By now, most of us have gone into social-distancing or quarantine mode due to the COVID-19 health crisis. Many creatives have seen the order to stay home as a blessing in disguise. It was seen as a time to take up new hobbies and get to that writing that we never seem to have time for. One of my friends compared it to an unexpected writing sabbatical. On Twitter, I saw a number of people talking about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the Plague, and that they had aspirations to do the same. When I was working my last shift before the library closed, a colleague asked me what I was going to do with my time off, and I confidently replied, “Finish my book.”
Three weeks into social-distancing, and I’ve come to realize that there’s a toxic edge to this way of thinking. We are putting an immense amount of pressure on ourselves to produce creative work, so much so that it’s actually harming our creativity. The punch in the creative gut is happening right now for a lot of people. People are starting to realize that they aren’t accomplishing what they set out to accomplish at the beginning of this crisis. Maybe you aren’t writing everyday. Maybe you’ve fallen behind your word count goals. Maybe you haven’t even started what was going to be the next great Canadian novel. You’re probably feeling guilty about “wasting” all this time that you’ve been given. I know I’ve had some feelings of guilt over the last few weeks, especially on those days when I’ve slept into ridiculous-o-clock.
If I’ve learned anything about the psychology of writing, it’s that guilt gets you nowhere. When I feel guilty about not writing, it doesn’t propel me to write. Instead, it sends me into a downwards spiral. Why bother writing a hundred words today when I know that I’ll never reach my goal of 7,000 words for this week? Why bother doing anything when I already know that I’m not going to meet my goal?
We need to combat this collective guilt that we’re feeling, so that we can get back to the joy of creating.
First, we need to accept that we’re not on vacation, so we don’t need to have that care-free mindset of our vacation selves. I don’t know about you, but when I’m on vacation the word seems like a brighter place. In this period of isolation the world does not seem like a brighter place. There are external factors that are affecting our mental health and in turn are affecting our creativity. At the beginning of isolation, when I first sat down to write, I realized that it was more difficult to focus. I thought that I was just being lazy, but then I realized that there were external factors that were affecting me subconsciously. I know others are dealing with a great deal more than I am, but I’ve been laid off from my job and there’s a real fear for some of my more vulnerable family members. These concerns don’t consume me, which is why I discounted their effect at the beginning, but they are present. Be kind to yourself and make allowances for yourself. Don’t expect yourself to function at 100%.
All that being said, I don’t think you should give up on your creative pursuits completely. It’s all about adjusting expectations. It’s going to be different for everybody, but I want to share what’s been working for me. My goal is to simply “write something” Monday-Friday, and then I take the weekends off. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a few sentences. I just want to get some revisions done. I’ve missed some days, but that’s been okay. I’ve let that be okay. And you know what? I’m actually getting stuff accomplished, and it feels really good. Is it as quick as I might like? Probably not, but I think consistency is more important than speed right now. All those little bits do add up if you keep at it.
Friends, I hope you are doing well. If you’re feeling particularly isolated and would like to chat, feel free to send me an email through the contact page of this website, and I’ll write back. I know that the world is a scary place right now, but making art can be such a source of comfort. I hope that your creative pursuit can be that for you in the coming days. Don’t let guilt get the better of you.