We’ve had a lot of people ask how our writing is going. Here’s where we’re at for the moment. (Note, this is a long introspective piece, with a lot of covid in it. I know some people are covided-out—I was for a while and would have screamed if I had to read one more covid article—so reader beware.)
Some people found the covid pandemic the perfect time to write. I’ve read lots of books that were written during the pandemic. Other writers struggled.
We, both of us, were amongst those who struggled, and we still haven’t got totally back into the writing groove yet. We’ve spent a lot of time analysing why, and what happened, and trying to work out how we can get back into good writing habits (among other things, because it wasn’t just our writing that suffered). For those of you who, like us, struggled—with writing or anything else—here’s our story. Yours may be different but remember, you are not alone.
The pandemic started for us in early 2020. We came back from a cruise and effectively went into lockdown. It was easy enough for me, I already worked from home one day a week when I could, so it was business as usual except that all meeting were through Skype. Sherylyn’s setup took more time, as her office had to install a new phone system before she could log in. I worked nearly two full years from home, Sherylyn less, but we’ll explain that in a moment.
I have to say both of us working at home demonstrated two different management styles, and one was definitely better than the other. My boss was amazing, keeping in touch, ensuring I was coping and helping out in general. We started each day with a team chat, finished the week with virtual ‘drinks’ and games, and had other meetings in between, including a weekly one-on-one. In contrast, in the whole time Sherylyn worked from home they didn’t have a single team catchup that I recall and her boss may have spoken to her two or three times. You can imagine how isolating that was.
Working from home had some definite advantages. No commute. Yay. That was the best thing ever.
We saved a lot of money because we weren’t spending anywhere near as much. (Sadly, both of us lost have a year on commuter tickets, but let’s not go there.) And when you did have to go out the roads were a dream to drive on, with hardly any traffic.
But there were disadvantages, too, and many of these were writing-related. A lot of our writing was done on the commute or at lunchtime at work. Many, many years of doing this had ingrained writing habits. (They say if you want to write, develop writing habits, and believe me, it works. I could get on the train and start writing from where I had left off.) New stories tended to be written outside the house. What we did at home was the editing. It was hard to go from this to writing new stuff at the same desk I’d just spent the last eight or nine hours working at.
Workwise I had just started a big project that ran for the whole of 2020-21. Over time, work-creep started to happen. I used to finish at 5:30 pm. That crept up to 6pm, and then seven, and then eight and often later. Life became a cycle of work, grab a late dinner, go to bed, then get up and do it all again. Exercise? What’s that? (And to be fair, for me my knee was starting to give major problems by then, so I was cutting the exercise anyway.)
Writing became something we did intermittently because we were too exhausted to do it regularly.
At the time we were working on the novel we’d promised to deliver to Caitlin (our agent). This was a change of pace for us, a fantasy rather than science fiction. But as we stopped writing, the story stopped flowing. Normally we take around twelve months to write a complete book but two years on we were only three quarters of the way through the first draft. Worse, as our writing time reduced the quality of our writing deteriorated as well.
We were both heading for burnout, although it took a while to realise that. Sherylyn worked for twelve months before she resigned. I have to say, based on what I observed, I am surprised she lasted that long.
After she finished work, she had more time to write but by then I wasn’t writing as much and this dragged her down because while she could write, I couldn’t. She’d jump to do her bits asap, then had to wait on me to do my bit. This added pressure for my writing, on top of a heavily-pressured work environment.
Sherylyn finished the first draft of the fantasy, and one round of edits but by this time I was so sick of the story that I couldn’t even look at it. Generally, if we give a novel six months on the shelf we can come back to it with fresh eyes but I can’t even look at this one now and it’s been twelve months. There are parts of it I love, parts I know need work and the story has promise (at least we think so). But it’s on hold for the moment, until I can get over that hump.
My big work project finished early 2022. This coincided with the sale of the company I worked for. As part of the sale we shifted from being a company that designed and built its own software to one that purchased software from other companies. I work in user experience and a lot of my work ended up done by the parent software companies. I knew that if I wanted to keep working in the field (and I do love the work) I’d have to change jobs. But … I had extra time now (no longer working till nine or ten at night) and we were starting to get some writing done. It wasn’t daily yet, and we hadn’t finished anything, but we were getting there. If I changed jobs I’d likely get caught up learning the new job for a while.
As we started to get back into writing we found two problems. First up, our writing was clunky. It didn’t flow, it was hard work to actually produce anything, let alone anything we like. Some of the writing was bad, some just awkward and a little bit of it was good. And yes, we do agree that there’s no such thing as a bad first draft, that’s why you have second and subsequent drafts.
Secondly, we couldn’t finish anything. Based on our regular writing, we have two story ‘humps’. If we’re still going by 30,000 words then the story’s a stayer and we can finish it. There’s another hump around 60,000 words which we struggle to get over, but we do get over it. Post-covid we’ve been managing the 30,000 word limit with no problems, but really can’t get past the 60,000 words.
We have spent a lot of time analysing what changed and why and how we can get back our writing mojo.
Problems occurred because
- We broke long-defined writing habits and haven’t yet created new ones
- We didn’t separate work and writing; we wrote in the same place as we worked
- Covid isolation and working from home meant that we had less experiences outside of work/life, and absolutely no work-life balance
- We tried too hard to make writing work like it used to, and to finish our stuff, and because we were struggling, this made writing a chore.
We’re gradually fixing these things by
- Taking time off work—neither of us will be working a regular 9-5 job this year
- Not being so tough on our writing—if we stop writing at 60,000 words in then we stop writing (allowing ourselves to come back later to the story when we’re in the mood)
- Going back to some of the earlier exercises we used to do years ago. We’re planning our own mini NaNoWriMo (in May, not in November), for example
- Experimenting with our writing
- We’re travelling more, starting to get different experiences again.
We’re getting there, slowly.
Writing is gradually becoming fun again.