Being Creative During COVID-19

It’s the elephant in the room. Or, more appropriately, it’s the bull, and we’re the rider.

Whichever metaphor, 2020 has been Hell, a year featuring an obvious culprit for the havoc: COVID-19. Of course, this disease could never have become so widespread without a large supporting cast, including an array of world leaders, celebrities, influencers, and even the everyday “pandemic skeptic”. 

There is much to say about the state of the world, and there are many more, better-educated people who have taken on that prompt, which is why I will not be exploring that topic in-depth today. 

When it comes down to it, I’m a writer, and I only have a lot to say on that single point of focus. Still, I can at least tell you how COVID has impacted my writing routine, and how you can make the best of what this virus had made your creative process into. 

Pre-pandemic, I was already not doing well. My writing was put on hold as I got a grip on my mental health, getting started on my mood stabilizers and hoping that the upcoming spring would only bring good things. Ironically, in the midst of one of the worst depressive episodes I have experienced, I had wanted to never see the people in my daily life again, to have something significant and terrible happen to the world. In a cruel twist of faith, my wish was granted. 

I view the January and February of 2020 as a training course of what was to come; I was already having to produce art while entangled in bile unsuited for the formation of beauty or enjoyment. Strangely, while my schedule became more erratic during the worst season of my disorders, I could still find ways to take deep, full-body plunges into my work. 

Obviously, it was different from what I would create when I was feeling better. Slam poetry, once only a side preference of mine to write, became a second medicine alongside my actual medicine and physicians. My prose took on less of an activist or performative tone, lacking the typical embellishments and length prose of before. I exchanged nuanced but distant reflection for a roughened directness that was streamlined into the most blunt yet vivid imagery I could muster. 

Short stories also became a primary focus after I had spent my time before writing the rough draft of a novel. They were slightly less direct than my poems since, unlike my poems, I was not speaking as myself, but as whatever narrator I decided to place within my plot. Nonetheless, my short stories took on a more personal quality to them, not being high concept or incredibly fantastical but instead having a more grounded, character, and detail-oriented focus even when dealing with something paranormal and “unreal”. 

This brings me to my first piece of advice; during a crisis, it is best to focus on short-term, bite-sized goals over something longer with a less tangible deadline. I’m not saying that you should avoid writing longer pieces, but am merely stating how you need to approach such projects differently than you would have previously. For instance, while planning my novel this year, I decided to do it in short sprints, little by little each day, allowing myself to not become emotionally drained and to ensure I didn’t spend all of my time sitting down in front of a laptop. 

I would prioritize the amount of time you spend on a creative task over how much you make since no one in this moment is primed to produce perfection. Such expectations could give you needless stress when you are already struggling under a heavyweight of many worries and fears. 

Still, things like NaNoWriMo or Inktober could be useful if you’re willing to take on a heavier workload for the sake of maintaining a connection to other creators. Anxiety over infection has led me to do all of my schooling virtually, being one of many who has to either study or work through digital means. It’s rather isolating being stuck in the same place day in and day out with little movement or variety throughout the time I sit in for my courses. I wish I had done a dialed-back version of NaNoWriMo in the fall so I could have socialized with other fellow writers who were most likely going through similar struggles to me. 

Regrets aside, I don’t think it would be too cocky for me to state that I’m pretty proud of myself for how I have handled quarantining. In March, just as COVID was beginning to emerge in the United States, I was stable on my medication, and, initially, I was able to maintain a rigorous creative schedule. Unfortunately, I burnt myself out because I underestimated how overwhelming the pandemic was even if I was not yet being “negatively impacted”. Overall, I wrote many more poems, one or two short stories, finished a novel draft that I probably won’t do anything with, and started reworking a plan for an old novel I finished in 2019. 

The majority of what I’ve worked on doesn’t have a purpose beyond the positivity created from the process. And honestly? When you’re avoiding a bull that’s constantly a hair away from slamming into you, it’s about appreciating the lapses between such attempts, to enjoy any haven of serenity even if it isn’t a “productive use of time”. Creativity doesn’t have to be “productive”.

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