Learning to Pivot During Times of Crisis

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I’m stepping aside from my usual posts about the business of writing to explore a different topic – learning to pivot.

“Pivot” has suddenly become one of the common terms associated with the pandemic crisis that we’ve been dealing with these past few months. What does it mean to pivot? In today’s terms, it means repurposing skills and resources to address an immediate need. It’s the ability to switch gears, to shift from one focus to another.

It’s much like watching the weather change before our eyes, then taking steps to protect ourselves from the wind, the rain and lightning.

In the time of coronavirus, people are pivoting between careers, relationships and life goals. One day they may be serving meals to customers at their diner. The next they are packaging meals to deliver to healthcare workers working on the front lines.

Or one day, they may be operating a T-shirt company or work as a seamstress. The next, they may be making masks to meet public demand for face coverings.

Parents have had to pivot too, by becoming at-home school teachers for their kids.

Writers and creatives are not immune. They’ve had to make some rapid adjustments as well. A survey by Freelancers Union in early April found that 76% of freelancers lost business because their clients cancelled contracts or projects. Their clients were small businesses or travel/hospitality companies that were hit particularly hard during this time and couldn’t afford to keep them on. Further 65% reported that they could not find new clients as a result of the pandemic.

With those results, it’s easy to see how some writers need to pivot as much as restaurant workers and travel agents. At least, writers may have more options than those other workers.

So how can you pivot in your writing career during this difficult time? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

— Ask yourself, “How can I help?” Look around at what is happening in your community. Is there someone who needs assistance? They may not need your writing and editing skills, but maybe they are isolating and need groceries or prescriptions. Doing something constructive can give you some peace of mind, even when you’re not writing.

— Brainstorm ways that you can repurpose your creative skills, or develop new ones. If writing assignments have dried up, look at other ways you can engage. Perhaps start a blog if you don’t already have one, teach a writing workshop to friends and colleagues on Zoom. Or read stories to your kid’s kindergarten class via Zoom. By repurposing your creative skills, you may discover a new talent you didn’t realize you had.

— Look at different industries. Believe it or not, there are some writers who are as busy as ever. Why? They write for companies in industries that are near-recession proof, writes Courtney Danyel at Freelance Writing Gigs. (Check out these tips for finding recession-proof writing gigs.) These industries include ecommerce, healthcare, technology, education government, legal, accounting and energy, among others. Look for companies that are established too. While small businesses and startups can make great clients, they may not be able to afford your services and they may not exist beyond a crisis, like a pandemic, says Danyel.

— Find a way to innovate. There’s an old saying you might have heard of: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When we are faced with challenges we’ve never encountered before, we learn to innovate to solve those challenges. We develop new systems for operating, invent new products, or experiment with different teaching methods to keep our kids interested in learning. We learn to pivot because a crisis calls us to do so. Look around you now. What can you do that will better serve your family, your neighbors or the community at large?

— Explore new career options. Pivoting can put you on a different career path, one you may not have ever considered. This time might be opportune to take an online course in a subject that interests you. Check out Coursera or Udemy where you can learn about grant writing, entrepreneurship, leadership, content marketing, and contact tracing — the decades old practice of contacting individuals to curtail the transmission of disease.

We are all learning to adapt to the new realities of COVID-19. Some of us are adapting more easily than others. It all depends on how quickly we can pivot

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