by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Raise your hands: how many of you had manuscripts in progress when covid hit? I see. Everyone. I will confess I had just reached my beloved 15,000 word mark in writing my new thriller. I was so proud of myself, because I was on track to finish exactly on time. I had ideas, and I was in the world of the book, and I was unstoppable.

And I was wrong.

Now, 35–no, 36–days in home isolation with my husband, I’m  trying to get back in there and make my deadline. Which I will do. I will. But my brain is not operating the same way it did “before.” How to get it back on track? Here are some ways that are working for me. Will they work for you?

Make an appointment to write

Days are completely fungible now, and time does not move in the way it used to. The only way for writers to manage that is to take control. Writing is a responsibility, whether we have deadlines or not, so make yourself follow a schedule. If you want to write at five in the morning, or ten, or two in the afternoon, then clear the decks for that time. Are you a responsible enough writer to keep a promise to yourself? Of course you are.

Lower your word count expectations

I have always been a 542 word a day writer, that’s my goal. I know if I write 542 words a day, I will be done in time to give myself a month to edit. So much for that idea. Now I’ll have to write about 1500 words a day to get to the same result. That seems like a lot. So I am going to start with one week of 300 words a day. If I do more, that’s great. I’m going to lower my goals so I can meet them. And the more often you can  meet your goal, the more you can raise the bar on yourself. One day at a time.

Start reading your ms. from the beginning

Momentum is a big deal in writing, and it’s difficult to pick up your momentum if you try to start writing where you left off. So ease yourself back into your book’s world by starting at the beginning. You’ll edit along the way, and that’s fine, but the goal here is to immerse yourself in book world instead of real world. And hey, that may be fun. Your brain will start acclimating to the book world, and start churning out what happens next in that world. When you get to the point where you should start writing new stuff, this total immersion method will help you.

Do an edit-find for tiny things you can fix

Search for “of course “or “actually “or some other phrase or word that you rely on. Allow yourself to make tiny fixes. Can you delete your pet words, and make the sentences better? What did you really mean by that one particular sentence?  Sometimes when you give yourself a small problem to fix, and succeed, the larger problems seem more solvable.

Read your book out loud

Start at the beginning, and read it out loud to yourself. When you hear the words, they become more real. You’ll hear your characters talking, and envision the descriptions. You’ll find your repetition and your unintended rhyme, and your brain will shepherd you back into your fictional world. Hearing your words can make the book world more real. And even the very sound of your words changes your atmosphere and perspective.

Read read read

It’s difficult, sometimes, to focus on reading a whole book. If you’re having reader-scatterbrain, try  picking up any book by an author you love or are curious about, and open to any page and read anything. Don’t demand that your brain commit to a whole book. Reading is reading, and you’ll get rhythm and flow and sentence structure and coax your brain back into thinking.

Be kind to your writer brain

The writer brain that “worked” before will still work now. We all have an added veneer of fear and uncertainty, and that can be destructive. But when you’re sitting in your chair, in your writer world, let yourself understand that your book is something you can control. Hooray. In the writer’s seat, your world is how you want it to be. That’s a good thing. If your words aren’t perfect, well, back “before” you sometimes thought exactly the same thing, didn’t you?

So try to laugh, and reassure yourself, and rejoice in the fact that you’re now in the world you’re creating. So try to laugh, and reassure yourself, and rejoice in the fact that in the world you are creating, things will go the way you planned. And all the surprises that emerge will be good ones.

What tricks and methods are you using to stay on track? We’d love to hear about them on the Career Author Facebook page. And now–get writing. And stay safe.