KEEP UP THE GOOD WORDS

20 April 2020

In these challenging times for us all, writer and wellbeing expert Nicola Morgan considers how writers might go about protecting their incomes, their creativity and their mental health.

How do we keep getting the words down, and the money coming in? This is a vexed issue for writers at the best of times but here we are in a grave new world, experiencing a crisis which endangers not only our incomes but also our mental health. How do we rise to the challenges and maybe even grab new opportunities? Each writer’s situation is different but here are some dos and don’ts to consider.

Don’t panic!

If you haven’t already produced incredible viral videos, pitched 15 COVID-19 related articles to national media, or worked out a bold new plan, fear not. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And much remains the same: including the task of writing and trying to sell your best words.

Do keep writing and pitching

Book publishers want to hear from us, with pitches that are tight as ever. If we don’t produce books, they don’t have a business. I recently pitched a book and it gained instant interest because it will be very relevant when COVID-19 is over.

Inevitably there are delays and cancellations to overcome however; my proposed book on exam stress isn’t apt now exams aren’t taking place so it has been rescheduled. Plenty of us have had ideas cancelled or series stopped: always a horrible experience but, as ever, we need to pause for a deep breath, then pick ourselves up and move to the next idea. A friend had been commissioned to write a children’s novel which she felt was no longer appropriate, so she suggested she write a historical novel instead, and her publisher agreed.

Insight into readers’ future mindsets will pay dividends, because that’s what commissioning editors will be looking at, too. If part of our job is to reflect readers’ feelings and thoughts, what might they be once this is over: vulnerability, anxiety, connection, a sense of carpe diem, the desire to return to normal or to live differently? Whether it’s short-lead pieces or longer-lead items such as Christmas 2020 articles; astuteness and empathy will pay.

Take breaks: don’t wait till you think you deserve one.

Do get creative with your existing works

Many people want to read more now and have more opportunity to do just that. So you can usefully be promoting your books. Publishers should be onto this too, so ask yours what plans they have and how you can help. Giveaways and competitions often bring sales, profile and goodwill but do this strategically, coordinating with your publisher if possible.

Connect to online author groups for your genre, area or reader age group. You can help each other and share promotional ideas. Or at least have a writing buddy or two for bouncing ideas with.

Is this your chance to turn out-of-print books into ebooks? This can work well for some genres, particularly romance, crime, sci-fi and fantasy. If you haven’t done this before, there’s so much help online; but don’t pay a penny without advice from those who’ve done it successfully.

Make sure all your books are registered for PLR and all books and articles registered with ALCS. A little bit of time can generate a surprisingly meaningful income twice a year.

Do manage time effectively

Writers are used to doing this but there are differences to factor in now.

With school events, conferences and festivals being cancelled, many authors are losing income but gaining time. While regretting my income loss, I’m loving the longer stretches of time in my office instead of travelling for speaking events. You may now have more time for writing already commissioned, pitching new ideas, or that Big Project you’d never had space for before.

For those with less time; struggling with family at home, for example, remember that we often get more done in a tiny precious window than a time-rich person does in a day. Try to set aside, if you possibly can, small but sacrosanct periods and not let anyone (or social media) invade them.

In your daily schedule, include an hour when you focus on ideas for making the money come in. Doing this on a daily run or walk (or bath!) is a brilliant combination.

Good time management doesn’t mean structuring every hour; unattainable goals set you up for failure. Some people work better in the morning, others afternoon or evening. Know yourself and do what works for you.

Yes, give time as generously as you feel able but beware a situation in which everyone is so used to us writing, drawing and speaking for nothing that they never want to pay for it again.

Do take care of your mental health and mindset

Major stress typically blocks creativity: your brain bandwidth is occupied by other priorities. Take a step back, be patient; try to imagine ahead to a brighter time; slow your mind and let ideas come when they will – no forcing. But do prepare your brain for that time: day-dreaming, reading, walking and gardening can all give your mind space for ideas to grow.

If what you were working on now seems irrelevant or impossible, shelve it temporarily and move on to something else. Giving yourself permission not to work on something is the behaviour of a good boss. Be that good boss!

Take breaks: don’t wait till you think you deserve one. Keep social – online when you can’t do face-to-face. Chats often spark ideas, as well as being mentally soothing or absorbing. But choose only people who understand where your mind is and what your struggles are.

Keeping connected with other authors will give you access to other available resources. In normal times, our best ideas may spring from fertile ground inside our heads but in times of stress we need extra help with the germination process. Our ideas become like delicate seeds in a frost: dormant without the help of warmth and light.

Don’t overdo the free stuff

It’s heart-warming to see the generosity of so many authors giving time, talent and effort. The sense of community is a powerful force. Social media is incredibly useful, too, with the opportunity to throw endless free stuff out there, at no pecuniary cost.

Except, there are costs. Time and energy are costs that not everyone can afford. So is the potential undervaluing of the talent that is our lifeblood and the skills that we have built over a whole lifetime of dedication and practice.

Working for no fee is not the same as charitable giving. I don’t suggest qualifying or limiting charitable giving but when it comes to doing my normal professional work unpaid, these are my guidelines:

  • I must feel positive about it
  • It must not stop me doing work I need to do or caring for my family
  • The recipient must understand the usual necessary model for freelance income

A note about copyright: being the copyright holder does not necessarily mean you have the right to read your work aloud; if you have a publisher, you’ll need their permission. ALCS has recently provided some advice around this.

Yes, give time as generously as you feel able but beware a situation in which everyone is so used to us writing, drawing and speaking for nothing that they never want to pay for it again.

Readers want the wide range of wonderful writing they always wanted and you have one job: keep up the good words.

Do accentuate the positives

Despite the challenges of being self-employed, we have advantages. First, most creatives are used to working from home or alone. (Of course, some now have complications of partners, children or both sharing that workspace.) Second, we are used to cultivating self-discipline, even if only when the deadline hurtles towards us. Third, we regularly experience fluctuating incomes and times of lean pickings and are used to hunting for commissions and contracts, rather than arriving at a job and knowing we’ll be paid.

Finally

Publishers and editors are still there, looking for our creative talents and ideas: they’re trying to work out for themselves how to keep the money coming in. Readers want the wide range of wonderful writing they always wanted and you have one job: keep up the good words.


Nicola Morgan is the award-winning author of many books of fiction and non-fiction, especially focusing on teenage brains and lives, mental health, how brains learn and the science of reading. nicolamorgan.com