31 March 2020
The way we, as writers, respond to the COVID-19 crisis can make a real difference – to ourselves and our writing community
These are strange times we’re living in.
No-one knows yet what our lives are going to be like on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, or what the new normal will be. The landscape shifts and changes every day. We’re living through a significant point of historical change. When it’s over – and it will be over – we’ll need to take stock. If we write down our lived experience, day by day, not only are we making sense of it for ourselves, but we’re also creating a record, for the future, of what it was like to live through an unprecedented time in our history.
Nothing that happens these days is too small to be recorded: the old friend who calls out of the blue to see how you are; the kind neighbour who uses their daily exercise to drop a bag of rhubarb from their garden on your doorstep; the fact that you can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few moments; your peculiar fear that you won’t be able to get Marmite. It’s not worth trying to make sense of the overall picture at the moment but what we can do is record the details while they’re fresh in our mind to create a unique record of what life was like when everyone’s lives changed beyond belief in the course of a few short days. By writing that now, you’re creating a record for posterity, and in years to come, when people ask ‘what was it like, living through a pandemic?’, you will have an account of real, lived experience to contribute to that knowledge.
What is helping everyone to cope with isolation?
The work produced by creative artists. Writers, poets, dancers, players, musicians, artists. Their work – often, at the moment, generously offered online, for free – is helping millions of people worldwide to cope with lockdown. The moments of diversion that a book, or poem, or story, or play or film script can offer aren’t just precious, they’re priceless – providing diversion, entertainment, escape.
As many people now living in isolation are discovering, books and reading offer one of the most fulfilling ways of making time pass. Books make the everyday world fall away as their readers sink into the worlds their writers have created. That’s why it’s more than ever important, if you can, to keep on writing. Readers need books and when the crisis is over, and we find out what the new shape of things will be, books and words will still be vital.
Writing is how we, as writers, make sense of the world.
It’s what we do. Sometimes when we come to a page we don’t know what we’re going to write or where the words will come from, but when they do, we feel in some way that we have connected with our essential self – we feel more who we truly are when we’ve written something than we did when we were staring at the blank page. But, and this is important too, staring is very much a part of the writing process. And perhaps now you might be doing more staring, and less writing, than you think you ought to be, because none of this makes sense and your brain is in crisis mode, either frantically trying to cope or going blank – and that’s fine too.
There aren’t any rules about how productive you are, and anyway in this time of radical change, all the normal rules are suspended. Creative people need time to process change and let it sink in. That’s part of the creative process. Trust it, and understand that when they come, your words will be all the finer for having been given chance to take root. Perhaps your writing has a new immediacy; perhaps it’s more reflective. Use your writing to make sense of things, in your own time, at your own pace.
Some of us cope better with strange times when we’ve got a project to be getting on with.
Chipping away, a bit at a time, at a work in progress, and dedicating the time to it that it deserves is a way of turning isolation into productive time rather than time that has to be whiled away. When the crisis is over, writers who have used this time to crack on with a project that’s important to them will be able to look back and be proud that they’ve used it to reach a milestone in their creative lives: perhaps completing a first draft, or compiling a collection, or tackling a tough edit.
Maybe some of us will have started something new, too, in response to the crisis and the changing times. It will be interesting to see the new directions that the writing world will be taking in the aftermath of the crisis and what people have found they’re writing about.
Because writing is how we find our community.
We’re all in this together, and it’s important, as we’re socially distanced from each other, that we’re creatively, and emotionally connected. Taking part in writing-related activities – online workshops and festivals, entering competitions, buying books, taking part in writing challenges – allows you to connect with your writer self and make links with other writers.
At a time when everything feels overwhelming and everyone’s struggling to make sense of the crisis and the changes in their own lives, knowing that you belong somewhere and are a part of a community are more important than ever. It’s about mutual aid too – if we support our writing community, it will be there to support us.
Writing may be a solitary activity (even more solitary than usual as we write in lockdown) but that doesn’t mean any of us are alone. Creative collaboration is a lifeline. We’re all in this together, and with each other’s support, we’ll be able to write it out.
Read more about how to survive writing in isolation here.
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