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As travel writers, despite the glories of the job, we often spend many hours actually working from home writing up our adventures. So while coronavirus may have caused huge disruption to the working lives of many, for us at the moment it just means more hours at home and less on the road.

Mark Andrews
Mark Andrews

However, coronavirus has taught me a lesson not only about the writing process but also my whole work-life balance and it was all thanks to a broken computer, or perhaps that should be two broken computers. Being based in Shanghai, China, I got to experience the societal effects of coronavirus ahead of the curve. Around mid-January my main laptop broke down and I got it repaired.

Unfortunately, within two weeks it broke down again and by then China was entering the lockdown stage with most non-essential shops closed. For six weeks, I ended up having to use my Microsoft Surface Pro 4, which suffers from the screen flickering issues for which the machines are infamous. Due to the Surface overheating, usually I could only work in stretches of around 30 to 45 minutes before the screen would start flickering too violently for me to focus.

With a number of articles to complete and deadlines to meet, work still needed to go on. I have always favored having a clear day when I write so that I don’t have distractions and can work until I finish the article. With the lockdown I was forced to work in blocks of around 30 minutes or so until I could no longer see the screen.

While I was wasting a fair amount of time starting up and shutting down the computer I realized that I could actually achieve far more than I anticipated in these short bursts of work. However, in order to do so I needed to really compartmentalize my work. One burst dealing with work emails rather than checking multiple times a day, for example. Then when it came to the actual writing process, firstly there was collating all the quotes I needed into one Word document so that I could work off that.

Particularly for beginning writers, creating an outline of an article before writing it is an important step. To maximize my efficiency this was crucial, as I then could concentrate on a section or a couple of paragraphs in each burst. The screen flickering actually acted as an impetus to try to write quickly.

What I discovered was that I could still write articles to satisfy editors even though they were not created in one sitting. For many beginners it can be difficult when juggling perhaps work or grandkids to find a large chunk of time to write. However, most people can find the odd half-hour here and there. Add those together over a few days and it is enough to write a decent article.

There was, however, an added and completely unexpected bonus. While admittedly I could have done more work had my main computer been operating, I was actually happier. Having to leave the Surface to cool down for 20 minutes or so forced me to go do other things and not sit at my desk all day. Suddenly I was reading books again, exercising more, and spending more time studying Chinese.

Although by mid-March I had my laptop repaired, I believe some of the lessons have rubbed off and I now have far more respect for what I can achieve with the odd half-hour.