What I (don’t) know about creativity in the time of COVID-19

I have no advice for managing your creativity during a catastrophe. To tell you the truth, I’ve lost count of how many times I sat down to write this essay only to sit and stare at a blinking cursor. What was the appropriate tone to strike? Was it tasteless to self-promote during a time of such personal and political upheaval? My complete inability to find the right words is precisely what made writing this piece so important to me. Human beings are not meant to live in a constant state of chaos. Certainly, we are not built to thrive, let alone be creative, under such pressure.   

Six years ago, when I first started to accept the fact that I wanted to write books more than I wanted to do anything else, I scoured the internet for how-tos. I read any advice column I could get my hands on, desperate for tips that would make it easier to juggle my writing and my 9 to 5. But there is no trick or shortcut apart from already having the financial freedom to dedicate yourself to your creative passion before you even begin. If that’s not your situation, welcome, we are kin. Drink some water, stretch your legs. How are you sleeping these days?

Often, as of late, I’ve been asking myself what does it mean to be a writer who isn’t writing? 

Eventually, I learned to accept that writing done in the wee hours of the morning, or emails hastily sent to myself, or quickly jotted notes made on my phone were all valid. This was a big step, and I still struggle with impostor syndrome despite two published novels and a slew of articles under my belt. But these days, I can barely manage even those hasty emails riddled with spelling errors. 

Often, as of late, I’ve been asking myself what does it mean to be a writer who isn’t writing? 

I can’t answer that for you because I’m still trying to answer the question for myself. But hopefully, if you’re like me, it helps to know that someone else is asking the same question. Like I said earlier, I don’t have any creativity tips for you. No magical prompts or apps or blog articles. Even if I did, they may not fit your life, or the current moment and that’s okay. 

This is what I want to say to you, my fellow impostor, my fellow aspiring whatever: You’re doing the best you can. What you’re doing is enough. Your path is not my path, not Danielle Steel’s path, or Haruki Murakami’s path for that matter. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a veteran creator in a slump I want to remind you to look around and consider how state of the world might be impacting your work.

Do you lack discipline? Do you lack focus these days? In February the country of Australia was on fire. The Coronavirus was headline news by March. In April the US Navy declassified three “UFO” videos and literally no one blinked. Murder Hornets were a thing for a minute. And now there are brave folks protesting to end police violence against Black communities and policing as we know it across the country. 

Is it hard to prioritize your creative endeavor while shopping for face masks so that you can safely and responsibly leave the house? Is it difficult to get into an artistic head space while simultaneously signal boosting evidence regarding the murders of George Floyd, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, and Tony McDade? While signing petitions that demand justice for the murder of Breonna Taylor, or Elijah McClain? While donating to bail funds? While sharing videos and information about local protests that the media has stopped covering?

Of. Course. It. Is. 

Is it hard to prioritize your creative endeavor while shopping for face masks so that you can safely and responsibly leave the house?

There are still kids in cages. The country of Yemen is starving to death. COVID-19 is rampant from the suburbs to our prison system and every day some state breaks their personal best for new cases reported in a single day. Meanwhile police are still reacting violently on camera to peaceful protesters telling them they’re not allowed to be violent anymore. In fact, the one comfort I take is that so far we seem to have truly defeated the Clowns that were stalking people in the woods. Did you forget about murder clowns? I wonder why. Maybe you were worried about stopping the sale of facial recognition software? Or perhaps, you’ve been concerned about the rash of young Black men being hanged in what appears to be lynchings which have been dismissed out of hand as suicide?

What’s the answer for this information overload? Is it fair to unplug at a time like this so that I can focus on my creative pursuits? The fact that I can even weigh the possibility of taking a step back, or consider limiting my intake of news and media is white privilege. (And to be crystal clear, I do not mean to say that people who are struggling mentally with this constant barrage of horror are hiding behind their privilege when they take a step back to preserve their health and wellbeing, because that would be neurotypical bullshit and I’m not here for ableism either.) 

I was supposed to write an article about my new book All Together Stranger. It’s pretty standard for any author with a new release to promote. I tried to write that article, but it read forced and contrived no matter what I did. Recently, I sat down for a chat with fellow Bella Books Author Becky Harmon for her podcast What’s New At Bella and as we wrapped up our recording I spoke to her about the trouble I was having writing a simple essay–something I should have been able to type up in my sleep. Becky said that it sounded like the article I was trying to write wasn’t the article I wanted to write. Not only was Becky spot on, but I think I needed to hear that more than I knew. Maybe you need to hear it too in regards to whatever project you’re struggling with right now. 

One day soon, I would very much like to tell you about what I learned constructing my first sequel, how I grew as a writer in the time between the first draft and the final copy, how unexpectedly challenging it was and how truly humbled I was by realizing I still have so much to learn about my craft, how utterly surreal it was to edit my manuscript during the aforementioned wildfires in Australia with my wonderful Australian editor Cath, and at the onset of the COVID pandemic in the US. One day, I hope I’ll have the energy and the conviction to write that article and I hope you’ll have the leisure to read it. 

Today, we still have work to do. 


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