Writing during a dumpster fire

A 2020 Christmas ornament

Writing requires concentration. The past year has not been easy for concentration. Pandemic and politics clamored in the background, if not in the same room, incessantly.

A lot of writers had trouble, and I was among them. Doomscrolling may be bad for you, but the quality and quantity of the doom was exceptional. Besides distractions, I was often a little depressed as well. The author John Scalzi reports that he found early January particularly hard. Yes, it was.

Still, I managed to plug along this past year and this past month at reasonable rates of production. There’s one reason: for me, writing is an escape.

I was living in Madrid, Spain, when on the morning of March 11, 2004, terrorist bombs on commuter trains killed 193 people and injured about 2000. Three of the bombs exploded at Atocha train station within blocks of my house. I heard them. Sirens began wailing before 8 a.m. and continued constantly until 5 p.m.

The only emotional peace I had that day was when I opened up a manuscript and began writing, and suddenly I was far away in the future on a distant planet, working on the novel that became Semiosis. For several hours, I was elsewhere, thankfully.

Writing has been my form of self-care on other occasions, too. Words on paper or a screen have been my comfort in a hospital emergency waiting room or when I should have been sleeping but the night was too dark.

For other people, it will be different, as it should be. Our world is enriched by the variety of our individual strengths and weaknesses. The pull that writing has on me may be a weakness, not a strength, but it is my refuge, and I’m glad to have it. Still, I prefer to write because I want to write, not because I want to flee.

Self-care can include rewarding and enjoyable work. It can also include eating well, living in a clean environment, having a hobby (mine is cooking), organizing and planning your days, journaling, walking and exercising, and even delegating tasks to others.

What do you do to take care of yourself?


My next novel, Immunity Index, goes on sale May 4.

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