Friday, 20 March 2009

Recession Expression - A Guide to Writing Through the Fear

We’re in it Together

We’re all in the same boat: it’s sinking, but we’re all in it. This is the time to give thanks to your chosen deity that you are not a banker. You were born creative and with creativity comes inventiveness and resilience.

Your laptop is your life raft. As a writer, your job is not to stand on the sinking ship complaining that the brochure said it was ‘unsinkable.’ As a writer, your job is to chart the progress of the journey. The vessel may not be heading towards its intended shoreline – it may, in fact, be going down – but it is still on an historic journey and your fingers are the ones that can tap that journey out.

Why Write in a Recession?

Why not? This is a decisive moment in history and anything you write now will be valuable. Does that mean it will make you a millionaire? Probably not but it will certainly make you more wealthy. In a recession lots of bad things happen. People lose their jobs; creditors call in debts; houses are repossessed… none of this is good news. These external factors can affect you badly and make you feel trapped and fearful but none of them should stop you writing.

The things that trap us and make us feel truly hopeless are what William Blake called “mind forg’d manacles” and these, not the external factors, will have an effect on your ability to write. If you decide to write no matter what is thrown at you then, while other people are able merely to complain about what they have lost, you will be able to create new things: books; articles; blogs... Creation in the midst of destruction: that is true wealth.

Releasing the Mind Forg’d Manacles

Well, now we’re all fired up to write, and feeling great about our creativity and place in the scheme of things, it might be time to throw in a few practical tips.The theory’s sound but if the manacles are clamping down or the raft has sprung a leak what then?
Forget everything. Forget the money you hope to make from your writing; forget the collapse of the global economy; forget the endless to-do lists. Simply find a space to write and commit to doing so.

Understand that the space doesn’t have to be a location, it can be a time. Give yourself a set period of time when you will not allow yourself to be disturbed. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a room on your own or a busy coffee shop. You have to decide that this moment is your writing space and it will not be disturbed. Once you’ve done that, write. Don’t edit it or criticise it. Let it flow. Let yourself write unutterable garbage. The point is to keep the pen moving or the fingers tapping. You can edit it later.

Know that you are doing something important. I have read many letters from writers saying that they lack support. They frequently express a lack of confidence in their work because their friends or family members mock them for thinking they can be a writer. Tune it out. You know you are a writer. That is enough. If you act as though your work is important, your mind will pick up on it and make the time and space for you to write.

And Finally…

Even with the best intentions, it can be hard to focus on writing when you haven’t enough money for food or heating. You need to know that this is no excuse. It is perfectly possible to be living in subsistence level poverty, scraping by on benefits and still be creative. I have had two brushes with hypothermia over this winter and we can’t afford to go food shopping more often than once every two weeks, so I’m not writing from an ivory tower myself, but I’m in a far better position than many writers and I’m sure the same is true of most of us. Anne Frank was creative. What do we have to complain about? That said, here are a few tips to make the process easier.

Writing on a Budget – Tips

Keep your food costs down by buying in bulk. If you buy unbranded sacks of rice and pasta and store them in airtight containers, you’ll save a fortune. They keep for ages so, if you find yourself with some spare pennies one week, stock up. Also, stock up on vitamin pills for the weeks when a food group or two goes astray.

If you’re an omnivore, buy chicken but don’t buy chicken breasts. When you buy chicken breasts, you’re paying processing and packing costs you don’t pay when buying a whole chicken. You can get 16 meals out of a chicken (see my blog for more info on this obsession of mine!) Let none of it go to waste. Make stock from scratch and you’ll have soups, stews, pasta sauces etc for the week.

I don’t choose to be a vegetarian, but I strongly believe in being an ethical omnivore. I don’t buy ‘battery’ chickens or eggs however poor we get. If I can’t afford free range, I don’t buy the chicken. If you scrape together the money to buy a free range chicken and you can get 16 meals out of it (or 20 as my husband managed the other week – don’t think I’ll beat that) then the food is way cheaper than the price of some breast meat from a battery-farmed animal.

Make friends with your freezer. If you’re on a real budget, freeze everything you can. If you make meals from the chicken as soon as you get it home and freeze them, you can live on the food from the fridge in week 1 and the food from the freezer in week 2.

Now you’re equipped to thrive through the recession as a writer. If you have a shaky moment when The Fear grabs you, ask yourself one question:

‘If Shakespeare were alive today, would he complain because his television had been repossessed or his games console had been sold or his electricity had been switched off?’ Would he? Or would he pick up his pages, sit at his table, light up a candle and write?

To follow my writing journey and for more tips on writing through the recession, go to my blog:

©Rebecca Woodhead

This piece was first published in The New Author


  1. Nice piece, Rebecca...

    Was just at BloggerTalk, found you there, & ended up here. I commend you on having finished 2 novels, that's impressive to me...I reached Ch.3 on mine, but so much research was necessary that I reached a saturation point, I think; it's been on a back burner for awhile. I blog instead, right now.

    I especially related to the comment about not thinking about how much money might be made from what we write. I find it of paramount importance to just look into my heart at what I believe is important to say. To be faithful in saying it as well & as accurately as possible.

    And subsistence lievel poverty is par for the course, for me! I often think because my income forces a 'less frills' lifestyle, my mind is more clear, therefore more free to create.

  2. It's hard to be creative with pound/dollar signs at the front of your brain isn't it? You're right, we're blessed to be poor!

    The other great thing about being poor is that you work out very quickly who your real friends are. Undergoing a rapid decent into poverty is a wonderful research tactic - the true personalities of people fair 'ping' into view!

    I'm very lucky actually as I've been rich before so I know when I have money in my wallet again it won't change me at all, as my views now aren't far from the views I had when I was loaded - they're just informed by experience.

    Looking back, I can't recall being wealthy actually making me happy - made life a lot easier though! I think many people dream of being rich - seeing it as an end goal. Personally, I'd rather be poor and fulfilled than rich and empty. It's much more important to me that I write as well as I can and my books affect people in a good way. That's what I think of when I imagine a life as a published novelist. Money will be a useful side effect and gratefully received but it's not the first consideration. Thanks for your comment. Best of luck with your book. You might find the post 'Writers Write' on my other blog helpful. The link's in the side bar.


  3. Well said Rebecca.
    I just stumbled across your site. I really enjoy.

  4. What an undeserved pleasure for my impious eyes!

    "Like pushing the top of an old milk bottle."

    Once upon a time in deep Lancashire, a first cup of coffee, dressed with the creamy bit from the top of the bottle, was almost a religious experience.

    Of course, that was in another reincarnation.

    I loved your blog.

    Take care,


  5. Fantastic post! I just need one on how to ignore the shame of facing your wealthy friends who are younger than you and your immediate and extended Asian family who sees you as a disgrace if you don't turn away from the arts and do something "real" and makes you feel unloved. Whew!

  6. 52 Faces. Thanks for the enthusiastic feedback. Glad you liked it.

    I can't give you any culture-specific advice on that one but I can say 'it happens to us all!' The one great truth uniting all nations appears to be the tendency of all of our parents to tell us to stop 'wasting our time' on writing and get a 'real' job.



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