When this pandemic first broke out, and everything shut down, I noticed that creative people I knew were all coping in one of two ways. Either their creativity completely shut down, squashed by the constant panic of not knowing what was going to happen, or else they clung to their creative pursuits like someone clings to a life raft in the open ocean.
Six months in, I don’t think much has changed.
I remain somewhere in the middle. Some days I can not wrangle the muse, but there have always been some days when I just can’t get myself to sit down and write. Sometimes my brain is just full of bees, or I’m too sad to write; that’s not anything new.
But neither has my productivity increased. Thanks to some communities I’m part of (shout to Cat Rambo’s Discord and Zoom calls!) I’ve continued plugging away at a more or less steady rate. Since the pandemic started, I have finished a draft of novella, written one short story (which I am now in the process of revising), and written and revised one flash story (which I am about to start submitting to magazines).
Sometimes it’s frustrating. I want to have something massive to show for this time, like my friends who have written entire books, or knit multiple sweaters. But we’re all coping with uncertain times in our own ways. I don’t think we can judge one way as objectively better than another. Even if you’re healthy and financially stable (which I have the good fortune to be), there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear and isolation. As long as you get out the other side in tact and don’t hurt anybody else in the process, then that’s a win.
I don’t think it serves any of us to compare our creative output, or our coping skills. There’s a lot of talk in the writing community about “butt in chair,” about the need to treat it like any other task and not wait for the fickle muse to show up and grace us with their presence. And I think that is true of every creative activity that is important to you, whether that’s writing or music or art or knitting. If you want to make progress, you have to put in the time.
At the same time, creativity is not always a faucet that flows on command. Everybody is different, but most of us need some measure of safety, security and rest, or the flow slows to trickle or stops altogether. To some extent, it is our responsibility to figure out ways to give ourselves those things, even when the wider world is not conducive, but that’s not always possible.
Productivity is never entirely under our personal control, but I think that is especially true right now. Whether the creative impulse is the only thing keeping you afloat (because it’s the only place you have control), or if that has dried up altogether, it’s not really up to you. So try not to blame yourself if it’s not going the way you would prefer. If you need to refill the well, maybe take some time off to read or walk or bake or dream or do whatever it is that brings you comfort. Just don’t beat yourself up about it, okay? I know it’s tempting, but it’ll just keep you stuck longer. And you – the person who you are – are more important than how much you can get gone. Be kind to yourself.