By Orna Ross

Are you using lockdown to tackle that project you’ve always wanted to complete? Or struggling to find motivation and inspiration in these crazy conditions? 

There are a lot of social media messages going around at the moment, insisting that it’s okay not to be operating at peak performance during a pandemic. And of course that is true. But it’s also true that books rarely happen by accident and that we always have at least some control over our creative intentions and accomplishments. There are ways to curb the crazy and be productive. 

We might think that indie authors used to working from home, or to fitting their writing and publishing in around their day jobs, would be welcoming this forced social isolation as a creative opportunity. And for some, yes, that’s how it’s going but by no means everyone. Creativity is not linear. It doesn’t like to be told what to do or have conditions forced upon it.  Many writers are sensitive to the suffering of the world and are finding the constant bad news impinges on their ability to work. Others are finding the disturbance to their customary routine—not able to go to the café, for example—means they can’t write at all. Others have children or patients to care for, or home conditions that are not conducive to solitude.

If we are feeling constricted, or chaotic, it’s hard to find ease, freedom, or flow. The author community is an enormously positive force right now, economically and creatively, and, like all digital creatives, will help drive economic recovery when this is all over. We are needed. 

So what can we do to shape this time as an enabling gift, and give ourselves the creative conditions we need under these challenging circumstances, so that we emerge having spent the time on something more productive than boxset binging? 

1. First up, BREATHE.

Our breath is the first thing to get shallow and jagged when we’re challenged and it is also the key to unlocking internal calm in times of external chaos. Just a few deep, conscious breaths can greatly reduce our stress and boost our creative energy and focus.

Check out this creative breath for creative focus and flow: https://www.ornaross.com/begin-with-breathing-out/ ‎

Need more assistance? Free meditation apps like InsightTimer offer a whole library of meditations to manage stress and boost creativity.

2. Create ROUTINE.

Back in 2010, I decided I was going to be a full-time writer and gave up my day job. I never wrote less in my life and soon after that, I founded the Alliance of Independent Authors. Having “all the time in the world” creates a lot of mental and creative pressure for some of us. Staying on task while staying at home can present all kinds of challenges.  We love to blame others but usually it’s our own internal distractors and interruptors that are the real challenge. Implementing a routine is crucial. Maybe you had a 9-5 “regular” job and wrote and published in between the cracks. Structuring your day around scheduled work, breaks, eating and family times makes a world of difference to productivity.  I operate 90 minute work bouts between scheduled breaks. 

Develop an optimal morning and evening routine for flow during difficult times, routines that help you think more clearly, achieve more and ensure you’re doing work that actually matters. My routines incorporate daily meditation, f-r-e-e-writing and exercise. Recognise that all creative work demands silence for some period during the day. Take your allowed exercise by yourself, instead of with family members. Don’t just moan about not getting the solitude you need. Explain your needs in this time to your housemates and help them to help you to get them met. Ask for some time alone. Lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary

Evening routines are also important. Take time to sum up how the day went and record all accomplishments, however small. (There’s almost always something, and usually more than we realize if we don’t take a moment to take note.) Write down your creative intentions for tomorrow. Again, focus on clearing the mind, deep breathing and relaxation.

During the day, limit your news and social media intake while creating a stronger online community. Refer to trusted sources only for COVID-19 news and limit world updates to scheduled check-ins per day. I’m using Amazon’s Alexa for BBC news headlines at the moment. It’s a short update of anything important and allows me to skip the endless analysis and keep my mental space free for what I need to do. Your sources might be on social media. The point is to limit the time to what’s necessary to stay informed and compassionately aware without endless reading of sad stories and mindless scrolling. Set a timer if you have to.

Cultivate strong, meaningful bonds online. Connect with other indie authors and accountability partners. Research influencers you’d like to connect with and reach out to them. Join us online for a motivation and planning session on the first Monday of the month: orna-ross.ck.page/monthly-planning 

3. Go WIDER or go DEEPER

Depending on how you’re feeling, decide whether going wider or going deeper is what you should do with this time.

GO WIDE: If you have kids, patients who need care, or any other challenges in the house, now is probably not the time to tackle the writing of your magus opus. If you don’t have the creative energy for generating new words, focus on publishing and book marketing instead. The difference between being a freelance writer relying on commissions from other media and publishing businesses, and a self-publishing owner of digital assets relying on purchases from readers, has never been so stark. Digitally-savvy authors, with books available in ebook, audio and POD formats, are selling more books and other products than ever now. So use this time to take your books wider and reach more readers. Create a new edition, like a hardback or audiobook. Get your books up onto a new retailer or distributor. Reach out to rights buyers in other territories. Find a translator and collaborate to do a German or Spanish edition of your book. Write a press release about how you’re coping with COVID and send it to your local newspaper. Read some new authors in your genre and reach out to them about a collaboration.

GO DEEP: If you live alone or with another adult, take this to create something new and different. Not only is writing a cathartic release, there is a lot of power in words. Spread the love. 

If you can, stay positive and make good choices that have positive impact for a suffering community. If you can’t, make good choices that have positive impact for yourself.Take the steps you need to take so you can look back on this period as a pivotal, sacred time where you created something new, expanded your reach, or perhaps even underwent a shift of prioities that transformed all that happened afterwards.

And however it’s going for you, do reach out and connect. We’re always stronger together.

A headshot of Orna Ross.

Orna Ross is a novelist, poet and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. www.allianceindependentauthors.org