riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Pandemic Projects

So much of how we deal with these crazy times depends on our circumstances: where we live, whether we’re employed or not, essential or working from home, and what our family structure is, whether we’re partnered, single, with or without kids.

I happen to be single, without children. I own a house and live alone in a small upstate NY town. When the pandemic hit in full force back in March, I was sent home to work, but there wasn’t much to do, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.

Lockdown rules said we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for anything other than groceries, medicine, essential work and walking a pet. In those early days, the virus was raging through New York State, especially NYC, where my sister and other family members live. I was so sick with worry most of the time that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. In fact, I felt paralyzed.

Then my dog ran off more than once after critters (once, I actually had to circle the block in my car to find her). And this set me on a path to fence my property, which was the first Pandemic Project.

The fear of losing my dog, and the desire to protect her, was a powerful motivator. Luckily, Lowe’s was an essential business. The store became my go-to spot other than the supermarket. I set out to build an inexpensive fence in the back and front yard, mostly by myself, with a friend helping me when I needed an extra hand.

At the same time as the fence project, I started getting my garden together, buying plants, pots, soil, mulch, building beds, planting, mulching, and, of course, making countless  trips to Lowe’s. When I was working on the fence or the garden, I didn’t think about anything else. After a few hours of physical labor, I would be too tired to worry, at least for a little while. I was in my yard every single day, rain or shine, working working working. Both projects took me, on and off, about two months to fully complete.   

In the evenings, I zoomed with friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time, with family members. I watched movies. I wrote. And I started reading again.

Reading was a Big Deal because I hadn’t had the mental concentration to read a book since my brother died two years ago. The book that changed that, which I picked up two months into lockdown, was Alex Haley’s 800-page novel ROOTS. I could not put it down (more on this seminal book in a later post). After that I read the dystopian novel STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, about life after a pandemic. Also couldn’t put it down.

Looming over these other projects was my screenplay, which I’ve been working on for a long time and decided to finish this year. Since, lockdown forced me to be home all the time, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

It was rough in the beginning. Being so terribly worried about family and friends all over the country and world was not conducive to writing. But I tackled it like all the other projects, a little bit at a time. There were days when I would tell myself, “all you have to do is write for one hour.” I would set my timer, silence my phone, turn off the WiFi, and begin. Inevitably, at the end of the hour, I would want to write for another hour, and another…. Then, when I could see the progress and the “light at the end of the tunnel,” it motivated me even more.

I finished the first official draft in May and sent it to my representation in Los Angeles. I completed a second draft in July (based on their feedback), and now I’m waiting for notes that will, no doubt, lead to the next draft. Each draft gets me closer to my goal.

I guess the thing that’s helped me deal with the pandemic the most is staying busy, and staying CREATIVE.

My advice to others struggling to stay productive during these times is to:

  • Have goals, no matter how small, and work towards them
  • Tone down expectations; realize that everything takes longer than usual these days
  • Avoid negative people and toxic energy like the plague
  • Avoid anyone or anything that doesn’t feel right, period
  • Go out of your way to be kind and forgiving to yourself (and others)
  • Get outside as much as  possible, while avoiding others
  • Change the scenery if you can; go somewhere new, even if just for a few hours
  • Talk to someone, a therapist or confidant, or write down what you’re feeling
  • Read, read, read, read, READ
  • Exercise in whatever way you can, stay hydrated and eat healthy
  • Stay in touch with the people you care about
  • Limit how much you listen to and read the news; take social media breaks

What has helped you? I’d love to hear about your Pandemic Projects.

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10 Tips on How to Maintain as a Writer

I’m reviving the Industry Friday series (where I post professional advice on Fridays) with some thoughts on how to maintain as a writer. Now that I’m writing full-time, I’ve noticed several habits that help me stay productive and avoid getting stir-crazy. The foundation for these habits is a deep love of writing. If you don’t love it, none of these habits will help. Writing is inherently lonely and difficult, but I believe these habits help maintain a healthy equilibrium.

1. Get up early

You’ve heard me mention the Plath Hours before. I can’t stress enough the benefits of squeezing a few extra (peaceful, quiet) hours out of the day. You don’t have to wake up as early as 4:00 am. Even an hour before your normal wake up time will increase productivity. Or start with 15 minutes earlier and work your way up. As I write this, it is 4:12 am – I actually woke up today at 3:30am without my alarm clock going off. This is because I’ve grown accustomed to getting up early. Of course, this means going to bed early, and possibly taking brief naps during the day, but it’s worth it. Here’s an article to help you get started.

2. Take a shower and get dressed

If you write at home all day, it might be tempting to roll out of bed and work in your pajamas, but don’t do it. At least, don’t stay in your pajamas. At some point before your “normal” work day begins, take a shower and get dressed. You don’t have to dress formally, but wearing clothes that are clean, comfortable and presentable will affect how you feel, and possibly how you approach your work, even if you never leave the house.

3. Have a routine

Contrary to what some people think, “routine” is not a bad word, and I don’t know any writer who doesn’t keep one. Whenever you choose to get up, have consistent, set work hours, including lunch break and quitting time. If you need to run out to do an errand, schedule that into your day, but don’t start cleaning your house, doing the laundry or watching TV in the middle of your day. If you wouldn’t do it at your office job, don’t do it at your home office.

4. Take a daily walk (or more than one)

Personally, I think every writer would benefit from owning a dog. But I understand that dogs aren’t for everybody. But do take a walk, or several walks, every day, rain or shine. Your brain and eyes need a break. Your lungs need fresh air. Your mind needs to reset. Your body needs to move. Get the blood pumping and let Nature inspire you. Gyms and classes are great too, but Nature is free and literally right outside your door.

5. Read books 

You don’t have to join a book club to read a book. But if you do join a book club, you will definitely read at least one book a month. And you will meet other people who love books and love to read. The most important thing is to read, not just for research or work, not just the news, not just online, and certainly not just your Facebook feed. Reading flexes the mind at the same time it relaxes it. Reading also gives us ideas and makes us better writers.

I’m part of a book club now, and we alternate reading one fiction and one non-fiction book every month. The other night I went to the meeting, which takes place in a small local bookstore, even though I hadn’t read the assigned book (I read a different book by the same author). At the end of the evening, everyone listed their favorite books they read this year. I now have a list of 15 great books to read! I truly enjoy our lively discussions.

6. Find your people

The worst thing a writer can do is write in solitude and not have any type of support network (of other writers). You need people in your life who will read your work and give you honest feedback, with whom you can discuss life as a writer and writing issues. People who “get” you artistically and professionally, people you can trust, be vulnerable with, and with whom you share mutual respect, no matter what level everyone is at. I am incredibly blessed to have found my people and thank g-d for them every day (hi goats!).

7. Join a library

Libraries are incredible resources, great places to work, and they’re free. If you’re looking for a specific book and the library doesn’t have it, some will order the book for you. My local library does that. Even though I live in a rural area, I have access to any book I want.

8. Eat well (and stay hydrated)

It sounds so simple, but sometimes writers forget to eat, or neglect to eat healthy because it might take longer to prepare. Another bad habit is not drinking enough water. I’ve been guilty of both in the past, but now I eat a hearty breakfast every day, a moderate lunch and dinner, and drink tea and water throughout the day. My vices include coffee in the morning and wine at night, but not too much of either. Because I live in a rural area and restaurants are far and few between (and expensive), I’m also cooking again.

9. Back up your work (and have more than one computer)

Back up your work in multiple places, all the time, and if you can afford it, have two computers. This way if one goes down, you can keep working, which just happened to me recently. My desktop shut down and wouldn’t start again. Before panic set in, I remembered that I have a laptop, transferred my thumb drive (on which I keep all my current projects) and continued working without skipping a beat.

10. Listen to the radio

Public radio is another amazing resource, and in my house it’s on almost all day. It’s my primary source of news, music, weather and local events. You will hear interviews with filmmakers, authors, political analysts, poets, musicians, actors and more. You can listen online too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something on the radio that made me pause with thought or emotion. Some of my favorite shows: Fresh Air, The Roundtable, The Diane Rehm Show, The Moth Hour, Ted Radio Hour, and American Music Roots.

And one more…

11. Go out and have fun!

I once knew a writer who never left the house except for meetings and would feel guilty about taking time off to spend with family or travel. He was also plagued by migraines. I don’t know if the two related, but I could never understand why he kept driving himself so hard and seemed to get such little pleasure out of life.

Living a full and healthy life (emotionally, physically, spiritually and socially) is part of what makes for great writing. The best material is life itself.

Happy Friday and happy creating!

Sunrise from my office window

Sunrise from my office window