Life certainly is a challenge in this time of coronavirus. First, travel was limited, then even going out was discouraged, and lately the stock market has been plunging. My retirement fund has evaporated every cent gained since the last election, losing a bigger percent than in 2008 (not coincidentally, the last time the Republicans held the White House). I’m getting to the point where “time for it to recover” is running out.
As a writer, the challenge is even more acute. The writers’ boards initially reveled at the chance to stay at home and write. After all, most of us are introverts and enjoy the solo time that writing requires. One creatively unsocial writer exclaimed: “We got this. We’ve been training for it our entire lives!”
Reality hasn’t been so simple.
While social distancing seems a natural for writers, it really isn’t. We still need to get out into public. My daily walks to the local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble or the mall satisfied my need for interaction when I wasn’t out traveling the world.
But in this digital age, even working from home allows me to interact with the world. My normal day finds me parked in my home office with a computer screen constantly vying for my attention. “Let me fact-check that one item,” I tell myself, before that two-minute Google search turns into an hour checking my emails, Facebook, news updates, and the other forty-seven hundred items on my to-do list. Today, the constant coronavirus news stream keeps dragging me back online for updates on new cases and restrictions to mobility.
I’ve also spent a great deal of time cancelling and rescheduling upcoming events, both those that I planned to attend and those where I was the featured speaker. It doesn’t stop there. We are potentially looking at social distancing for several months, which means the organizations I’m involved with are seeking ways to bring our events, or some facsimile of them, online. The increased email traffic also includes checking in on people who might not handle forced solitude as well as others. Relatives far and near need more frequent check-ins. Amid all this some life events won’t wait, so workarounds are necessary. All of this takes time.
Those with children are now faced with working from home while trying to keep their kids alternatively homeschooled and entertained (and out of trouble). Spouses also home-working are often more demanding than helpful in such times.
At best, all of this can be distracting from the normal writing routines that we already struggle to maintain. At worst, it can be overwhelming. The added stress can lower our natural immune system efficiency, which increases our susceptibility to the novel coronavirus disrupting the world. Which makes us more stressed. Which makes us more susceptible. Ad nauseam.
So what are we to do?
For me, I need to get offline more. Reading takes me away from the constant checking of the newswires, but it also takes me away from the writing. Some writers successfully use software that blocks certain websites. This hasn’t worked for me but I find closing my browser tabs while I write reduces distraction.
I also have set periods of the day in which I am scheduled to write. I even have them designated for which type of writing, for example, “writing Chapter X of my WIP” or “prepare presentation for Y.” Some days work better than others, but the system does help.
The good news, although admittedly I’m rationalizing here, is that all the cancellations should give me more time to focus on the writing I need to be doing. Traveling has been on lockdown for several months, first for an unconnected reason and now for the coronavirus. I’m way ahead on my reading for the year.
Which means I have no excuses for not focusing on the works in progress.
Off to write.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.