Struggle. Isolation. Loss of focus. Job security. Exhaustion. Health. Shortages. Hoarding. Election. Holidays. Money. Frustration. Quarantine. Death.
In the course of the last nine months, perhaps one or more of these words resonates with you. It has for me. And we’re supposed to carry on. Maybe even write a short story or a novel?
I am a teacher. In a normal year, I write new novels in the summer. I edit, do book signings, workshops, conferences, etc. during the school months. I can’t create lengthy new material while I am teaching my angels. They take all my energy. What about now, you ask? You’re teaching virtually, right? Probably from home, so what’s the problem?
The problem is something I didn’t expect. And I certainly didn’t expect it to last so long. When the world shut down, so did I.
After our district shut down last March 13, a Friday of course, we still had to figure out how to teach only on computer. I concentrated on writing lessons and converting curriculum. I helped parents and colleagues while tamping down my own anxieties. Oh, and our district was negotiating new contract language, and I’m on the negotiating team.
No problem. I will write in the summer, as usual.
Every day, news from various outlets filled my thoughts. Covid illness. Deaths. Hospitals overrun. Makeshift morgues in the streets. Stay at home! Wear your mask! Worry about your loved ones and co-workers. Information rolled in. Now it wasn’t ‘people’ dying from Covid. It was people I knew, people my friends and family knew. I stopped following news stories.
Summer. I forced myself to write. I struggled to write two difficult chapters in my WIP. I still don’t know if they’re any good because I wasn’t enjoying the process. I stopped.
I know some of you are able to take advantage of the shut down and are productive and I am happy for you. A lot of my writer friends are not.
I began to second guess myself as a writer. A real writer could suck it up and write stuff. Why can’t you? I read writers’ blogs. I supported my writer friends and bought their books. I cheered them on Facebook and Instagram. I am so grateful to the artists who were able to keep producing their art: books, music, movies, television, dance, visual art, comedy. You all help me every day.
From thinking this shutdown/pandemic will last a few weeks to a few months, to who knows for sure, I think I’m coming out of the void.
I began to write down the skimpiest, lamest ideas for storylines. Not on computer, because that mental link is broken for me right now, but in a little notebook by my bed. Some are novel ideas, some short stories. Although they may not all be writeable, they are doing something even more important. Those nuggets are spawning others and I don’t discount the smallest particle of weirdness.
As a teacher, I was good at compartmentalizing; teaching varied subjects back to back, recess duty, rehearsals, staff meetings all separate from my personal ‘boxes.’ Initially with the shutdown, all the input was a tsunami and I was unable to sort through it. Without that previous structure, I floundered trying to create a new structure, and my personal structure also failed. Eventually, I remembered how to do that. I put my anxiety in a mental box, I put shopping, cooking, health, budget, everything in its place or box. I also remembered my strategy of small bits. Even the most complex of tasks can and should be broken down into manageable pieces. Even the ‘joke’ to-do lists starting with wake up, get dressed, drink coffee, have value. If I showered and made lunch, that was a victory.
Yes, it’s fall, and that means I’m back to teaching. But I am kinder to myself about this void. I’m repeating what I say when I’m in the writing place. It’s already there. It will be there when you need it. Keep going.
I see my students everyday online. I know my job right now is to help them, not worry about me. But, they cheer me, and I think, maybe, that doing a few things for myself will get me out of the dark, one particle of weirdness at a time.
If you’re having the same problems I’ve been dealing with, whether you’re a writer or not, try these beginning steps:
*Let the tsunami wash over you. Don’t hold onto it, but acknowledge it’s there.
*Take small pieces and put them in distinct mental areas. Close those boxes!
*Make lists. Make list items small and doable. (Not ‘write my novel!’)
*Write down any and all ideas. If the computer has become difficult, use a notebook, and try writing in a different place.
*Create a new structure for your life and patterns. It may change and it may take a while to construct. Allow that.
*It will be different, day to day. Be kind to yourself. Know that you’re doing your best. Your best will change according to your health, stress, etc. THAT’S OKAY.
Thank you so much, Victoria, for your words of wisdom. These easy-to-manage steps will be a huge help for all of us as we struggle through this pandemic. And now, a shot bio of Victoria, how to contact her, and one of her wonderful books. If you haven’t yet read Victoria’s stories, you really are missing a great read!
Bio: Victoria Heckman is a writer, teacher, mom and youth theater director. She hopes to return to writing as soon as her sanity and sense of humor also return. She writes police procedurals and historical mystery set in Hawaii, as well a cozy series set on California’s Central Coast. She belongs to Sisters in Crime national and the Central Coast Chapter.
Contact Victoria at email@example.com or follow her on FB at Victoria Heckman and Instagram @v.heckman