How to Write During a Pandemic

May 6, 2020

Writing is difficult, especially when you work from home, as many of us do here at Amendola. As I write this, for example, the COVID-19 virus pandemic is sweeping across the U.S., with New York City and Louisiana emerging as hot spots. I point that out for two reasons:

  1. To show that we at Amendola compose these blogs weeks in advance (and you should do the same for your site’s blog)
  2. To illustrate how difficult it is to write when there are many distractions

Not only is the local and national news about the pandemic a constant source of distraction, but I am also now home with my wife, who has a full-time career, and our 2-year-old and 5-year-old sons. It’s not an ideal environment for writing, but that’s the thing about writing: There never seems to be a good time.

Give Yourself A Deadline

At Amendola, most of us write a lot of content and all of it comes with a deadline. The concrete date itself can be a huge motivator, but even if you are not given a deadline by a manager or colleague, create one for yourself and let others know about it, such as the colleague who is going to review it before it’s shared with the rest of the team or your boss. Once you’ve set a realistic date for completion and shared it with others, it motivates us to put distractions aside and get started because we feel accountable to the other person and ourselves to finish the content.

Ignore the Monkey

Apart from my kids who demand quite a bit of attention the distraction I feel is entirely self-inflicted. Writer Tim Urban, in one of the most entertaining blog posts ever about procrastination, blames this type of behavior on the “Instant Gratification Monkey” who takes control of our brain from the “Rational Decision-Maker” who we rely on to get our work done. The monkey, however, causes us to repetitively check the news, watch videos, scroll social media sites, or even clean the refrigerator instead of completing our cognitively challenging work.

The Instant Gratification Monkey is only interested in “maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment,” Urban writes, so we need to resist that urge. That starts with putting away all distractions as much as possible (I’ve put a website blocker on my laptop and sequestered my phone in the kitchen) and creating a plan for your content.

Get the Plan on the Page

A good way to fight distraction while still not actually writing is research. Whether it is a blog post, white paper or thought-leadership article, you should have adequate source material available beforehand, but don’t let it stop you from putting words down on the page. There is a tipping point and it varies depending on the length of content, the audience, publication, etc. between inadequate research and too much.

A good way to figure out if you’ve reached that tipping point is to start listing the points you want to convey, or the most interesting facts from the research so far. That should give you a good idea if there are gaps that need to be filled with more research.

Simply getting started in this way can in itself be the most important part of the writing process because, as James Clear, author of the bestselling self-help book Atomic Habits, writes in his blog: “the willingness to start is the littlest thing in life that makes the biggest difference.”

Editing is the Work

Some non-writers may be surprised once they start writing how smoothly their content is flowing from their fingers. After this revelation is usually when they realize that the composing part of writing isn’t the hard part of the process, but rather it is the editing. It’s the reading, re-reading, moving words around and cutting that’s the most tedious part of writing and the part that elicits almost as much procrastination as getting started. Fortunately, when you have arrived at the editing point it’s likely closer to the finish line. As both Urban and Clear point out, that momentum helps move you faster toward completion, even if you are not 100% satisfied with your final draft.

It’s Never Going to be Perfect

Hopefully, you will have someone reviewing and editing what you wrote to make it better. Everyone needs an editor, especially if you’ve been drafting a piece of content for a while without working on anything else. When the content is still very fresh in your mind, it can be difficult to assess its quality because you have edited it so many times and can remember the changes. If your deadline won’t permit a day or a week between your most recent draft and another look, turn the content in anyway. Another round of revisions before outside feedback won’t significantly improve its quality. As internal medicine physician Alex Lickerman M.D. puts it: “Recognizing that inflection point the point at which our continuing to rework our work reaches a law of diminishing returns is one of the hardest skills to learn, but also one of the most necessary.”

Experienced writers have a keen sense of that inflection point. For professionals who write less often, I would urge you to always edit and revise those first couple drafts, but then trust your gut when you feel a piece of content is done. A good editor or at least a proofreader will be able to truly review the content with fresh eyes and make changes or offer recommendations.

During this time of powerful stress-induced distractions, we can still get writing and work done. We just have to turn on “Paw Patrol,” ignore the Instant Gratification Monkey, do the research and start writing. The progress you make, even if you don’t finish the content, will reduce your stress and remove the self-inflicted
obstacles to completion.

Morgan Lewis

Morgan Lewis is an award-winning business and healthcare writer that brings 20 years of journalism and PR writing experience, focused almost exclusively on business and healthcare. Most recently, Lewis was a writer at MERGE Atlanta (formerly Dodge Communications), where he wrote thought leadership articles, white papers, case studies, blog posts, website copy and other pieces of PR and marketing content for dozens of healthcare and healthcare IT clients over four years. Prior to that, he was an independent writer and editor focused on healthcare and health IT, creating content for clients that appear in national publications and websites. Lewis started his writing career at a daily newspaper and then business publications in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio area, where he won eight feature writing awards from Cleveland regional and state journalism organizations. Lewis then joined Medical Economics magazine, the leading business resource for primary care physicians, where he won three writing awards from the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (ASHPE), including two Gold Awards. He earned a bachelor's degree in English-Journalism from Miami University of Ohio.