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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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.