Looking back on what life was like a year ago—I believe I recall seven (7) people sitting on one (1) couch at my house—I remember what it felt like to pump out papers before the pandemic.
Back then, I associated my computer with leisure instead of my main source of social interaction, education, and income. Writing felt different when I would spend long days in class and out with friends before coming home, sitting on my bed, and typing out a short story which had been percolating in my brain all day. Whether it was the regular social interaction or the unlimited public workspaces, something made writing feel—if not easier—more possible than now.
But now, after months of anxiety and unknowing have accumulated, writing has felt less and less possible. It’s a lack of the ability to begin. It’s a year’s worth of emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical fatigue. It’s, frankly, the pits. In this liminal space, as we wrestle with uncertainty and grief, how can we possibly write? How can we create in general? Below, I discuss why writing matters in this season and share some strategies for creative work.
Why Write…Right Now?
As we come out of 2020, artistic and academic pursuits might seem not only impossible but also trivial. Why does it matter if I write a poem or a research paper on The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds when the effort seems so futile? If I have neither the energy nor the motivation to write, why try?
Professor Helen Sword of the University of Auckland offers some guidance in the form of the acronym T.E.A.C.H.:
- Think – and prompt our readers to think.
- Engage with each other, with ourselves, and with the world
- Anchor ourselves in history
- Create new knowledge, new intellectual products, and new verbal artefacts
Following these suggestions doesn’t amount to us saying, “Well, that was easy!”, dusting off our notebooks, and beginning work on the next Ulysses, but it does provide some perspective on the work we do as writers. Our writing reaches outside of the self, creating community and connection with others. We challenge each other with new thoughts and ideas or continue a conversation that’s been going on for decades. What you put down on paper could give your reader solace, teach them something new, challenge their current perspective of the world, or help them process grief. When we write, we create gifts for each other—I wrote this post as a gift for you! In this season of grief, our gifts can be a life-line.
Even if your writing is just personal journal writing or jotting a few lines of poetry in your phone’s notes app, you’re making something that hasn’t existed before, and this creative action puts you in communion with our great Creator. All acts of making reflect the way we were made by a loving Author, the original Artist. That’s why creativity in this time of social distancing is so life-giving: in making, we reach out to connect with God, with ourselves, and with others.
Strategies for Writing During a Pandemic
1. Manage Your Time
When our routines consist of little more than movement from bed to desk to couch to bed, each day can feel like a monotonous blob of time instead of a series of distinct events. Try to set up a new schedule for yourself to not only regulate energy levels throughout the day, but also to avoid fatigue from feeling like you’re constantly on-task. Designating a specific block of time as your daily writing time will help you engage and disengage with your writing.You will know when to start and stop writing! Outside of that time, you can focus on other tasks guilt-free and decompress through leisurely activities.
2. Balance Work Writing vs. Free Writing
If you’re also looking for a good way to balance the time you spend writing for schoolwork and time you spend writing for fun, specify a different writing time for each. Keeping them separate can help you hold boundaries between your “fun” writing and your homework. If you keep your different types of writing distinct, you’ll feel more able to approach your fun writing projects without lingering homework stress.
3. Give Yourself Space to Think
Given our current amount of screentime, information overload can prevent us from holding space for creative thinking. Just as you set time aside to work on your different types of writing, plan time to not be actively writing, watching, or scrolling. Sit outside (or, if you’re in inclement weather like me, by a window) and watch birds for half an hour. Doodle in a notebook with a sibling or a roommate. Go on a run or do a yoga set, focusing on regulating your breathing. Taking this space away from information inputs will afford you the chance to flush out your system, reset, and recuperate. Then, when you go to do your writing, your brain and your soul will be refreshed.
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Right now, we are experiencing sustained disconnection, loss, and grief on an individual and communal level. On days when the words aren’t there, or you feel like you are running on empty, it is necessary to care for yourself. Some days, writing will not be the best thing for you to do. Take a step back and ask yourself: what can I do to support my wellbeing today? If it’s pushing through to get things down on paper, then go for it! But sometimes, you will need to close the laptop and walk away for a bit. Check in with yourself throughout the day, and remember: productivity is never more important than your wellbeing.