Life Hacks: 2020 (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging about things that are actually going okay in 2020: tricks we’ve found that work to destress, to help us focus, write, maybe even find a little joy behind our face masks.

Life hacks to get us through 2020.

(How I'm actually hacking 2020)

Confession: I haven’t yet found ANYTHING to help me write novels.

But writing SONGS? Yes! I’ve written 19 songs so far in 2020 and am currently working on my 20th. I joined a Facebook songwriting group that offers two challenges per year: you write a song weekly or biweekly (depending on the challenge) based on a word or picture prompt, video yourself playing it (UGH!), and post it on the Facebook page. It forced me to keep going with songwriting.

I also just started a four-week Zoom songwriting class. It breaks songwriting into chord progressions, song titles, melodies, lyrics, etc., including sprints of automatic writing for lyrics. I realized the other day that I should build this into my life, regardless of FB challenges or Zoom songwriting classes: at least once a week, sit down and scribble song titles and snippets of lyrics, and play around with chord progressions and melodies for possible songs.

It occurs to me as I write this that I can do the same sort of stuff with novels, but that thought doesn’t prevent me from choking on the fact that writing (and revising) novels has stymied me since March.

BUT November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is one long writing-sprint challenge, and God knows I’m a sucker for challenges! So I’ve signed up to try to write at least 50,000 words on a novel. Maybe I’ll be able to say in December that I finally (FINALLY!) found a life hack for writing novels, and it was NaNoWriMo.

Please God.

As to other life hacks for 2020? I’ve found two main ones, but the first will be revolting to any number of friends. (heh heh.) I found an AMAZING trainer, and a gym where I feel safe despite COVID, and it has seriously changed my life. Or, more accurately, it has started to give me back the life I used to have. I won’t say more, because my nonathletic friends are already throwing up in their mouth as they read this, and I try to be compassionate.


The other life hack is something I do in a weekly goal-setting group I’m in. Each week, we say how we did on our goals for the previous week (ha ha!) and list goals for the coming week. My final goal each week: “Do something joyful.”

It’s active: DO something joyful. Seek it out. It might be riding my scooter (instant joy), or going to Five Guys on a tough day, or catching live music (difficult but not impossible in a pandemic), or spending time with close friends (also difficult but not impossible). Most weeks, I wind up finding three or four truly joyful things I did. One week this past year, I found exactly zero joy. But every other week, this weekly goal has been a game-changer for me.


2020 has been a nightmarishly hard year, and the end of the pandemic is not even remotely in sight. But I’m going to try NaNoWriMo, keep writing songs, keep knocking myself out at the gym, and keep ACTIVELY seeking joy.

Do your best to get through this. What the heck: I will, too.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at


  1. BIG YES to doing something joyful. An 19 songs! Seriously impressive.


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