BALLS OF STEEL™: Tips for Writers (and Other Humans) During the COVID-19 Lockdown

Being on a lockdown with COVID-19 quarantine can mess with a writer's mind. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares tips for writers on how to maintain your sanity and attempt to keep your writing goals on track. Plus, freebies!
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covid tips for writers

Welcome to the new world of social distancing and lockdown. First and foremost, I hope you're all safe and healthy, staying far away from this virus. Me? I was born for lockdown. I already work from home, I'm Italian, so my refrigerator, freezer and pantry are always busting at the seams, as is my wine and tequila supply. Plus, I write best in my pajamas and love the angst of solitude. I'm a freak, and I'm okay with that. 

But, like many, I'm taking extra care to protect myself and my family while trying to find the silver linings in these strange times we're living in. I admit, some days are harder than others. There are downsides to isolation. 

Advice and fears circulate like wildfire, paralyzing many artists. Freezing our creativity. The other reality is we're all terrified of the future of our writing careers. Our day jobs are at risk, too. You're probably asking yourself, "Should I spend time writing, or looking for a financial back-up plan for work, should I be on the unemployment line?" 

Oh boy, just writing that made my stomach knot and my heart rate quicken. I struggle sometimes to push those fearful thoughts aside, but I've learned that making a plan helps lower my anxiety. 

I always have a Plan B for income, virus or not. But I have no Plan B for writing. I simply cannot imagine giving up on being a writer. Ever. 

Are screenwriters "essential" to the economy? Hell, yes! Just hop on any social media, and people are sharing shows to binge on Netflix. 

The world needs writers! Read that again... THE WORLD NEEDS WRITERS

Write that down and put it on a sticky note on your desk, so you keep remembering that when you're feeling low.

Put your writing first. 

Please, don't let the fear and panic take over your life and derail your dreams. Prior to the lockdown, I was working my day job at Script and juggling more responsibility in my personal life than I care to type out. I have a hard time saying "no," so I take on more than I should. But guess what? When a lockdown hits, you realize you don't have to be Superwoman. You just have to be smart about your choices, both for your physical and mental health, as well as for your writing.

Don't let dust settle on your keyboard. It's one of the few safe places to touch that will feed your soul. Let your fingers dance! 

Make a writing plan. 

Grab a pen and paper, a Word doc or text file. Or get one of those fabulous planners pro screenwriter Greta Heinemann (NCIS: New Orleans) created, the Writer's Wright notebook. It's a game changer! She isn't some "guru" shedding out advice. She is originally from Germany, decided at the age of 14 that she wanted to be a professional screenwriter in L.A., and created a goal-achieving system to get her on track for success. And? She is a success. 

Regardless of what system you use to create your plan, create your plan! Map out where you want to be one year from now or five years from now. Then figure out the baby steps to get there. Or just figure out how to get that next script on the page. Brainstorm story ideas, outline your favorite, and pick away at it, every day.

Enter a screenwriting contest.

Deadlines are key to pushing a writer to get words on the page. Check out the reputable screenwriting contests coming up. Some have even extended their deadline dates as a result of the lockdown. 

UPDATE: Script Pipeline tossed their hats in the generosity ring, offering writers $20 off entry to any Pipeline season: Screenwriting, TV Writing, First Look Project, or Idea. Use Code ScriptMagSP. Offer expires 12/31/2020. See how well paying it forward works (see "Be kind to others" below)? 

Is Hollywood taking pitches? 

Who knows what the sales will be like during the lockdown, but that doesn't mean you can't try to find an agent or manager. If that script is truly ready, you can pitch it online at Roadmap Writers. No, I'm not getting any kickbacks for this (or any other suggestions in this post). I truly love Joey Tuccio and what he's doing for writers. At the time of this writing, he and his team helped get 110 writers signed. That's damn impressive.

Take online classes. 

I know, I know. Everyone is worried about spending money right now, but maybe you don't need 10,000 rolls of toilet paper and some of that money can go towards your writing education instead. You're locked up in your house. What a perfect time to learn!  

Write more. 

Keep track of your daily routine. Every hour, write down what you did. You'll quickly realize you probably didn't do squat to advance your writing project or career. Here are some tips for creating a writing routine that I've written about before.

Ways to curb panic and keep you focused. 

While some of us can compartmentalize this pandemic, others will be hyper-focused on it. Creatives are often highly emotional people. But you'll drive yourself crazy if you can't put that fear in a box! 

Here's a video I made years ago about giving up fear. It might help. Yes, I'm in my pajamas, just like I am right now. Don't judge me.

It's not healthy to sit in your fear. In case you're struggling, there are action items you can take the help alleviate your anxiety and feel more in control.

1. Take time to breathe (at a safe 6-foot distance from anyone, of course). Stress kills creativity, and it can lead to lack of sleep and other health problems. Breathing exercises are proven to release stress. Do them. If you're a hypochondriac, relaxing could present a problem. I know every ache or cough makes me worry, too. Here's a great video from the CDC on what COVIC-19 symptoms look like.

2. Connect with writers on social media. Remember what solitude did to Jack in The Shining? Don't be like Jack. Please stay engaged, reach out for help and rely on your writing community to keep you sane. Writers are here for you! There's never been a better time to build your online community. Script has a writing group on Facebook. Feel free to join us.

On Twitter, you can find the hour-long screenwriting chat, #scriptchat, on Sunday nights at 5pm PT. We have 10 years worth of chat transcripts on the site, too. 

Script Pipeline just started a #PipelineWriters Twitter chat from 5:30pm to 7:30pm PT on Friday evenings for writers of all mediums to chat it up. 

Also, follow the WRAC Group and #WRAC20 hashtag to help keep you accountable to your writing goals. 

The National Novel Writing Month team will be doing a #StayHomeWriMo for the rest of March, giving seven days of inspiration for writers! Click here to find out more. 

I'm seriously hoping this lockdown makes Twitter less angry and more embracing of people again, like it used to be in 2009. Hey, miracles can happen! 

3. Disconnect from social media. Yeah, I just contradicted myself, but social media can spread false information and fear faster than the actual coronavirus could hit your front door! Clear your mind so you can maintain your writing goals. When someone drones on and on about the doom and gloom, walk away. Breathe (see tip #1) and refocus on positive actions you can take instead of freaking out on Facebook.  

Instead, find your COVID-19 information from actual sources, like the government's Coronavirus.gov site, the CDC and your local County Health Departments. Facts put fear in its proper place. 

4. Use the time you used to commute (or shower) to write. Even if you just write 15 minutes more a day, you'll be surprised how much you can accomplish. Sure, we all freaked out the first week, but the sooner you get your life on a regular routine, the better.

5. Be kind to yourself. Many of our writer friends are struggling to focus on being creative. Your art can be a wonderful escape, but if you're too preoccupied to write, watch movies, read books, read scripts (Scott Myers has a ton of screenplays you can download for free on the Black List website), or do research for your next story (the Library of Congress is a goldmine). 

Dare I suggest to clean off your desk? I did. Shocking, I know. I'm about to clean out that closet, bulging with clothes from 1990. Use this time to re-energize and re-organize. It'll lift your spirits.

6. Be kind to others. Life (and stress) isn't all about you. There are millions of people struggling to make ends meet right now, let alone be productive. Find local charities and ask what you can do to help, remotely. Deliver Meals on Wheels. Call a friend just to say "hi" and make sure they're not on the mental edge. If you have an elderly neighbor, offer to do their grocery shopping (but WASH YOUR HANDS and be very careful not to contaminate what you leave on their doorstep. Here's a video a doctor made on how to clean your groceries before storing them in your house. It might freak you out enough to double your social-distancing efforts). Offer to foster an animal at a shelter that needs to temporarily shut down. Pets make great writing partners. 

Give to receive. It's worth the effort. 

Bonus: People's personal stories are inspiring. You might find a nugget of real-life you can sneak into one of your stories. But please do NOT write about a contagion taking over the world! It's too soon.

7. Ask for help. This is a serious one. I have friends who are alcoholics (no, not me), friends who suffer from depression (okay, that is sometimes me), and friends who are extremely social, struggling with being alone. PLEASE reach out and ask for help! Contact Alcoholics Anonymous, call a suicide-prevention hotline (800-273-TALK (8255)), and the US Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357). 

If you're a social butterfly and feeling depressed from the lack of human contact, set up a Zoom meeting with your buddies to at least "feel" like you're not alone. Zoom is free for the first 45 minutes. Or you could Facetime them or use Google Hangouts. My mom turned 88 last week, and since my dad passed last year, she is all alone. We went to her house, text her to come outside, and we sang Happy Birthday to her. Yes, we stood far away, but close enough for her to feel the love. I check on her everyday to make sure she's not feeling lonely. 

8. Take advantage of the freebies companies are offering! I get a ton of emails every day from companies offering writing tips, support, and other free goodies to help! 

Since Script and Writer's Digest are run by writers, we also want to give you something to do when you're locked down that will help your sanity and goals—Free writing tutorials for one month! With Code SWTUTORIAL25, you can subscribe and get instant access to over 200 Screenwriting Tutorial videos, and for those wanting to dip into other writing mediums, Writer's Digest has over 350 tutorial videos (click here) you can access for a free month, too, with Code WDTUTORIAL25. We want you to succeed, especially during stressful times. Plus, free is just fun and lift's people's spirits. If you don't want to keep the subscription, just unsubscribe before the 30 days are up. No harm, no foul.

Here are some more free downloads that are always on Script's site for you to peruse. No expiration date. 

If you know of other freebies being offered out there, put them in the comments section below so all can enjoy (see "Be kind to others" above).

9. Move your body! You may be quarantined, but your body still needs to exercise, which releases endorphins that help your mood and energy level. If you live in the country, take a long walk. Listen to nature. 

If you live in an apartment building, run up and down the stairs like Rocky, or jump rope. I wouldn't recommend eating the raw eggs though, but that's on you. 

Here's another for the freebie category: Yoga Journal is running a free webinar series to help lower your anxiety. Take advantage of it. It helps! 

I walk my rescue pup every day, without earbuds, podcasts or music to distract me. I spend time with my mind. Frightening thought, isn't it? But when I let that crazy mind of mine free, story ideas and solutions to my problems flow. 

10. Finally, keep washing your hands and stay away from each other! I don't know about you, but I'm shocked how often I touch my face when I write!. Here's a helpful video on how to properly wash your hands. Watch it. The world will thank you.

BONUS TIP: If you have kids, start a Pandemic Journal. Keep track of how you're all feeling each day, the things you do with each other (or alone), and challenge each other to come up with a new fun way to stay connected, and pass the time, each day. This can be an invaluable experience for families, if you let it. 

Because I practice what I preach, I pay it forward. I am here for you. This, too, shall pass. I promise. Just tweet me at @jeannevb and we can do some #writingsprints together. I also just learned a new word today from author Waka T. Brown: Pomodoros. No, it's not a cocktail. It's a 25-minute writing sprint, followed by a five-minute break. I'm sure there's a #pomodoros hashtag for that, too.   

This lockdown won't last forever, but the friendships and memories you make during this crisis could.  

More articles by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

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