Are you feeling the pressure? As we start a 'new term', post-restrictions, I know many authors are feeling compelled to start or continue at a certain pace. But we are still in or recovering from trauma, so before you think about what it is possible for you to achieve, please think about how you are and how you can look after yourself and others more.
There is a lot of advice circulated about maximising productivity, but what do we really need to get decent work done? It is lovely to have an office or a dedicated room, but if circumstances demand that you work at your kitchen table, or on your lap, so be it. If you wait for those perfect circumstances, you will never start, so always go with what you have. I write at the kitchen table and am frequently interrupted. I go with it and use headphones for busy times. Remember that genius exists in the finest library, but also at a scruffy kitchen table. If you think you must assemble ideal terrain before you start, then you are deferring your creativity to fate. You may feel down, sad or grieving. But you can write in rage and sadness, too. Maybe not yet, but you will. Sometimes, little bits of story unfurl within your own sad tale; cling to them, because they are still precious. I have spent the pandemic home schooling, guiding, Skype teaching, being ill, but, most of all, under the pressure of caring for a very poorly offspring with little external support. This has forced me to adjust my notions both of what productivity is and of the conditions in which it is sustained.
And what about the adage of writing every day? Pah! Tremendous if this is you, but I cannot do it, and you mght not be able to either, for a whole host of reasons. This does not mean you cannot produce a book. Again, go with what is available to you. Thinking, reading, listening; you may not have committed words to the page, but a process is still ongoing. Stay in your lane; understand that comparison is futile. Your situation is unique to you and wondering if someone else is doing better will simply erode energy and confidence.
Pondering is the writing, too. The work.
Pondering takes place while you are eating a fondant fancy, on a bus, having coffee listening to someone be really boring about kitchen islands. I was going to add sex or DIY, but I suppose it depends on the sex and I cannot sanction book pondering while you are using power tools. Yet, each to his own: grab the time. Or rather, welcome it. Trust it, for a pocket of time or flurry of creativity may emerge when least expected, too.
You may not write every day but try to inhabit the world of your book. (Or, hot publishing professionals, the world of your business decisions.) What might that mean? Perhaps, that you mull over its characters and plot, read a book, go for a walk and let your mind freewheel, look over edits or even do bits of administration. Add in your page numbers, check spelling or write an acknowledgements page: these things can be lovely boosts and make you feel your book is evolving into an actual THING.
You may realise that all along, you were productive and then, one day, you have a book in your hands.
The one you made when you thought you could not.
Anna Vaught is a novelist, short story writer, editor, mentor, English teacher and mental health campaigner. Her third and fourth books, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and Famished (Influx), were published in 2020.