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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Writing in the Time of Pandemic


happy woman writing in park prayer answered

© CanStockPhoto tommyandone

I saw my neighbor and fellow writer Beth in the park (at a safe distance). She told me her family was okay, her husband was working from home and she was maintaining her writing habits.

I congratulated Beth and thought, “Well, there’s at least one writer who’s able to focus on writing.”

Maybe the post I planned about writing and resistance in the time of pandemic wasn’t as necessary as I assumed.

Then I saw this tweet:

Screenshot_2020-04-10 (20) Jeremy Haynes on Twitter If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either 1 ) a new skill 2 [...]

I Had a Tiny Bit of a Reaction

15112611 - woman allowing to escape from his body a multitude of colors

My head exploded

My first thought was that this is exactly the kind of blaming and shaming that causes writer’s block. Writers need protection from this kind of thinking. I wanted to tell this guy how stupid his tweet was, that his idea of discipline does not and never will motivate people, it only shuts us down.

The tweeter got over 15K Likes, but plenty of comments on the thread called him out on his privileged status of not having kids to home-school, sick loved ones to care for, the need to apply for unemployment (a process that is now a frustrating full-time activity) or a job declared essential that required he put his life on the line for. Or apparently enough empathy to be distracted by hundreds of thousands of people sick and thousands dying.

After Reflectionsun rising meditation

I realized I was not just informed by the tweet, I was emotionally affected. I wasn’t responding, I was reacting. Being triggered like this is a sign that there’s something deeper for me to look at.

If I was just informed, I would have calmly thought something along the lines of “This guy just doesn’t get it” and moved on.

Why was I so affected?

© CanStockPhoto / xilius

I was affected because I assumed this guy was basically saying, “As a self-appointed expert on the lives of people I don’t really know, I pronounce what everyone must do during the quarantine. I further dictate that anyone who fails to follow my directives has always had all the time and other resources needed to succeed and their failure is due solely to lack of self-discipline.”

Here’s the thing: I do this. I’m a self-appointed expert who offers advice in my book and this blog. I try not to pronounce what my fellow writers need to do. I try to keep an open mind and remember different approaches work for different people. But I can get dogmatic at times.

Being pedantic* is my shadow-self, that is, the version of myself I’m ashamed of and really rather not reveal.  (*Using the word ‘pedantic’ here is a demonstration of the meaning of pedantic and I hope you’ll see the humor in that.)

My outrage was an example of a shadow projection, that is, objecting to, complaining about or vilifying in others what you don’t want to accept about yourself.

ignore reject back off writer's block small canstockphoto10113712 (2)

Why didn’t we dismiss the criticism? © CanStockPhoto

Here’s another thing: Plenty of other people objected to the tweet. Why didn’t we all simply dismiss the criticism?

Why did so many of us react with outrage? Why didn’t we just ignore this ignoramus? For that matter, why do I still get satisfaction from calling him stupid?

Because it’s not a new idea; it’s a reminder of a belief — a deeply flawed, but even more deeply internalized — shadowy belief that we should do more, faster, better and should be endless producing tangible results to prove our worth.

If we didn’t think we should write more, shoule write better, should get published faster and sell more, we wouldn’t care what some tweeter wrote. And we wouldn’t have this background anxiety — or outright fear — that we’re messing up, missing opportunities, failing as writers.

The Real Truth

Few of us are at our best right now, what with the worldwide pandemic and all. So who knows, maybe the tweeter regretted the tweet in question. (Though this seems highly unlikely based on his Twitterfeed, I guess it is possible).

Here’s what we need to remember if we want to set realistic intentions about writing in the time of pandemic:

  1. The ability to motivate ourselves, along with the ability to focus our attention, think rationally and recognize creative possibilities (all essential to writing) are among the executive functions the human cortex excels at
  2. Unfortunately the human cortex does not excel during a pandemic
  3. So, we must stop blaming ourselves when we don’t live up to our usual expectations, let alone a complete stranger’s arbitrary standard of discipline, and give ourselves a break.

Each of us must recognize for ourselves what we really need.

Trust me, beyond a small bit of discipline for a short while, it’s not about discipline. (See more at Video: How to Make Sitting Down to Write as Easy as Brushing Your Teeth)

I’ll be back in a day or two to highlight what’s happening in your brain that makes focus, motivation and creativity so difficult now and how being gentle with yourself is your best response.

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19 Comments on “Writing in the Time of Pandemic”

  1. cabrennan61 April 24, 2020 at 11:22 am #

    Hi Rosanne! Just left you a lengthy reply but it appears I lost it trying to change my password. O well.
    I saw this post too, and was shaken by it. I told myself that this person just didn’t get it, and did the things to rally myself that I have been remember during this crisis time. Then, a few days later, a friend posted a “correction” –the post literally had the original writing crossed out!–with language to the effect that if you getting through the day in this pandemic, you are doing fine. I cheered her on.
    Delighted to hear from you! Seems like you’re doing well, getting to the park(maybe with a dog friend?) and thinking about what makes us tick. I hope you are feeling as well as you seem.
    My writing group has gone from monthly in person to every two weeks by zoom. It has been very bolstering for me. As to writing in between, I am trying to find my way. Daily routines have always been tough for me. But I am keeping on keeping on.
    All the best to you and yours!

    Like

    • rosannebane April 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm #

      Yes, we’re walking in our park twice a day with our dog Kelda. Claudia and I are well and staying safe as we can. I can see how meeting your writers’ group via Zoom is helpful. I’m taking a relaxation class via Zoom – I know they have issues with security, but it’s so easy to use and no one has to drive anywhere. It’s not like there’s classified info in our class or probably in your writer’s group. I commit to showing up for 15 minutes of Product Time twice a week now that I’m semi-retired and that small commitment helps me show up often 3 or 4 times a week. Keep on keeping on with whatever works for you, especially now!

      Like

  2. Lesley M Mathews April 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm #

    Rosanne, so happy to hear from you. This is just what I needed. I’m having a hard time writing, not just the pandemic though that is more than enough, but an impending death of my niece from cancer. I find I can’t concentrate on writing, I try and sometimes manage to squeeze out a paragraph or two but it’s not happening right now. I will work on relaxing, there’s an oxymoron! I’m going to let things be right now, possibly a better solution. Thank you again.

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 5:02 pm #

      Hello Lesley
      Thanks for leaving a note. I’m sorry to hear about your niece. I’m not at all surprised that you can’t concentrate on writing. Letting things be sounds wonderful. If you have habits in place that you want to maintain, give yourself wide leeway in what “counts” — so anything that helps you relax, stay fit, stay in your body, sleep well or find moments of simple joy all count as self-care, anything that lets you feel playful, creative, relaxed or lets you lose track of grief/anxiety either by yourself or in the company of others counts as process, and anything that puts you in touch with your writing counts as Product Time: reading stuff like you want to write, reading about writing, reading writers’ blogs, journaling, freewriting, keeping your writing inviting, etc.
      Right now, simply writing what you feel might help you move into and through your emotions and can be a reminder when you writing about this or something similar in the future. When I lost my laptop (and a BUNCH of other important things in a backpack), I made just a few notes about what I said, what I thought, what movement and motions I made, etc. so that when I need to write about a character who has experience an unexpected major loss, I can draw on what I went through. It also helped me stepped outside of the recrimination and self-criticism instead of wallowing in it. (Not suggesting you’re wallowing, but I certainly was). I hope that helps.
      Take care of yourself, be gentle with yourself, keep your expectations low and give yourself credit and kudos for everything you do for yourself and others.

      Like

      • Lesley M Mathews April 20, 2020 at 12:29 pm #

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m going to follow your advice and cut myself a lot of slack right now.

        Like

  3. Kate Norlander April 18, 2020 at 9:42 am #

    Thank you for this. We need voices like yours, saying, “You’re not a failure. Stop beating yourself up. Here are ways you can motivate yourself, but know that times are hard now, and of course they will affect you.”

    I think our culture is really good at telling us we are never enough. You don’t just need a job, you need a side gig. You must make use of all your free time to get ahead. Adequate sleep or any amount of downtime is a sign of laziness.

    There has to be a balance. It is a lovely thing to have a productive projects outside of work if that’s what you want (and I do). But rest and relaxation are also lovely things, and I believe they are necessary for creativity. And sometimes, you are allowed to have times in life — like now — where you step back a little and focus on taking good care of yourself and your loved ones.

    I remember taking a Loft class from you, and how you encouraged us to embrace both a little daily work on our writing AND a little daily play. I really appreciate that. Please keep sharing it with the world.

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 10:04 pm #

      Thank you Kate. I’m pretty sure I’m not just talking to myself when I say things like “Stop beating yourself up” and it’s wonderful to hear validation that it helps other writers.
      Balance is a fluid thing – we have to keep adjusting to what’s going on inside and around us. Yes, this is definitely a time to step back from overdoing to take care of ourselves and loved ones.

      Like

  4. Lucy Gray April 15, 2020 at 2:08 pm #

    What a delight to hear from you again. I haven’t written a word since my husband unexpectedly passed two years ago. We wrote a book series together, and the demand is still there, adding to the pressure and sense of failure. I find I can still critique others, however, and wonder what that says about me (I definitely wonder why I volunteer to do so when I know it’s a new writer and has to be handled gently).
    Please don’t see yourself as critical. Your are definitely a nurturing person, and bring us facts about neurons misfiring and those rainy days when we fall asleep over the keyboard. Hope to hear from you again soon.

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 9:58 pm #

      Hi Lucy
      Of course you haven’t written – your life partner and your writing partner and probably your best friend died. You were grieving. First, grieving the loss of your husband, then later grieving the loss of writing. A huge piece of the triggers to start and stay writing passed when your husband died. There is NO failure in this.
      Forgive yourself (if you still need to) and give yourself permission to write badly at first as you work the kinks out and get your rhythm and habits back. Make very small time commitments and show up — even if you don’t do anything but stare at the ceiling, congratulate yourself for showing up. Also give yourself permission to not write. The joy might still be there, but if it’s not, you can find other ways to be creative.
      I suspect you too are a nurturing writer-support person, which is why you are drawn to helping other writers.
      I’ll be posting again soon. Please let me know how you’re doing.

      Like

  5. Sharon Powell April 15, 2020 at 12:48 pm #

    It’s great to see you posting again, Rosanne. You’ve been missed. Thanks for your very wise words and video. I needed that! Now I can picture you when I read your wonderful posts. Till next time, excuse me while I go brush my teeth. And then…

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 5:27 pm #

      Thanks Sharon for the feedback and the laugh (you’re excused). Let me know what you’re up to next.

      Like

  6. lynncrandallwriter April 15, 2020 at 9:16 am #

    This post, like so many and all of your posts, is so insightful. It eases my spirit. Thank you.

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 5:33 pm #

      Thank you Lynn. It’s gratifying to hear my post eased your spirit.

      Like

  7. Kathy Hopewell April 15, 2020 at 3:18 am #

    What a fantastic post! Your pronouncements come from a place of self-awareness which means that they are valuable, wise and hard-won, and therefore nothing like your tweeting friend’s damaging words. Please keep posting Rosanne, we are all struggling to believe in writing at the moment and you can help. Stay well.

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 5:31 pm #

      Thanks Kathy for the fantastic comment. “a place of self-awareness … valuable, wise and hard-won” sounds so much better than the wrestling I’ve been doing feels. Glad my wrestling was helpful. You stay well too and keep showing up for your writing time – we need to hear from all voices in the choir.

      Like

  8. Roanne L. King April 14, 2020 at 10:32 am #

    Unfortunately, this describes me… “And we wouldn’t have this background anxiety — or outright fear — that we’re messing up, missing opportunities, failing as writers.” Though I did manage to complete final edits on a manuscript requested by a publisher (very exciting but I’m finding it hard to feel it at the moment) — I’m looking forward to reading more on your thoughts for why I’m finding it so hard to write. Especially since I can’t claim the excuses you listed, aside from applying for business assistance loans (my husband and I own a hardwood flooring business) and getting our mortgage and car payments skipped. I actually have the bones of a spec fiction novel I started about ten years ago I’m thinking of using COVID-19 as a springboard and allowing myself to explore the “what ifs” of our society five years from now. Then I can use all my mindless scrolling and reading of every conspiracy theory as research, right? 😉

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 5:24 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Roanne. Yes, that background anxiety kicks so many of us in the butt, and unfortunately, kicks right out of our desk chairs.
      But I have to say I’m seriously impressed by how much you’ve accomplished during this crazy time. Congratulations on sending the final edits to your publisher. Even if the pandemic wasn’t going on, completing such a major step can move you into the Hibernation stage of the Creative Process. (Read https://baneofyourresistance.com/2011/08/25/word-counts-work-in-1-out-of-6-stages-part-2/ and https://baneofyourresistance.com/2011/08/25/word-counts-work-in-1-out-of-6-stages-part-2/ for more information on the stages). What feels like difficulty writing might be due to being in Hibernation and needing to do very different things in your Product Time than you do when you’re in the drafting/editing stage.
      This is a great time to PLAY with a novel. You’re right about the scrolling and reading right now being research (you might want to make a few notes as you go to remind you later what you thought of it all). In Hibernation, play is great, being in nature is excellent, as is spending time with art that inspires you (visual art, music, video, all kinds of art).
      Be gentle with yourself, keep your expectations low and give yourself credit and kudos for everything you do for yourself and others.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. kperrymn April 14, 2020 at 9:55 am #

    Rosanne, I am so happy to see this post! I have been thinking of you and wondering what wisdom you would have to share for this tumultuous time. Thanks for writing and posting today!

    Like

    • rosannebane April 18, 2020 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks for your feedback, Katie! I’d love to see what wisdom/insight you have about what’s working for you, either an email to me or a Guest Post for Writing in the Time of Pandemic.

      Like

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