Pandemic Frustrations

by Randy Petersen

Where are the words when I need them?

This is my first pandemic, and I’m frustrated. I want to help, but I’m not sure what to do. My stock in trade is language. I want to craft sentences that provide comfort or hope or clarity to those who need it. But I’m drawing a blank.

As a Christian writer, I feel even greater pressure. I am called to love others, and words are generally the way I do that. So where are the words now?

Maybe I’m just cranky because all my activities have been canceled and there are no sporting events on TV, but I do get tired of the platitudes. Facebook seems awash in shallow sentiment. I don’t want to add to the emptiness. Yes, I love the lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as much as any theater guy, but I long to create a new message for this unique time.

Is this just an inconvenient attack of writer’s block, or is there something about this crisis that disables creativity?

I know it’s absurd to complain about this, when my neighbors are troubled by illness and fears of illness, fears for loved ones, loss of jobs and income, the freefall of retirement savings, etc. No need to cry over my spilt mojo. But maybe you’re feeling something similar.

If so, my writing friends, let me share the things I’m telling myself.

Platitudes. I don’t like them, but most of them were created for times like this. And they carry enough truth that they often help people. For years, my pastor has said, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” Now I want to hear that every day. So don’t be afraid of those truisms. Unpack them. Refresh them. But don’t dismiss them.

Permission. One of the most important things a communicator can do in a tough time is to give people permission to feel what they feel. This is especially true among Christians. Are you frightened? Depressed? Frustrated? Lonely? Angry with God? If you as a writer express your difficult feelings, you’ll have a host of readers thanking you for putting their confusion into words. Don’t tell folks how they should feel. Feel what you feel, and be honest about it.

Purpose. Writers often have a prophetic gift. Not predicting the future, but explaining the present in light of larger truths. The last word of the overquoted but always appropriate Romans 8:28 is purpose. We get to connect perplexing events with God’s purposes. Often people focus on each day’s troubles without seeing the growth that God intends.

Peace. We have the power to speak peace into troubled hearts. In the 1870s, a lawyer/poet named Horatio Spafford responded to a personal tragedy by penning “It is Well with My Soul,” and succeeding generations have found comfort in those lyrics. We can use our wordsmithing gifts to craft a deeply needed message of assurance. Avoid false promises—“It’ll all be over next week”—but keep offering the powerful promises God gives us. He will be with us, always, in this world and the next.

 

 

Speak. . . what?

 

At the end of King Lear, one character laments:

“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

How many philosophical debates has this passage sparked? When circumstances cause grief, should we react emotionally or rationally? How are we, as Christian writers, to use our words?

We’d love to hear how you’re coping with the current pandemic, particularly with regard to your writing. How do you decide whether you speak what you feel or what you ought to say? Please leave a comment below.

Be sure to check this spot again next Tuesday. Randy will share some more thoughts on what to do when our words have trouble flowing in times like these.

 


Don’t miss: The Benefits of Being a Freelancer in a COVID-19 World

The Benefits of Being a Freelancer in a COVID-19 World

by Ann Byle

While the world reels thanks to a microscopic virus, we freelancers are in our element. Nobody is questioning our life choices anymore. In fact, we are about to become the experts on how to balance work and home. The benefits are legion.

  1. The learning curve doesn’t exist. We figured this out long ago, so there’s no need to learn how to balance work and family. Been there, done that.
  2. Introverts are no longer weird. Now that so many people are working from home, the world may finally get it. We like working this way, and that’s okay. As Jim Reeves sang, “Welcome to my world, won’t you come on in?” As long as you practice social distancing.
  3. Our workspace is already set up. We’ve got our home office well organized, whether it’s a dedicated room, a corner, space under the stairs, or the recliner chair. We’ve got writing utensils, paper, space for a hot beverage, chargers, and dark chocolate all set.
  4. We can do phone interviews with ease. We’ve been calling folks for interviews for years, so it’s no big deal to pick up the phone and talk, not text.
  5. Email as a professional tool is old news. Freelancers have been emailing interview requests, professional communications, and queries to editors for as long as we’ve been working. Nothing new here.
  6. Interruptions won’t kill us. Working from home can be an exercise in overcoming interruptions, but we’re used to it whether from humans or animals. We simply move on and keep writing.
  7. We can provide excellent content without interruption. Our work continues because content is still king. While our editors may be moving home, they still need the content we provide in a timely manner. We’ve done so for years and that’s not about to stop.

While our worlds may not have changed that much, let us keep others and their needs in our hearts and prayers.

 

 

 

Stay Innocent

[After telling the story of a little boy who donated blood to his little sister dying of leukemia even though he thought he would die in the process. . .]

Sometimes you have to be that innocent to be a writer. Writing takes a combination of sophistication and innocence; it takes conscience, our belief that something is beautiful because it’s right. To be great, art has to point somewhere. So if you are no longer familiar with that place of naive conscience, it’s hard to see any point in your being a writer.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (Anchor Books, 1995)

10 Tips for Dealing with Distractions

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

If they gave out gold medals for procrastination, I’d have a display case full of them.

When you’ve freelanced fulltime as long as I have—nearly a quarter of a century—you learn and develop many useful skills. Nobody plans to get good at procrastinating but. . . hold on, my phone just buzzed. Sweet! Someone from church just forwarded a recording of the group that sang yesterday. They were so good! Oops, that reminds me that I forgot to email my friend that document I’d promised her. It’ll just take a second.

Good. That’s done. Wait, let me just get some water. . .

You may have heard the joke about how writing is 5 percent talent and 95 percent avoiding distractions. It can certainly feel that way. What can you do to shift those numbers and improve your focus?

  1. Identify your distractions so you can anticipate them and have a game plan.
    • Are you a perfectionist? Just start somewhere. You can edit later.
    • Are family or friends vying for your attention? Let the people close to you know that you need some undisturbed time for an hour or two or five.
    • Do you think of constant connectedness (online) as normal? Do you feel like work and family and life pull you from the Internet instead of the other way around? Decide ahead of time how much time to spend online.
    • Are you stressed about unmet obligations? Schedule those tasks to make sure they get done (and to reassure yourself they will get done).
  1. Start early. Give yourself the advantage by getting some work done before the first distraction comes along.
  2. Make sure you’re rested, comfortable, hydrated and fed (but not stuffed) so you can settle into your writing without interrupting yourself.
  3. Aim for privacy and silence. I don’t recommend working in a café unless people-watching is part of your research. If you don’t already have a home office, carve out a corner of your home as your writing nook—or go to a library. Don’t listen to music, or keep it soft and not too varied.
  4. Sign off all social media, close your email program, and turn off your phone, resisting the urge to check it. It’s a rabbit hole you will not easily or quickly climb out of. Emergencies should be the only exception.
  5. Simplify the assignment by breaking it down into smaller tasks. Tackle the hardest part first. Productivity experts talk about “eating the frog,” that is, doing the difficult thing rather than wasting time dreading it. And if you have to eat two frogs, they say, eat the uglier one first. (Ugh!)
  6. Take breaks. Pay attention to how tired you are, if you’re starting to hunch over, if you’re slowing down, if your eyes are feeling dry. Take five or ten minutes to stretch and refresh yourself and then keep going. Do not open Facebook!
  7. Keep your workspace organized so you don’t waste time looking for things. If you need reference books or notebooks while you work on your article or book, get those out ahead of time, and move anything unrelated out of the way.
  8. Reward yourself. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself an incentive. You may decide that for every hour you write, or for every 2,000 words, or for every chapter, you will treat yourself to something. It could be a snack or money you put in a piggy bank. Or perhaps the completion of your project earns you a movie night. Make it fun but realistic.
  9. Keep a running distractions page in a notebook or Word document. I recently spotted this trick somewhere so I haven’t tried it yet, but it makes sense. As you’re working, if you remember something that needs your attention, scribble it on a notepad or quickly switch tabs on your computer and add it to a separate document you can refer to later.

If you try all these techniques and still find yourself distracted and restless, stop and ask why. Are you tired? Sick? Afraid of failure? Lacking passion for your project? Take time to deal with what’s bothering you, pray, and ask someone else for help if necessary. Go for a walk, or work on a hobby to regroup and refocus. The time you spend recalibrating is less wasteful than sitting in front of your computer feeling uninspired and writing nothing.

We can’t eliminate all distractions, but having a game plan and sticking to it can mitigate their effect.

Enlarge the Circle

If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.

Richard Rhodes