I once told my editor that “I could not not write.” The implication was that I was a driven contributor of words to society, a dedicated writer of truth, and that churning out words was an inseparable part of my life.
I probably said that to him because I had heard someone else say it and saying it sounded noble: a true writer is one who writes to live and lives to write! Constantly at their craft, never straying from trying to achieve the ultimate novel or short story or poem, always with the nose to grindstone. I’ve read several stories about writers and the standard by which all writers are compared is the writer who is at the mercy of their pen, their typewriter, their keyboard, or their muse. They spend their lives constantly scribbling tiny words on scraps of paper throughout the day. They rise early to pour out their thoughts while others still sleep. They have words bursting from their inner spirits, they see visions that must be written down, they hear voices that must be obeyed.
Uh-oh. For the last several months, in the era of COVID-19, all I’ve heard was my Lazy-Boy recliner calling me.
I’m not lazy, nor undisciplined. I usually produce a book a year and I’m about to receive a box of the first 50 copies of my twelfth novel, which took a year of focus to write. My writing has always been prompted more by creativity than by goals, routine, or guilt, and if my creativity is not in production mode, neither are my fingers.
I thought it would be different with the forced isolation associated with the pandemic. I thought that having more than my usual amount of uninterrupted time would be an opportunity that would cause my diligence to come forth, my passion to rise, a clarion call to be heard, and I would sit for hours as my fingers flew across the keys.
It didn’t happen. In fact, it’s been the opposite, and I don’t quite understand why.
The first month was okay. I dredged up an ill-written novel from my virtual desk drawer, rewrote it, made it better, and was happy in my achievement. The second month was good: I identified a possible sequel to my new novel, found some good history books describing the time period I was interested in, and spend hours thinking of possible plots and characters. It was time well-spent.
The third month was a gentle slide into a lot of sitting and thinking of all that I wasn’t doing, and by the fourth month I had settled into watching old movies (You’ve Got Mail – best movie ever). Now I’m spending my time working on the plumbing under my house and making sure the birdfeeder is full. I don’t have the faintest urge to write.
For having a record of enjoying my writing, I don’t understand why I’m suddenly literarily inert. Maybe I’m experiencing depression, or that I’ve finally had too much time alone, or that I’m feeling fat because of irresistible snacks. Maybe I’m suffering from mask fatigue. I may be feeling adrift because of the lack of socialization (I truly hated surrendering my routine of having lunch with friends), or maybe the cause is a general lack of goals, measures, structures, communities, and other things that I usually manage on a day-to-day basis.
It could be that isolation took away all the people that I usually blame for being unproductive and I’ve been left standing naked in the snow. Maybe I’m just tired of waiting, waiting, waiting.
I’ve also considered that I’m experiencing latent anger that’s keeping me distracted and uneasy. I haven’t ruled that one out, yet. There’s a lot to be angry about these days and a lot of it concerns my “values”, which really ticks me off. There’s nothing like anger to squash creativity.
I’m working to understand my feelings and am finding myself getting more interested in using words to express my situation. Our culture assumes that each of us (at least at my age) understand what we feel and why we feel it. That’s baloney. I think we’re surprised all the time by our feelings.
Not understanding my innards and being surprised, as well, has given my situation a tinge of intrigue, and that’s kicking my creativity back into play. My fingers may not be typing away, but my ears are listening, my eyes are watching, my heart is looking for resonance, and my brain is slowly accumulating patterns of behavior that reveal me to be different from who I think I am. I’m also listening and watching the people around me and they’re getting more interesting, too. Being solitary is not easy, even for introverts, so people developing coping skills is fun to watch.
I know of at least two writers’ groups that have responded to the isolation and no-meetings restrictions by moving to electronic formats. Groups sign onto ZOOM and talk about their writing, making it look like everybody is excited and productive; electronic newsletters are substituting for face-to-face conversations; someone else is hosting online writing challenges to prompt people to keep typing. It seems like people are afraid that if they stop writing, they’ll never go back. It may be more the fear that if they stop contact with others, they’ll be forgotten.
I think I’ll wait for real meetings to begin again. It seems like listening, watching, and storing up is my role for the moment.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.