Creating in the Time of Corona

This is my fourth attempt at a post for this week’s blog entry. Let’s see if I actually get anywhere with this one. I had several topics I wanted to write about, but after getting a few sentences into each one, I ran out of steam.  Or more precisely, I hated the way the words were coming out of my brain and so I quit. As of late, this seems to be my mind’s standard operating procedure when I sit down to the keyboard to write: 

What is this strange mish-mash of letters on my screen? Why does this sentence sound so dumb? How do words work?

Smells like Writer’s Block

Call it what you want: Writer’s block. Burnout. Pandemic fatigue. Aside from a few blog posts here and there and my Luna Station Quarterly artist interviews, I haven’t written anything new since last spring. Neither have I made significant edits to Colossa and the Big Kids, my middle grade book, despite my insistence on making this month “NaNoEdMo.”

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small voice inside my head, whispering unhelpful sentiments such as “Why is this such a problem for you?” and “What if you never write again?” and “You know that a mouthful of canned whipped cream doesn’t count as breakfast, right?” I ignore that voice when I can and make excuses to it when I can’t.

My current predicament puts me in mind of a tweet some rando tweeter tweeted shortly after the pandemic lockdowns went into effect across much of the nation. It went something like this: “If you can’t finish your writing projects while on lockdown/quarantine, then ‘not having time to write’ was never your real problem.” Some twitterers agreed. Many did not.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer Tweet.

The (probably ratioed) tweeter had a point: with a virtual shutdown of public life, never had so many had so much “spare time” on their hands. Why not take advantage of it to accomplish all the things you’ve always wanted to do? And what’s so bad about this intended “kick in the pants” statement? 

The problem is that it presumes to speak to how others should handle their personal experiences with the coronavirus crisis, but we are not a monolith of resiliency. Not everyone copes in the same way with mandated isolation, financial uncertainty, or that subtle underlying sentiment of potential imminent doom that a global pandemic can create. We’d do well to remember that each person is a unique and complicated cocktail of neural chemicals, physical aptitudes, and personal experiences. Our abilities to “accomplish” during 2020 will be as varied as our questionable pandemic breakfast choices.

But I can speak for me, and that tweet wasn’t so much a kick in the pants as it was a personal shaming of sorts. I’m generally a hyper-resilient person, which stems not only from being a Virgo middle child, but a INTJ Gryffindor with Marine Corps training. I don’t go with the flow so much as I roll with the punches (we’ve been dealt a few this year), adapt and learn, and then punch back. We’ve also been fortunate enough to avoid the hardships many are experiencing during these COVID days, which helps immensely. Plus, I tend to relish alone time. It’s more time to create. To write. To build stories and perfect them.

So why, then, am I not?

Mental Fog: It can be hard to write when you can’t see the keys.

Maybe that underlying sentiment of potential imminent doom is bothering me more than I realize. Perhaps I’m having trouble stringing together decent sentences because a subconscious mental fog of despair and anxiety is clogging up my creative bandwidth. Or perhaps the problem isn’t the application but the perception. The sentences might actually be decent, but I’m reading them through woe-is the-world tinted glasses, and thus, nothing seems adequate.

Or maybe—just maybe—nothing’s really changed. I just think it has because *waves around frantically at the air around me* surely, it must.

The truth is that self-deprecation and the ensuing writing inertia is not that uncommon an occurrence for me. I struggled through large chunks of the first draft of Colossa because I couldn’t produce dialogue that sounded natural to me. I also had trouble with the beginning of my short story, “A Million Tiny Bites.” Everything I wrote seemed trite or forced until my spouse suggested a simple tableau, and the scene then clicked into place. So yes, I often hate my writing when I’m in the drafting phase of a story (most writers do) and can get discouraged by that fleeting sense of imposter syndrome. But I also don’t typically sink into a total shutdown of operations.

Who keeps adding sand to the hourglass?

What has changed between when I worked on those stories and my relative non-progress now is actually a tale of too much spare time. Having all the time in the world to work on projects—with no deadlines to meet or spare moments to budget—also means having all the time in the world to goof off and procrastinate because “I have time.” So it’s possible that too much time is as much an enemy of productivity as not enough time.

So what’s the solution? This blog post.

Not the content exactly, but the fact that it exists past the first few sentences, and what it took to get here. It took a self-imposed deadline (I really wanted to post something to my website this week), the stubbornness to meet it (I don’t like personal failure, even if I’m the only one who knows I’ve failed), and the willingness to just keep the words flowing, no matter what they sounded like. I think they sound okay. What do you think?

This is what worked for me this week. It may not work for me next week. It may not work for you at all. Remember—we are not a monolith, and that’s a glorious thing. When it comes to our personal destinations, we’ll all get there when we get there. For now, we just need to make sure we stay in the car.

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