Thoughts about writing during this strange time

I keep going through periods of wildly fluctuating productivity with my writing. Or maybe that’s not strictly true. My output might stay the same, but a chapter can take me half an hour to edit or a whole morning. And writing feels easy, the ideas flow, or it feels like I’m carving my way through the sentences with a blunt knife.

Gosh, that sounds dramatic. But I want to be honest. Sometimes writing is shit. Sometimes it is hard and tiring and leaves me feeling like crap.

At the moment, this dragging feeling is more prevalent than it is normally. I don’t know about you, but when lockdown was announced for the first time, my creativity took a major hit. For about a month, I wrote no new words, I struggled to edit, I barely read.

And then things got a bit better. We could see friends again and sit inside to eat cake together. Gradually, my writing mojo came back. Or, it kinda did. It would come to me to unpredictable spurts. One week, I would race through editing ten chapters, and then the next just getting through one chapter a day felt like an unachievable aim.

And I didn’t know how to feel about this. Everything was getting better, right? But it wasn’t, not really. Loads of people were still getting sick, too many people were dying, some suffered with long COVID or worsening health conditions because they couldn’t go to hospital for treatments. All our jobs were sent into flux, some lost, some discounted, some massively changed. I think we all felt lonely. And these weren’t just things happening during the first wave or first lockdown, they are things that continue to happen and, if we are being honest, they will continue to happen for some time to come.

I am going to keep finding work hard, with all the changing rules and customers who don’t seem to understand how to keep two metres distance from me. I am going to keep reading heart-wrenching statistics about all the terrible ways this pandemic is affecting people. I am going to keep stressing out about going into the shop, passing people on narrow paths, whether I have enough pasta and hand gel.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic or pile on to what is already a rubbish situation, but what I am trying to say is this: why on earth would we expect ourselves to function well in these conditions? Why would we expect to hit huge word counts and come up with great ideas and articulate ourselves well? There’s too much going on, and it will keep going on for a while. And I know, for me, something has to give. I can’t keep applying the same pressure I used to in terms of how much writing and creating I expected from myself.

So, I’m trying something new. I’m giving myself permission to sustain.

I’m not going to stop. I had to for a little while, to give my brain time to process all the horribleness going on, but I don’t want to do that again. (By the way, it’s 100% okay if you’re still in that stopping place. We all process things in our own way, and it cannot be rushed.) Instead of pushing myself all the time, which was driving me a bit mad even before the world fell to pieces, I’m slowing it down.

I’m going to keep going, but not at a sprint anymore. Not even at a long-distance run. Writing has become a trek across unhospitable terrain. I’m working is shorter chunks, I’m pausing a lot, my ideas are generating slowly. But I’m coming to realise that this is what making writing sustainable at the moment is all about. I can enjoy the times when, briefly, I find a meadow to skip across but most of the time I’m rock-climbing, so I can’t expect to cover the same distance in the same amount of time.

I will sustain. This has become my battle cry. I will not be broken down. My words will rise. They will just do it a lot slower, they might be a bit rougher, but they will come.

Well done if you are battling your way through NaNoWriMo this year. You’re taking on something I can’t even contemplate doing right now. Equally, please don’t beat yourself if you’ve already fallen behind. Writing a novel in a month is always a hard undertaking, but never more so than this year.

We need to give ourselves permission to have these shit times. We need to go easy on ourselves, to not expect too much from our battered brains. And I say WE because sustaining is the attitude I want to have towards my writing, but I too easily fall back into guilt and berating myself. Every time I find writing hard at the moment, I try to take a breath, to remind myself that it’s okay for it to be hard, that it’s alright to take a bit more time than expected.

I’m going to sustain my writing during this mad period. I’m going to set smaller targets, I’m going to rest regularly, and I’m going to (try to) be kinder to myself.

I hope this resonates with you. I hope you cut yourself some slack and breathe. I hope you sustain yourself and your writing until things become a bit easier, for everyone, again.

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