saved me so many times when I was on deadline and thought there was no way I could make it. So set a timer for 25 minutes (or 20 or 15, whatever seems manageable to you) and force yourself to start. By the time the buzzer beeps, you’ll probably be flowing and ready to keep writing. 

  • End in the middle of a sentence: If you’re working on an assignment over multiple days, never wrap up the day’s writing in a neat little bow. Finish halfway through a sentence; that way, when you return to your doc, you’ll automatically have a prompt that helps you get going. I wish I could remember who you could thank for this magical tip — Taffy Brodesser-Akner? Ann Patchett? — but am really not sure.

  • Go for a walk: Ok, fine, you probably already know this works — but you probably also don’t do it often enough. I fight my partner all the time when he suggests it, thinking that nothing so simple can solve my problems (and what does he know about writer’s block anyways???), but unfortunately he’s always right — and it always makes me feel better. Sorry in advance to those on the west coast who might not be able to do this right now.

  • Give up for a while: Not forever, but maybe for a few hours, or even a whole day. Last week, when I was having zero luck with anything, I literally lay in bed and binged all of Indian Matchmaking. The next day, I was able to work because I wasn’t fantasizing about… lying in bed and binging Indian Matchmaking. Obviously this is way harder if you have dependents or an ASAP deadline, but hopefully there’s a way you can squeeze in some “I give up” time somewhere.

As a freelancer, life is going to keep happening — and we have to keep writing. 

I’m doing my best to be grateful for that freedom; believing if we follow the rainbow instead of the rain, we’ll eventually end up on the other side. 



PS. Don’t forget about the bundle! Here’s that link again if you want to grab it.