When it feels like the world is falling apart, it’s hard to know whether — or how — to proceed with pursuits like writing or art.
After all, when our survival instincts are triggered, our focus naturally shifts to first ensuring our basic needs are met: food, shelter, water, air, sleep, clothing. It’s not surprising that in the early days of the pandemic, much of our collective focus was on prepping and stocking up. Nor is it surprising that for many it was harder to stay attuned to “higher” pursuits during the pandemic and the social and political upheaval we experienced in 2020. As we round the corner into a new year, it’s hard to know what lies ahead or how to plan to deal with it.
For some, it’s felt hard or even impossible to pursue our creative efforts during these difficult times. For others, it’s been a lifeline. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it’s so very valuable to keep working to fulfill your calling.
We Write For Ourselves
In my estimation — as a sensitive and writer myself, and coach to the same — there are two primary reasons to keep writing, even in times of crisis.
Writing is an act of self-preservation. Though that perspective may run somewhat counter to my point about survival instincts and the focus on taking care of our basic needs, when we write, we deepen our connection with ourselves and preserve our sense of identity and belonging.
Writing regularly — even something as simple as morning pages or journaling — is also a means of processing emotions and experiences you’re having and feel freer to do other work as a result.
When you write, you know yourself.
When you write, you’re in a better place to take care of yourself and others.
We Write for Each Other, and For the World
Beyond journaling, any writing you do with a greater audience in mind is an act of courage, generosity, and optimism.
Writing for others in times of crisis is a way of saying, “I believe we’ll be okay.”
It says, “I believe my work has a place in this world.” It also says, “Here, let me help.” It’s a creative leap of faith.
Even if your writing isn’t something you share with others right away, when you write for others, you contribute to our long-term survival. With your words you connect us to art, healing, inspiration, learning, growth, perspective, and wisdom.
Your act of courage — to keep seeking meaning, depth, and knowledge even in the face of doubt or despair — is what you were made for.
After all, as the wise elder mentors of our global community, sensitives have an important role to play. Our steadying voices calm, guide, nurture, help, and heal. Our perspectives and insights — even our anxieties — allow us to see what’s coming even when others don’t . . . even when we might feel like Cassandras, cursed to know the truth and never to be believed.
Remember too: ALL art has a role to play. Whether you’re writing light, romantic comedies, deeply personal essays, serious non-fiction pieces, or post-climate change fiction, we need it all. Laughter is healing. Camaraderie is witnessing and creates a shared experience. Information is knowledge and power. Prediction is disaster-averting.
Tell your stories, write your words. We need it all.
How To Keep Writing
In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a “hierarchy of needs,” which is often presented in graphic form as a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are basic needs, the foundation we require in order to be able to progress to the next level. The subsequent tiers are safety, social belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. In later years, Maslow added self-transcendence to the top of the pyramid.
The paradox of living through times of great crisis is that when our basic survival needs are threatened, it becomes difficult to focus beyond making sure we’re healthy and alive, and yet, reaching past that to Maslow’s higher tiers is where we find our greatest fulfillment and contribute most to the global good.
Living our calling and working from our zone of genius; that’s where we’re self-actualized. Contributing to the greater good and serving the whole of humankind; that’s when we’re self-transcending.
What this means is that in order to do our work at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, we must also — first — strengthen and then maintain our foundation, in order to be able to write at all.
7 Suggestions To Keep Writing
Here are seven suggestions to help you keep writing even in difficult times.
- Take care of your basic needs so you can write.
In order to feel grounded and taken care of, design your life as best you can to make space for quality sleep, food, downtime, water, and exercise. I’ve had to get good and creative about some of these during these strange times we’re living in, but my efforts are paying off in terms of my ability to write and focus, despite everything that’s going on. It’s the foundational layer that makes all else possible. I’ve set a lights-out time and wake up time that have been particularly helpful.
- Tune out the world as much as you need to in order to focus.
With everything that’s happening, it’s hard not to get sucked into the news or social media tumult of the day. To the extent you can, limit your news and social media intake to specific quality sources during specific periods of the day, as well as taking days to completely unplug when you can. You might also make a point to go for walks in nature when that’s possible. Exercising, getting enough sleep, sticking to a regular lights-out and wake time, and other sound self-care practices can be part of tuning out the world too.
If you need to, you can also lean on technology to help restrict your access to addictive and stressful sources of information. I’m currently using Focus, Forest, Screen Time, and other apps to help me limit my time online, as well as the judicious removal of tempting apps from my phone.
- Find, join, or create a support community so you have a sense of belonging and connectedness.
In times both dark and light, even the most introverted among us need company. Writing is an isolating endeavor already. Ideally, find other sensitives to write with. In my Called to Write community, we feel buoyed and held afloat by each other. We write in online writing sprints together and gather on Zoom weekly to compare notes. Seeing the faces and hearing the voices of our fellow writers is a balm of comfort and inspiration. Our community creates a solid through-line of companionship, structure, connection, and accountability we can cling to even on the darkest of days.
Find or create something like this for yourself (or join us!).
- Know that it’s okay to change what you’re writing in response to circumstances.
The world is changing. You may be drawn in new directions right now.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “I am a big advocate for the pursuit of curiosity. . . . We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a TALL ORDER, and really hard to reach. In seasons of confusion, of loss, of boredom, of insecurity, of distraction, the idea of “passion” can feel completely inaccessible and impossible. In such times, you are lucky to be able to get your laundry done (that sometimes feels as high as you can aim) and when someone tells you to follow your passion, you want to give them the middle finger. (Go ahead and do it, by the way. But wait till their back is turned, out of civility.) But curiosity, I have found, is always within reach.”
Drawn to explore and write about climate change instead of working on your novel? Go for it. Or write a new novel that reflects it.
Have opinions about politics? Write away.
Want to turn away from the external world and create a fantasy story? Fabulous. Make it so.
No writing is ever wasted, and it’s okay to have our shared global experience influence the direction you take with your work.
And . . . you may find that now more than ever you must stick with what you’ve been working on all along, and that’s entirely okay too. Trust yourself to find your way through.
- Give yourself extra latitude for rest, recovery, and inspiration.
Even as you continue moving forward and writing, take longer to rest. Give yourself extra time and space for anything you do. Build a greater energy reserve and increase your personal bandwidth by taking breaks and news fasts, going for walks, or sleeping more.
It’s okay to write at a slower pace than you might otherwise. It’s okay to rest and to reflect.
In fact, giving yourself more time and space are even more necessary right now than they might be otherwise. We’re all a bit frayed around the edges; some sensitives may be more susceptible than others depending on our personal life circumstances and the degree to which we empathically pick up on other’s emotions and stresses. We tend to carry the weight of the world as it is, so finding ways to protect ourselves, rest, and recover are imperative.
One of the hallmarks of this era for many of us is getting drawn into reading short form content, whether social media posts, news articles, or just scanning headlines, we can easily get short circuited by doom scrolling, distractions, or sidetracks.
Instead, think about what you can “feed” your mind to soothe, inform, and inspire you. Longer form offerings like books, documentary series, and long articles (especially in print) can help retrain your brain for better focus and longer attention spans. Choose subjects you’re curious about (like Elizabeth Gilbert’s guidance) and genres you love. Seek out TED talks and thought leaders.
Inspiration is required for the inspirers of the world too.
- Take small daily action to write.
While you’re setting goals, implement them by working in consistent but small amounts of regular writing.
At Called to Write we’ve helped so many writers jump-start their writing practice, finish books and scripts, and move their writing projects forward simply by writing for 15 minutes a day.
You’ll be amazed what you can do, when you give yourself permission to “write small,” but write regularly. Even just 5 to 15 minutes a day can create momentum that will keep you moving forward far faster than you might imagine. I finished a major screenplay rewrite that way.
- Keep setting goals and having hopes and dreams for your writing.
Even while you take extra time for self-care and renewal, do keep dreaming about and setting goals for your writing. If anything, at Called to Write we find that setting goals inspires us to keep writing and moving forward, even if we set our goals a little on the easier side.
At the start of the pandemic there was a lot of talk about what Shakespeare accomplished during a plague year. From my perspective as a writing coach and a writer, all that did was put a lot of unnecessary pressure on us as writers.
And — it’s still valuable to think about where you’d like to be on the “other side” of the pandemic. I know that I won’t want to emerge from this span of time without having written; this motivates me find the strength to keep writing day-to-day.
For certain, life on this Earth will continue to have painful difficulties, as well as immense joys. We can’t know for sure what the future holds. But we do have the power to make a choice to continue to write in spite of the challenges we face — or perhaps even because of them — as a way of taking care of ourselves and each other by bringing our words and wisdom into being.
Image: Darius Bashar – Unsplash