Creating Amid COVID-19


“I thought I would have more time to write,” a friend shared during a group Skype. Four of us were catching up with a virtual cocktail hour late last week. We are fortunate, with day jobs that allow us to work from home, without reduced hours (yet) but with added responsibilities. “Once I’m done with work, I’m done,” she said. We all nodded in agreement, understanding the exhaustion, complimenting each other for looking well, if not a little worse for wear. Stress is thick as the smog that used to cover L.A.

We hoisted our glasses to each other, or at least our computer screens, toasting friendship, health and hope. We joked about our adjusted shower schedules, the odd adventures had simply by going outside, the changes in behavior—both our own and those we meet, and the shocking surprise at how many people think six feet is a subjective length. A deep discussion was had about toilet paper and our newfound philosophies of its use. There was a quip about what this administration has brought us to, but very little is funny about that right now. We found other things to laugh about. Thank God there are still things to laugh about.


The world is weird right now. Everything is at a distance but oppressive in its weight. We try to ignore what we can as best we can. We have to. It’s a coping mechanism, a requirement to face another day not knowing how many more like it we’ll have to force our way through, bidding farewell to the concept of normal as we go.

We try to be good friends and partners, supportive to those who need us. Giving to those in need. Endlessly praying for healthcare workers, first responders and those precious people essential to our daily lives. Watching as people ignore facts and science, are arrogant with guidelines, dismissive of people’s sacrifices. Waiting for some sort of breakthrough or good news.

Those of us who create usually find respite in that endeavor. Writing, painting, dancing, cooking, knitting, singing, jamming, spinning—that was the escape. We got to go into our own world and make something. We could drown out the noise and replenish our spirit. Now? Now there’s a cacophony of concern and fear and worry and sorrow and dread and anger and impatience, and all of that blocks the intersection of inspiration and imagination. Even if we have time for our art, we may not be in the mental or emotional space to enjoy it.

Last month marked the L.A.L.A. Society’s Writers’ March, where we dedicated 1 hour each day to progress on our WIPs. I put in my time each day, which wasn’t always easy, finding myself still stuck on the first three chapters of Novel 3 (yes, still). I re-read them, tweaked scenes, changed a word here or there and usually changed it back again. The story was alive and well and thriving in my mind, but it seemed to be following the Stay Home order, too; refusing to leave my brain to make it onto the page.

I didn’t push. I know better than that. I would still jot down scenes in my notebook or several squares of Post-Its. The creativity was there; it just couldn’t get to the other side.

As soon as I went into lockdown, I made a decision to move. Each morning, the first thing I did (right after making my bed) was exercise. Mostly yoga, but there’s some Pilates, a bit of kettle bell-ing, an urban hike every so often. Rather than feeling like a chore, like something I had to do, it felt nurturing. I looked forward to it. I did it before I could see the news, before checking Twitter…but after a quick glance at the top stories on my phone (because that’s responsible). Sometimes, it was a hard twenty, others it was an hour of flow, mostly it was hitting that 40-minute sweet spot. More than exercise, what it actually was was giving time to myself. Giving to myself. Taking care of myself. Caring.

After my workout, I make tea and breakfast. Then, I sit down to work, better prepared for the stress of that. Afterwards, I make dinner, settle in and open my MacBook to write. And the writing comes comfortably. It no longer feels like a chore, like another obligation. It’s heavenly.

The other day, instead of savasana, I went into a headstand. The first one in a while. The first time trying one in my tiny space—disaster looming on all sides if I were to fall out of it and not tuck into a small ball as I went. To my surprise, it was effortless, like someone was pulling me up from my feet. I held the pose for a while. I didn’t have to think about it, analyze it or worry. Deep down, I knew what to do. Somewhere along the line, I had gained strength. Somehow, I remembered to trust myself. Trust myself completely.

Surprisingly, my writing had relaxed even though my stress level rose. I wasn’t simply sitting down to write anymore, but rushing to get to my laptop in order to get it all out. Take what has lived in my head for so long and escort it to the keyboard, onto the screen that will one day turn into a page. I’m halfway through Chapter 5 now, enjoying the writing process again.

Every now and then, I go back to that airplane lecture we politely ignore, flight attendants telling us to put on our mask first. A whole other level of irony surrounds that now, in this crazy time of COVID-19, but the simple message is one we tend to ignore: You cannot take care of anyone or anything well unless you have taken care of yourself first. We worry that will make us selfish. Not at all. Self-protection, self-caring differs greatly from being selfish.

Take care of yourself. Find a way to be kind and nurture yourself. There is so much stress and fear and worry and sorrow we are wading through; you just need a few minutes each day to take care of yourself. Allow yourself that. You’ll gain more than you realize. Then you can give even more to those you love. Including your art and muse.


My Year Off From Writing (And Why I Recommend It)

If you know me (either through my writing or IRL), you know that I call BS on anyone who claims to write every day — EVERY SINGLE DAY — of their lives. (No: texts, tweets and grocery lists do not count.) Because: Even when you’re sick? When you gave birth? Went to a funeral? Travelled internationally? That time you had surgery and were knocked out on drugs for a solid 24? There is no way, no matter how prolific or dedicated a writer is, that anyone can, in fact, write EVERY SINGLE DAY of their existence. So let’s not exaggerate.

But, let’s define “writing”. Is it putting words on a page, or is it mulling over the story, characters and dialogue in your brain? Because, if it’s the mulling, I suspect very few writers ever stop writing. [My best writing happens while brushing my teeth or in the shower. I should have a whiteboard mounted in the bathroom so I can more easily jot down whatever genius gems came to me while sudsy or foaming; instead, there’s a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-It.] The story is relentless in that way. A writer’s mind is never quiet.

So, if you know me, you also know that I took 2019 off from writing (aside from the mulling). I had released three books in three years (2016-2018), and intended to keep that book-a-year pace going. I know, right? Hysterical! But I have goals, people, and a long TBW list (that’s To Be Written, in case you didn’t guess).

With best laid plans and God laughing, I hit a wall of sorts in late 2018. You see, I’m not the type of creative that can churn it out–something I learned back in my first year of film school when we were expected to create and deliver a new film each week. I just couldn’t, even if they were only one minute long (the mulling is also vital to filmmaking), and I got a little miffed that I was expected to. In response, my next short was about forced creativity wherein I filmed a dripping faucet and asked, “What is art?” then rhetorically posed, “If I shat in a box and called it art, is it art, or just shit in a box?”

You can imagine my teacher’s response, but then we had a long talk about the creative process, the point in pushing ourselves and the point of not. But I still don’t want to create shit in a box. My self-imposed deadlines were making me feel like that first year student. It was silly.

So, when I stood all kissy-face with that wall, I recognized it for what it was and embraced it. I even thanked it. Then, I pressed pause on all creative plans. My author’s ego wasn’t exactly pleased. What do you mean we aren’t writing? it would ask. Writers write! it would remind. But sometimes a sabbatical is necessary. If you keep farming the same soil, you will deplete it and, soon enough, nothing good will grow.

I began 2019 depleted. There was a little health scare (I’m fine) that took six months to get the all-clear on and, during that time, there was a good deal of reflection and re-prioritizing. One priority was enjoying life more. That meant addressing stress, dealing with fatigue and being more in my life than going through it. Time that I normally would have held for writing needed to go to other things (cooking, exercising, socializing) and that wasn’t an easy choice to make. Writers write. Stories are persistent nags. You feel like a terrible parent ignoring your offspring when you aren’t working on your book. But this break was necessary. And soon, I eased into it.

Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still an author. I had four books to talk about, the craft itself to discuss, a society of authors to collaborate with and advocate for, writerly events to attend. The writing itself was on hold, but the mulling…well, there was still a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-it. By the time the holidays came, I was excited to get typing away again. But with a new perspective.

What that year off gave me was the chance to recharge and reconsider how I wanted my writer’s life to be. And it’s going to be slower, something that an A-type Aries isn’t exactly comfortable with. I’ll give myself an hour each day to write and/or edit and set aside one weekend a month to go deep into that writer’s cave. That leaves me much more time to commit to self-care, such as cooking and exercising and spending time with the people I love in a manner that is not distracted. Finally, I get to have it all.

On the writing front, it’s going quite smoothly. I have a new perspective on Novel 3 that brings me a lot of joy. It’s a bigger story than my first two, and that’s been a little daunting. All of the backstory wanted to get out onto the page and it was a constant battle to pare it down. Now, it’s distilled to its essence–a bonus of the mulling process.

While it may sound like I’m limiting myself as a writer time-wise, it’s actually the opposite. It’s an appointment with myself, time that is to be honored, set as sacred. Surely there will come a point when the book will take over and demand all of my free time. I’ll give in to it then. That’s all part of the birthing process. But now I know the balance I need to enjoy all facets of my life. I like how it all sparkles.

If you, dear fellow writer, feel out of balance, give yourself some time off to rediscover who you are away from the page. It is not time taken away from creation, but a nourishment of your artist’s soul. Rest that soil so it will be prolifically fruitful once more.



Alligator Wrestling


Helmut Newton’s photo of Lauren Hutton’s fearlessness.

There are many ways to go about crafting a book–or screenplay–and there are many teachers/authors/experts whose wont is to force the “right” method onto aspiring writers. Many will champion outlining (I’d rather eat glass). Some will tell you to spend time writing character biographies (I’d rather sit jury duty). Others say write a crap draft of the whole thing, then chuck it and start over with a brand new re-write (I’d rather get licensed in real estate).

There is no “right” way to write, just as there is no wrong. What a writer has to do is find their own method and then–this is the hard part–trust it.

I suppose my modus operandi may be different, or perhaps those of us who write like this are a bit less vocal about it. You see, it’s all in my head. That’s where the story gestates until it’s ready to be put onto the page. No outline. No character bios, at least none that are written down. The story and its people live in a corner of my brain, percolating. They stew when I’m talking to you, while out having dinner, at my day job slaying dragons, while I’m cooking, buying groceries, binge-watching Netflix, lying in Savasana, walking to my car or writing this post.

The story never stops churning and growing and developing…if you leave it alone and let it. That’s where the trust part comes in.

By the time I sit down to write, the story’s been clamoring for weeks (months?) to be let out onto the page. It’s usually a great rush getting it out. There’s nothing like that flow when the story is flooding the page, your fingers barely able to keep up. Fighting sleep to get one more paragraph done. Waking early to do more. Tapping into that creative vein is bliss. It’s why writers write.

This time, with Novel Three, I’ve been wrestling with Chapters 1 and 2 longer than I have with any of my other books. They’ve become alligators, antagonizing me and threatening the progress I hoped to be making. I expect the first three chapters to be tricky. They have to be because they must be right. They are the foundation of the book and you want them to be solid. Three chapters are about as far as any reader will give you before losing faith if your story hasn’t delivered by then (and the readers who’ll give you that long are truly generous souls). Those first chapters are where the seedlings of secrets are sown, where the payoffs begin and the world takes shape. When you do those chapters right, the rest of the book comes to life with relative ease.

Recently, I stopped alligator wrestling and trashed those two chapters. Sometimes, that’s the best way to move forward, even if it is painful. Taking a few steps back may lead to progress, but it still feels like defeat. (As you may know, I never really throw anything away. I keep the draft or have a doc set aside for cuts and edits. That’s the one thing I will recommend to all writers: keep your cuts. You’ll be able to make hard choices easier if you know they aren’t gone for good.)

Since I made that purge, I’m feeling more connected to the story. But dumping those chapters wasn’t so much my decision as that of the characters. Yes, I know that sounds nutty, but writers will understand. At a certain point, the people you create take over and start steering the ship. A good writer will step aside and let them. And maybe that’s what I was failing to do.

The characters have been growing stronger, their storylines taking root, subplots blossomed and all of that shifted the tale a little, giving it new and unexpected depth. That’s another exciting thing these made-up people will do: they will surprise you. Maybe they’re able to do that because they aren’t reigned-in by an outline. Their lives aren’t carved out before the story starts. They get to have a say in what unfolds because they aren’t bound by my expectations of who they are and what they will do.

Capote Quote.jpg

That’s not to say the story isn’t mapped out. It is, quite clearly. The ending is even set in stone. You can’t sit down to write without having that knowledge or you will be constructing chaos. But there is a dance between the creator and the created in which you have to let them lead from time to time. They know the rules and the boundaries of their world, and you have to trust them with that. It’s not easy but it is part of becoming the writer you desire to be: one who trusts themselves and their process.

Good writing happens when you stop alligator wrestling and give up control. I finally got out of the way and let the characters have their say. I’ve come to learn how wise they can be, and how easy life is when you loosen your grip. I’m back in love with the story and the people telling it. And it’s a nice place to be.