A Writer’s Guide to Surviving the Lockdown

This essay by William Bernhardt was originally posted on his blog at williambernhardt.com, and has been republished here with his permission. Bill is the author of over fifty books, including Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction, and the most recent installment of his bestselling Daniel Pike series, The Last Chance Lawyer, out now. 

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I assume that you, like me, are currently quarantined, at least semi-isolated from the rest of the world, keeping yourself safe. I hope so—I don't think it's possible to take this too seriously. But as writers, we have one advantage. We're used to working at home. You cannot write a novel in a group setting. It's something you do by yourself. You may actually prefer the quiet and solitude—many writers do. As my good friend William Martin said, he's been practicing social distancing for forty years.

For a writer, time is the most precious commodity. This may be true for everyone in every profession, but I know it's true for writers. It takes a lot of time to write a book, and we never seem to have enough.

Well, guess what? Now you do. Even if you're working from home, you likely have more time that you normally do to write. So, to quote Saving Private Ryan, use this! Take advantage. This is not the first time disease has short-circuited the normal workings of the world. When the British theaters were closed due to the plague, Shakespeare wrote those beautiful sonnets. Then he wrote King Lear.

Okay, maybe that's setting the bar too high. I don't expect anyone to produce King Lear this week. But I do think you should use this time to maximum advantage. Commit to writing a certain amount on a regular basis. Implement a calendar to guide you through producing a book in a reasonable period of time. (Editor’s note: Bernhardt’s book Story Structure includes a Writer’s Calendar, which is an excellent guide!) 

There's one more valid reason for focusing on your writing. It would be too easy, given all that's going on in the world, to give in to despair. I find that I'm happiest when I'm writing, when I'm in the zone, in a fictional world of my creation. I finish a chapter, look up at the clock, and see that hours have passed without me really being aware of it. That's not such a bad thing right now. Take your mind off the outside world and spend some time in a better one. And maybe produce something that gives you a great deal of pride.

Remember that writers need exercise, too. Go for a walk. If you don't want to go outside, run in place. Exercise also improves your disposition—and strengthens your immune system. 

If there's anything I can do to help you along with your writing, just let me know. Stay strong, stay safe. And remember—you are not alone. We're all in this together.

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William Bernhardt wants you to start writing! For the duration of the shelter in place, he is offering readers of his blog a free book from his Red Sneaker Writers Book Series. While supplies last, you can contact him at wb@williambernhardt.com and he’ll send you a digital copy of your choice of one of his ten books on writing. Don't wait!