How to Keep Going: A Writing Coach’s Lowered Expectations (now, with Writing Prompts!)

Lowered Expectations (now with Writing Prompts!)

WELP.  MANY OF MY CLIENTS ARE SOLDIERING ON. In the face of global pandemonium, they are managing to get words on the page—and good ones at that! If you’re making significant progress on your book, I salute you! And, really, what else are we going to do? I mean, suddenly we have all that time we’re always saying we need to work on our big, ballsy writing projects.

On the other hand, if we’re following strict protocols, every single thing in our lives is taking, like, twelve times longer than usual. For instance, although I was a late adopter of the sanitizing-your-groceries-before-bringing-them-into-the-house routine, as of yesterday, I am fully on board! Which means it took three hours to conclude my “quick” face-masked, gloved, hand-sanitized grocery run yesterday.

And once every disinfected item was in place, I was exhausted! Partially by the close attention I was paying to NOT GETTING INFECTED and partially, I think, just from vibrating to the tune of others’ panic.

So, while I could be working on my book-in-progress, I find myself alternately consumed by mundane tasks—watering my new sod lawn for example (it’s hot as hell here in Central Florida)—or watching YouTube videos. (AMERICAN IDOL* is shaping up to deliver a series of nicely dramatic live shows this spring!)

I still journal most days, though, which helps me sort my anxiety from that of those around me. And (obviously) I’m continuing to write posts for my blog. But as for other writing? Nada. I just don’t seem to have the focus. And I’m coaching myself to be okay with that.

I’ve lowered my expectations, understanding that I may have maxed out my writing mojo for the week simply by writing this note to you.

How about you, though? if you’re channeling your energy into a writing project—big, ballsy, or otherwise—that’s great! It’s the perfect time to explore your vivid imagination and write about what you find there. The perfect time to follow your characters into the wilderness of stakes-raising adventures. The perfect time to organize the past events of your life into a meaningful arc for the encouragement of future readers.

However, if you need permission to just ride the roller coaster of our current reality—even if that means your creative output looks more like making to-do lists than it does completing your fantasy trilogy—here it is: Permission granted!

Low-expectations writing prompts

If your pen is itching for a little workout, though, here are a few less-is-more writing prompts you can treat as “writing opportunities” you might want to avail yourself of while waiting for the storm to pass.

Three Writing Prompts

1) Sending letters or greeting cards through the mail is a risky business these days. But you could write a newsy email to a friend, attaching a (virus-free!) image that illustrates your current state of mind.

2) There’s a curse attributed (rightly or wrongly) to the Chinese that says, “May you live in interesting times.” (Hmm. Think this counts?) In the face of so much to be “interested” in, you might write a haiku about living in such an interesting time. Have you forgotten the rules of haiku? Esther Spurrill-Jones reminds us in her article “How to Write Haiku,” which you’ll find on the very helpful, cool The Writing Cooperative.

Poet MK Swanson of Writing Dreamer was kind enough to share her call-and-response haiku, “Fifth Element,” written with this prompt in mind:

Fifth Element

enveloped, positive-sense,
one-strand RNA.

Humanity, though,
we are made of stars
and fragility.

3) Not feeling poetic? How about this final writing prompt. Go ahead and take your cue from fishermen and -women who, famously, mend nets when they can’t go to sea, you might dig out some short pieces of not-quite-completed (or not-entirely-successful) work and, picking a likely candidate, spend a happy hour or two piddling with it to see if you can make it better do your bidding.

Of course, if all that fails, there’s always AMERICAN IDOL.*

* Oh, well, We’ll have to find something else to keep us busy, as I just learned AMERICAN IDOL has suspended its live finals. Of course. 

Writing inspiration

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, by Gabriel García Márquez

* * *

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Cartoon by Maddie Dai, published on THE NEW YORKER cartoons Facebook page, March 23, 2020.

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