In any other circumstances the idea of taking a few months off work, spending time at home with the family and having the opportunity to learn new skills and take up new hobbies sounds idyllic. Every year we eagerly await the few weeks or months of free time in summer, so the thought of being obliged to extend that time in theory sounds blissful.
However, the arrival of COVID-19 and indefinite national lockdown was something we struggled to anticipate, and even 4 months on still struggle to comprehend – and is certainly not the blissful time off we might have dreamed of. It has affected us all in countless ways, and of all the hobbies that people have picked up, creative writing has proved a seemingly popular one. So how has lockdown impacted writers around the world?
I find that the beauty of writing for creatives is comparable to the beauty of running for athletes, requiring next to no equipment to achieve something incredible. With a pair of trainers you can run a marathon or beat a 5K personal record, and with a pen and paper you can write a best selling novel. Unlike other creative arts, writers have not had to adapt to a change in environment in order to keep working; we are used to working from home. So with an increase in time at home, many writers (and non-writers looking for a new hobby) have found themselves creating more.
I find that writing about my experiences gives me clarity and provides a medium to reflect on what is happening
One survey that collected responses from 15 countries found that 61% of writers have been able to write more since the lockdown started. However, working from home has also reduced productivity for others. With nowhere to be, nobody to meet, the hours become indistinguishable and time management becomes a real challenge. I personally find too much free time to be overwhelming, meaning I often end up wasting more time than I otherwise would. Not to mention writers with families to care for and children to homeschool have a lot less free time in lockdown than they might have had before.
The increased stress of these turbulent times is having a major impact on focus. We have seen increases in mental health problems and anxiety as the state of the world has become a massive unknown. It’s difficult, therefore, to sit down and relax into your writing when you’re constantly worrying about the future, finances, and the wellbeing of family and friends.
This being said, for me, and many other creatives, writing is an escape. Even just 20 minutes a day of writing can be very relaxing: a chance to escape this strange world and create a new one of your own. Likewise, writing about what’s going on can be a way to share and express our experiences. I find that writing about my experiences gives me clarity and provides a medium to reflect on what is happening. There are new writing communities popping up online everyday where writers are sharing their stories and reading each other’s work. So, in some ways the new online writing scene is an incentive for writers to create, providing a sense of community and connectedness that we are all missing.
If anything, the instability of my writing habits reflects these strange and unpredictable times
Writing feeds on connection. As a writer you are constantly prompted and inspired by interacting with others, meeting new people and visiting new places, all of which are limited by lockdown. However, while we are missing these familiar stimulants, we are engaging with new ones every day. Think about how many best selling stories are set in locked-down, disease-ridden societies: The Stand (Steven King), Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel), The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood). You could see this as an opportunity to write something completely new and out of your comfort zone. It’s so easy to feel uninspired but perhaps that means you’re not looking at this from the right angle. If Shakespeare wrote King Lear in plague-stricken London, then I can’t wait to see what masterpieces come out of this pandemic.
For me, this lockdown has seen huge fluctuations in my writing habits. At the start I was inspired and writing everyday, but as each day grew more monotonous and the novelty of free time began to wear off, I stopped writing for weeks. I think this is the case for many writers and should not be something to stress about (we have enough of that as it is). If anything, the instability of my writing habits reflects these strange and unpredictable times. Needless to say, lockdown is likely to produce some incredible work, but we also shouldn’t be disheartened if we haven’t personally adapted so well to these changes.