The archetype of a writer has always been a solitary and moody person, writing furiously in a dimly lit room with a cluttered desk, surrounded by books and coffee cups. This certainly sounds like a lot of people’s new reality these past few months as we’ve all been sheltering in place far longer than we ever thought we would.
As a writer, I feel like I’ve been prepared for a quarantine like this my entire life—just me and my cat with my carpal tunnel intensifying as I pound away at my keyboard. That being said, I like to be alone around other people, and alone in different places, which is why I became a remote freelancer in the first place. 2020 is my first year without an office job, and all my big plans were broken, plane tickets and AirBNBs were cancelled, and the days and weeks ahead of me changed in the blink of an eye.
I didn’t realize how much human contact affects my emotional state and overall life. As a New Yorker, I could still encounter hundreds of people daily as a freelance writer. I usually don’t go a day without leaving my home, visiting the gym, the grocery store, getting a coffee at the local shop and spending a few hours working there. I would even write in the local library when the cabin fever became too much.
Now the days are blending together and sitting in the same exact spot all day is taking its toll. After two months of this self quarantine, even my cat is getting tired of me, and I get way too excited to thank the mailman (from 6 feet away). I’ve had to make some changes in my day to day life as a freelancer to keep myself from losing my marbles. Here are 5 things that have worked for me in remaining physically and mentally healthy, as well as productive and creative.
1. Take on random projects, even if you’re not getting paid.
This is the biggest one that I saw made a difference right away. I have steady clients that I work for every month, and there is always work that needs to be done. I’ve found myself uninspired by the monotony, and not able to produce the caliber of work at the speed I’m used to. I began to write one off articles and short stories for publications that may or may not accept my work, just for fun. It helped me to be inspired again. When I have a great idea for a story, I indulge myself in writing it, no matter how useless the end result is. It makes getting back to the things I have to do a bit easier, and it reminds me why I started writing in the first place.
2. Move your body!
I swear, I get addicted to being lazy. I’m such an active person, but since this quarantine I’ve found it harder and harder to get moving. Doing jumping jacks in my apartment just isn’t as fun as a group kickboxing class or hot yoga. I’ve started going on a long walk every single day, for about 2 miles, and it has helped a lot.
As a New Yorker, I’m used to walking miles every day at a very fast pace just to get around. Having that sudden stop is a difficult adjustment, and after a few weeks of not moving enough, my legs started getting restless. The walks have helped me physically and mentally, and I’ve started to look forward to them every day.
3. Use the Pomodoro Method.
My awesome friend introduced me to this one, and it’s made a big difference in my life. The idea is to set a timer and take frequent breaks to increase productivity. I find that 25 minute work increments, followed by a 5 minute break, and then back to work for 25 minutes works best for me.
I do 4 chunks of 25 minute work streaks with 5 minute breaks in between, which adds up to 2 hours, and then I take a long break of 15 minutes. During these breaks I can do absolutely anything, including but not limited to: rolling around on the floor, dancing to motown hits, grabbing a snack, meditating, petting my cat, laying face down on my bed, and checking my phone. This keeps me from straying while I work, because I know I have the breaks to do whatever I want.
4. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
This has been a game-changer for me, even before the Covid-19 Pandemic. After I left a 9-5 desk job and wasn’t forced to get up and be somewhere every day, I found myself watching videos of parrots singing in spanish at 3 am and then sleeping in far too late the next day.
I was creeping more and more towards being a very unproductive, nocturnal writer. Once I enforced a sleep and wake up schedule, I felt happier, healthier, more productive, and found it way easier to schedule my time. I’m tired when it’s normal to be tired, and I don’t have that anxiety of another day wasted from waking up past noon.
5. Give yourself time to do fun things.
I found myself with the mentality of ‘oh, I’m just home all day long, I shouldn’t need to relax or take a break’, but my mind needs time to relax too. It felt like I had unlimited time to work, and I used it as such because work was a great distraction from what was going on in the world. I burned myself out real quick.
Since then, I’ve worked in time every day to do something fun, whether it’s watching an episode of a show, having a zoom party with friends, baking something delicious, or painting my nails. This has improved my mental health and therefore made my work much better.
It’s easy to slip into bad habits during this time where there seems to be no end in sight to endless days indoors. I’ve had my fair share of unhealthy food and toddler-like breakdowns. I have friends and loved ones who are sick, I’ve experienced personal loss, and having to go through it without a hug or a $6 treat-yo-self soy cappuccino is rough.
I have incredible friends in the medical field risking everything to go to work every day which makes complaining seem absurd when I have a home to stay in and a job that supports me.
That being said, we’re all struggling in one way or another, mentally, physically, and financially, and it’s important that we acknowledge what we’re going through and take care of ourselves. We will get through this and come out the other side still being moody, solitary writers that can finally be moody and solitary around other people again.
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