A day in the life of a writer amid COVID-19

How do writers seize the day in a pandemic -- or do they?

Welcome to the Fancy Comma, LLC Newsletter! Our goal is to feature tips, tricks, advice, and other things that can help freelance writers succeed.

In this newsletter, we’re talking about how exactly freelance writers spend their days amidst a pandemic. Burnout is very real right now — so what does it take to succeed? I talked to many freelance writers, who all had different day-to-day schedules. The recipe for success, I learned, is consistency, yet flexibility.

Perhaps staying consistent in one’s writing schedule is easier said than done in a pandemic that makes life more logistically complex by the day. But the freelance writers I spoke to made it work by staying adaptable.

Keep reading to learn more about a day in a writer’s life in the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Day in A Writer’s Life in COVID-19

This month’s newsletter was inspired by @pamelacolloff, who tweeted:

Here are a few of the replies:

After reading this series of tweets, I became curious about other writers’ day-to-day habits as well. I started by introspecting — asking myself what a day in my writing life looks like for my science writing business, Fancy Comma, LLC (@FancyComma):

“I am a creature of habit and thrive on consistency and routines. I wake up around 9 am, eat breakfast, exercise, and sit down at my laptop to write around 11. My favorite time to write is in the quiet hours of the morning, just after I’ve made a cup of coffee. My writing days are currently highly structured by design. I keep track of deadlines and work hours in my calendar. I set aside anywhere from two to six hours each day for work, depending on what is happening in my life. As the pandemic drags on, I’m learning to make more time for self-care to help me run the marathon that is COVID-19.”

I also reached out to a few of my freelance writer friends. Here’s what they said about their day-to-day life in COVID-19.

Suzza (@Susan_Silver) of Beauty of Mathematics tells me:

“I'm fortunate that for my job that evenings are the best time to work. This leaves my mornings free to write. I wake up and have my first diet coke for the day and procrastinate for an hour or two. If I have real trouble getting started, I might go over to 750words.com for a warm up. I usually use this to jot down and organize my ideas.”

Brianna Barbu (@Bri_Barbu) has set firm boundaries not to work after dinner, and relies on social networking to stay connected with others amidst the COVID-19 pandemic:

“The amount of structure in my days depends on what I’m working on, but this is how my days have looked lately.

I’ve gotten into the bad habit of not getting out of bed until about 8:30am. After breakfast and checking social media (in lieu of a social life since the pandemic started — I’m slightly addicted to Twitter), I read some news and my emails and take care of small tasks like getting ready for upcoming interviews or phone calls. I usually consume too much coffee too fast for deep focus in the morning, so I don’t get much writing done (unless I have a deadline), but it’s a good time for reading and planning, maybe outlining some ideas.

I’ll eat lunch and go for a walk, or vice versa, check my emails again, then settle in to work for the afternoon. If I have a lot to do, I’ll block Twitter on all of my devices so I’m not tempted. Sometime midafternoon I’ll have tea and a snack (did I mention my desk is in the kitchen?). Between 5 and 6 pm is for miscellaneous wrap-up tasks and then I eat dinner. I haven’t been doing any work after dinner, except every other week I’ll pop in on a virtual coworking group that meets on Pacific time, but that’s mainly a social event. That might change in 2021, because I’m planning to take on more projects, but for now my work-life boundaries are pretty firm in the evening.”

Monica Romano (@WriteGirl67) has been making space for distractions from writing in the COVID-19 pandemic:

“My writing day typically starts around 8 or 9 am scrolling the job boards and newsletters, returning emails, followed by some “warm-up” writing. This could be outlining a new draft, organizing interview questions, following up on pitches or final edits on a draft that’s been “marinating.” Then I focus on one project for the rest of the day. After lunch — and I’m working hard at taking real lunch breaks now instead of cheese and crackers at my desk — I check email, social media and the news. 

I keep writing until around 3 pm and then switch over to phone calls, appointments, dinner prep and family time. I usually avoid writing at night and am trying to take more weekends off but usually spend them working on pitches and planning the next week of writing. 

Freelancing during the pandemic has been interesting — accepting and allowing some distractions to become part of my 2020 writing process seems to be working for me.”

Andrew Meissen (@AndrewMeissen) has been working on his day-to-day schedule for a while, and it shows:

“As a freelance writer, I report science news stories, short and long. I start my days with 2 hours of reading and writing (any subject, whatever nourishes me). Afterward, I exercise and meditate for an hour and then pitch, interview sources, draft news stories, and read up on assignment-related literature for about 8 hours. Come dinner-time, I give myself about 3 hours of unstructured time, and then I end my day just as I started it: 2 hours of reading and writing, whatever nourishes me. That's my 16 hour flow: I sail the whirls of dreams for 8!”

Not everyone I talked to was as regimented with their day-to-day schedule. Nidhi Parekh (@TheSharedScope) has a less structured approach to writing:

“My day of writing is generally unstructured. Every night I make a list of things that I need to do. From that list I pick three tasks that are of the highest priority, and work on those tasks. If they’re not a priority, they’re not worth stressing about!

My list mentally prepares me for what needs to be done and when. That being said, I don’t structure my day to my writing - I use my Pavlovian writing cues to get myself writing. My cues? Well, tying my hair up, listening to some Ed Sheeran, and drinking anything that isn’t water. My years of studying for exams with these three cues have trained my brain for just that - work, when it needs to be done.

I don’t make strict schedules because if I don’t stick to them to the T (which happens often), I end up feeling stressed. My method gives me fluidity while adding the right amount of structure.”

Freelance writing, despite its advantages, can feel very isolating at times. When I was starting out as a freelancer, working in my solitary writing nook daily, I felt like I was the only writer in the world. That made dealing with the challenges of freelancing seem even more difficult.

Now that I’ve connected with various freelancers, I know that I’m not alone. We’re all in our writing nooks, doing what we love best — writing.

How do you structure your writing days? Inquiring minds want to know! Feel free to email me or leave a comment — I may feature you in the next newsletter (and link to your website)!

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Links from around The Web

Here’s what I’ve been reading, writing, and watching lately:

  1. Nidhi Parekh of The Shared Microscope and we at Fancy Comma, LLC have been hard at work developing our COVID-19 resource page, including this continually-updated site on how the different COVID-19 vaccines work.

  2. One of my favorite newsletters is the Science Writing Roundup, which is a great read for science writers — and published weekly. Check it out!

  3. Abra Belke’s daily Break Things newsletter is another one of my favorites. As the self-proclaimed “chillest place on the internet,” it is geared toward thirty-something females “who are focused on building fulfilling, authentic lives.”

  4. I recently watched this documentary on bird decision-making on NOVA and was impressed by the complexity of their so-called “bird brains.” The documentary reminded me about research shows that pigeons’ decision-making can resemble that of humans. The natural world is a lot smarter than we give it credit for.

  5. Linda Nhon writes about getting kicked out of her PhD lab for The Xylom— an honest reminder that sometimes, rejection is inevitable — but it’s the best thing that can happen to you.

Quote of the Month:

"I've always disliked words like inspiration. Writing is probably like a scientist thinking about some scientific problem, or an engineer about an engineering problem." - Doris Lessing

Thanks for reading the first issue of the Fancy Comma, LLC newsletter! Feel free to leave a comment and suggest future newsletter topics, tell us what you’ve been reading, or let us know what you’ve been thinking about lately:

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Find us on the web at www.fancycomma.com or on Twitter @FancyComma.