This COVID-19 lockdown has been a funny time, hasn’t it? Obviously not ‘funny ha-ha’, but funny as in downright strange. I don’t know about you, but my mood has flip-flopped from cheery to despairing, from bored to accepting, and pretty much every other emotion in between.
The inertia of lockdown
Right from the start of lockdown, I noticed a lot of authors commenting online about ‘writer’s block’. It seemed that the uncertainty and anxiety was playing havoc on their creativity, which given the gravity of the situation, wasn’t surprising.
I kept myself busy by completely overhauling a book (which has now been sent off to a major competition… eek). The manuscript was polished within an inch of its life, then sent off. Hooray! I’d enjoyed the process; I’d felt productive, empowered, sure that I’d produced a far better book as a result of my work.
Then I sat at my computer, fingers poised, ready to start drafting a new book. I got to 2,500 words, then ground to a halt. I stared at the screen, chewing my lip, frown already deepening. Where were those words when I needed them? Why weren’t they in my head, ready to pour out like usual?
No words today
This has happened to me in the past, so I wasn’t unduly worried. Usually a long run helps; lots of ideas seem to come to me when I’m pounding the pavements. But this time, no cigar. I left it for a few days. Then the days turned into a few weeks. Then a month.
The strangest thing was – this felt very different to the ‘writer’s block’ I’d experienced before. It seemed to run deeper, uncovering huge anxieties and doubts within myself. Could I actually write anymore, or had I completely lost my touch? Had I ever been able to write, or actually, was I a really rubbish author? Was that it? No more book ideas? No more creativity? Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life doing copywriting? (If so, cue the screaming…)
Spiralling into a (mild) panic
The more these thoughts plagued me, the less I wrote. Not that I’ve had an overwhelming amount of time to write anyway (home-schooling and work have seriously limited my allocated writing time), but usually, time-constraints would drive me on, not impede me further.
And of course, the more I freaked out about it, the worse it got.
Taking a step back
The only thing to do in these situations is to change tactics. Imagine it as being a bit like a big boulder, plummeting into your previously free-flowing stream – if you can’t bash it away with the water itself, you’ll need to find some other tools to do the job!
Here are a few things I’ve been doing to ease the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ (and relieve anxieties at the same time).
- Remind yourself why you write.
We all have reasons why we write. For me, it’s a therapy – I write humorous stuff to cheer myself up, and darker material when I want to get all those emotions out! Sometimes it helps to take it right back to that starting point. Write a little vignette, a description about your day, a few diary entries – it doesn’t really matter. Write with the intention of not showing it to anybody – you’re just writing for yourself. This eases the pressure and makes it pleasurable again.
- Give yourself a fun project.
I treated myself to Masterclass membership a few months back, and one of Neil Gaiman’s classes really struck a chord. He was talking about a project he’d been involved in (with Blackberry), where he wrote a short story for every month of the year. He got people to answer silly questions about the months, for inspiration. E.g. ‘If March was a famous historical person, who would it be?’ Or ‘What did you lose in November?’ Then, he started writing – a story for every month.
I loved this idea – what a great way to get ideas flowing! And of course, it could be anything. Poems for your friends. A series of flash fiction tales – one for every day of lockdown. The more creative the better… it frees that creativity and gets you in the mood for writing again.
- Do it anyway.
Occasionally, I swallow down the fear and the inertia, and I force out a few sentences. This doesn’t always work – sometimes, it goes no further than 10 words or so, before I start procrastinating again. But at other times, I’m able to push through the ‘invisible wall’ and the words start flowing again. Even if you’re getting down 50-100 words a day – it’s still something.
- Talk about it.
I’m a terrible one for not talking about how I feel – especially when it comes to writing. I tend to either make a joke about it, or deflect the conversation to something else. However, sometimes it’s good to get those feelings out – to say out loud I can’t write because I don’t think I’m good enough, or the words won’t come because I’m to stressed out about life in general!
When said aloud to a trusted friend or family member, it becomes a therapeutic process – if you can find some kindly soul who’s happy to listen to you wittering on.
Good luck with it – and remember, we’re all in the same boat! We will get through this, and get those words flowing again soon.