During the last two months, I haven’t written a word.
I've had several slow-moving projects in the works: a novel about a person who receives postcards from the afterlife (it’s not as weird as it sounds), my memoir written for my kids, a how-to-dress book for my daughter, memory books of the toys my kids played with and their funny antics, and a series of short stories that I have been sending out to magazines.
But since the pandemic’s beginning, I haven’t had the energy to write. I have always been a highly productive person and typically work from the moment I wake up until just before bed. Watching a lot of TV or goofing off has never been part of my routine. I’m the gal who grabs a cup of coffee and goes straight to my computer.
So, why can’t I write? Like most adults, I have been through many emergency situations—illness, loss of income, and heartbreak—but the pandemic has hit me differently. After taking time to reflect on this experience, I identified a few adjustments that have helped me get back into the swing of writing.
Adjust the Schedule
During the last couple of months, my mind has been racing, and that distracts me from my work, my writing, and my routine. I didn’t realize this until talking to a friend. When she described her difficulty sleeping, I realized I wasn't the only one. I changed my schedule right away and it made all the difference. By getting up earlier and sticking to a schedule, I was able to focus better.
Switch Up the Sense of Control
Admittedly, I can be a bit controlling (my husband would probably say a bit of a control freak). When the pandemic started, I think my initial fear was about my lack of control: everything was out of my hands. But I have been staying home, wearing a mask, and limiting my trips, and that has added significantly to my confidence and given me a greater sense of control. Now, the limited travel doesn’t bother me at all, and my production has been increasing over time.
Show Some Gratitude
Though I am not the best at showing gratitude, when I have recognized the blessings in my life, I am better able to focus on the tasks at hand. All of my problems are of the first-world, middle-class variety. I am working from home on a new computer with reliable internet. We have enough computers that every person in our home has one of their own to use, so no one is forced to share. We have food, jobs, and our health. Life is pretty good.
I think every person I’ve talked to in the last month is gardening. Even the people who don’t like gardens are starting a plot of vegetables or a window box of flowers. It seems like, as we are all longing for our former normalcy, we are returning to simple activities like gardening. Getting into the garden gives us something to look forward to, something to nurture, and a healthy dose of vitamin D every time we put in the work.
Take In New Information
Like many people, I spent the first two weeks of the pandemic watching Netflix. I think I was binge-watching The West Wing (a well-written political drama if you want to see good-quality character development and a quick-paced plot with never-ending complications). But after a couple of weeks, I couldn’t sit that long and had to seek out other ways of filling my brain with information.
Though I couldn’t read for the first few weeks that turned around for me and when it did, reading afforded me a huge relief. I added the paper delivery to my digital newspaper subscription, and thank goodness I did, because I am back to spending Sunday morning reading the paper for two hours, which is a joy in itself.
I came back to reading but only connected with the lighter stuff at first. No research, no economics, no professional journals. I started with a couple of my kids’ middle grade novels and a nonfiction series the kids like. Then I re-read On Writing by Stephen King for probably the fourth or fifth time. It’s one of those books that I come back to because I get a new idea each time I read it. Reading came back slowly, but when it did, it provided the soothing herbal tea remedy that I needed to get myself back on track.
Let Go to Move On
The cracks in the system reveal deeper truths. Though the lockdown has been incredibly challenging for millions across the country, its effects reach across every demographic, and even healthy, employed people feel the struggle.
I think that for me, letting go of my desire to live in the pre-pandemic manner helped me reconnect with a new routine, and that helped me get back to writing again. I am not yet writing in the same way that I was before the pandemic started, but I am finally writing. The writing is slow, it lacks style, and it comes out in ribbons rather than whole cloth, but it is coming.
Whether we'll return to our pre-pandemic lives anytime soon, I have no idea. I do know that what is ahead of us will take an incredible amount of bravery, camaraderie, and community. And for writers, if we are able to put words on the page, we are more likely to address what is coming with grace rather than fear.
I am certain that in the coming months, I will continue to grow and learn, but for right now, I am out of the woods. I am reading again and writing a little bit. The biggest takeaway of my experience is that if I can put just a few elements in place—a consistent schedule, gratitude, reading, and so on—then I can reconnect with the writing and get the words on the page.
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