One unifier about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has been a disruption on a universal scale. Whether you or your family were ill, you lost someone, you were isolated from your community, your favorite events were canceled, your job was threatened, your housing situation changed, or any other combination of struggles impacted your well-being, this was a year when we all felt it.
It has been, as one of my friends called it, “the big slow down” — but simultaneously, life has gone on. We have been expected to earn a living, to pave our way forward, and, for artists, to somehow keep creating.
Here’s what the pandemic has taught me about writing, including how to write when I am emotionally drained — and how to not write because I am emotionally drained.
Write What You Love
In the past year, I have noticed that my own viewing habits changed to one noticeable trend: comfort. I have turned to my nostalgic favorites over and over again. I wanted comedy. I wanted predictability. I wanted to feel better.
When I began to write again, I realized I wanted to keep living in those worlds. The dream for a screenwriter is to spend years with a project, from writing to revising to pitching to selling to creating to promoting, so I have decided to write worlds I want to live in for a long time — for me, those are fun, happy worlds.
For you, it might be diving into darkness. That’s great, too. Run toward whatever ignites your excitement and makes you yearn for the page. It’s been a hard year — don’t punish yourself if you don’t have to.
Time Management and Deadlines
When the human body is trapped in a sustained state of fight or flight mode, it can become very difficult to create anything. The priority becomes finding a way to decrease stress and restore your adrenal system. So, if there is no deadline to write because you’re an emerging writer creating purely on spec, it can somatically be hard to force your system to push itself further when it just wants to rest.
The truth is, you may need to give yourself the gift of time and healing. In the first few months of the pandemic — the time when I usually prepare my TV fellowship scripts — I realized I didn’t want to write anything. I just wanted to rest. So I made the choice to rest and removed the pressure to meet deadlines. I did not submit to the 2020 TV fellowships — and I was okay with that.
Once my wellness was taken care of, I was ready to write again. I picked deadlines — whether by scheduling table reads with actors or competitions I wanted to enter — and then I worked on realistic writing goals.
I tend to enjoy an hour of writing during the morning. In one hour, I can get four pages done. In 9 days, I’ll have a sitcom first draft. In two weeks, I’ll have a drama. In one month, I’ll have a feature.
One hour a day. Then I rest. My work that day is done.
I don’t know about you, but I like to write in coffee shops. There’s something about having my only available task be to write that helps me stick to a goal and remain undistracted. When I’m home, I’m distracted by the chores that need to be done and the pup who needs my attention and the meals that need to be cooked and, and, and…
With quarantines in place, coffee shops were no longer an option. I had to recreate the discipline of writing distraction-free. For me, that means keeping my desk tidy and brewing a hot drink of my own.
Many writers have shared their writing routines. Some have a little bowl of snacks. Some have a lucky totem set in their writing space. Some, like me, have a beverage of choice. The routine, rather than the location, is what will help you get in the writing zone.
Establish your routine and your location won’t matter.
The Power of Table Reads
It’s great to hear your words aloud in your writers group, but nothing compares to casting great actors to table read your script — and thanks to the power of Zoom, virtual reads are just as helpful as in-person ones. They’re also more convenient. And, during a nationwide lockdown, they’re an opportunity to socialize.
Setting up a table read will motivate you to finish your latest draft and it will give you incredible feedback on your characters, your dialogue, and your story. Schedule time to ask your readers questions and get their thoughts. It will really move your script along.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
I know how it feels to have a story in your head and career ambitions in your heart…but to simply not have the bandwidth to write. Maybe you’ve suffered a loss. Maybe you’re going through a major life change like a move or a divorce or a job transition. Maybe you’re working full-time. Whatever it is, give yourself the mercy of recognizing when it’s simply not the time to write.
Once your head is above water, you can pick up your script again, but your wellness should be your first priority.
Writing should bring you joy. If it feels like another task on an overwhelming mountain of obligations and responsibilities, then it may be time to shift your priorities. Writing is a lot of work and, for emerging writers, it’s often work for the sake of work. It can take years before writing results in employment or pay, so I encourage you to do whatever you can to ensure those years are full of joy and good health. It will make your projects more fun and your everyday experiences more rewarding.
Have you explored a new genre or gotten a short script read during quarantine? Submit to be considered for our first ever Shorts Screenwriting Lab!
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!