In the middle of such a tough year, we have to confront the question: How do we move forward? What’s next? This endless month of March (a bit of a joke online) continues as we continue to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, and despite recent progress it seems March (that is, everything the month of March brought with it to our part of the world) will continue for quite some time.
So, on March the 102nd, how do we as writers, illustrators, and publishing or self-publishing professionals move forward?
Here I’m going to take a bit of inspiration from two very different works out there in the world: Congressman John Lewis’ challenge to readers in Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, and the Disney epic Frozen II.
Those who’ve already heard of or read the various books by John Lewis will know that there are many other things we could touch on here, especially given the current state of civil unrest in our country. But for our purposes as a self-publishing blog, what I’m most interested in this morning is what his words have to say to those engaging in the creative act of writing and publishing.
Hard times can be … paralytic. People all over the world are reporting that they find ordinary behaviors and ordinary joys to be much more difficult than usual: reading, writing, working an ordinary day from home (or in a few select states, from a changed workplace). The challenge is going ahead and doing these things anyway, because they’re important and worthwhile to do.
I propose looking at this time, the Age of Coronavirus if you will, through the lens of legacy. We hope that this period won’t last as long as the Civil Rights Era of John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s time, of course. But we have no real way of knowing how long either the shutdown/slowdown or the economic impacts of COVID-19 will last–and we can’t keep putting important things on hold. Ultimately, writing is an act inseparable from the idea of legacy. We write things down for the purpose of aiding memory and creating works that will outlast the current moment. The works you are writing now, that we work on putting out into the world now, will aid readers for generations in understanding and processing the events of today, whether Coronavirus-related or not.
So, assuming that others feel the same conviction that I do to keep going–to keep reading, to keep writing, to keep publishing because it both brings me joy to do so and it is worth attempting even if I can’t quite reach the productivity levels that maybe I had before this started–how do we get there? How do we push through?
Here’s where Frozen II comes in.
When I first watched the Disney movie in the theater, I was struck by the scene in which Anna, who thinks her older sister Elsa has died, must confront her sudden loss of purpose and motivation because everything about her had been wrapped up in helping Elsa and ensuring her safety. Her life has been so totally disrupted, her sense of meaning gone. This alone has resonance with the current cultural moment. But what Anna does next is extremely powerful (at least to me!): she convinces herself to get up off the ground and get moving by tackling what comes next, literally, one step at a time.
And I think that’s the key for us, too.
Maybe the most useful thing to do isn’t going big, after all. Keep legacy at the back of your mind, perhaps, but you don’t leave a legacy all in one day. It takes time and work and a lot of energy to craft a legacy.
Perhaps the answer is to break your next project down to its component parts, as in, really small component parts. I’m talking so small we’re not even talking about the chapter level. Let’s talk about the sentence level, or talk in terms of time.
This is the way I garden: When I get home (or in these times, more likely go outside) after a long day, I rarely have the energy to consider weeding an entire garden bed in one go, much less all of the various beds in my garden. I tell myself: you can do anything for five minutes. Or ten minutes, if I’m feeling ambitious. Or I take an even more manageable approach: I can pull that one weed I see sticking out of the tarragon bush. I tell myself “It’s okay if that’s all you do right now, but that one thing is so easy you won’t even feel it at all.” And inevitably, once I pull the one weed I see another one, and I tell myself the same thing: “It’s okay if that’s all you do right now, but that one thing is so easy and it’s right there.” By the time I check back in with myself, I’ve weeded far more than I even thought was possible five, ten, or thirty minutes before, and I feel pretty fantastic for having been productive. But I would never have gotten there at all if I’d been looking at the garden and promising to weed for a half hour or more!
Let’s look at writing the same way. Maybe you only sit yourself down at your computer for five minutes at first. Don’t even let yourself think about anything like “I’ll do this five minutes every day“–if you’re feeling deeply unmotivated and sad about it, thinking long-term is poison to the project. You need to build your confidence along with your productivity. One step at a time. Anna didn’t get herself out of that cave by thinking big; she got out of the cave by just taking it one step at a time, and not thinking beyond the next right thing. That’s key.
This may be the only time I ever encourage you to not think too far ahead! Thinking ahead is for people whose brains are free from the adrenaline and anxiety of stressful times. We’ll get back to times of productivity and planning in the future, but for now, please forgive yourself if you’re struggling.
You are not alone. ♣︎