Drained. Exhausted. Anxious. Worried. Sad. Angry. Scared.
Just a small sample of what I’ve been feeling since March. Many of you are likely feeling similar emotions. I’ve seen so many writers and artists on social media beating themselves up for not being able to do their creative activity right now, or just not feeling like it. The guilt is monumental, even in pre-COVID times, and we do it to ourselves.
Let’s press pause on the guilt. I’ve written before about not writing every day. It’s a strategy that has been necessary for me, as I just have too much going on outside of writing to have the time or energy to write every single day. I wish I could sit down and get the words to flow on a daily basis. But it’s not my reality, and it certainly isn’t my reality right now. Maybe one day…
But anyway, back to the topic. Hit pause with me. Guilt doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t motivate you. It doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t make you magically more creative or energetic or eloquent. It makes you feel like you should be doing something, even if you can’t or don’t want to.
During the pandemic, I’ve noticed this Creative’s Guilt is even worse. For some of us, we’ve suddenly found ourselves with more “free time”. In my case, I’m a self-employed business who had multiple clients scale back on what they could do during the pandemic, leading to budget cuts or a stoppage of work entirely. All of a sudden, I found holes in my schedule that didn’t exist before March, and I gleefully thought I could fill them with writing.
Not so fast. That’s not what happened. I also very quickly discovered I was more exhausted than before, despite not working as much. And I was anxious, and depressed, and fearful. Isolation took a toll.
This does not lead to a creative mental or physical state. At all. I’ve finished a manuscript draft in this time, but it was really, really hard, and once it was finished, I knew I wouldn’t push myself like that again this year.
So here are a few of my tips for dealing with your Creative’s Guilt and maybe, hopefully, finding a way to write (if you want to) during the pandemic:
Take Care of Yourself
First and foremost, take care of yourself. If you don’t have a self-care routine already in place, then start making one. Get enough sleep, get enough good food, exercise… you probably know all the staples. But along with that is don’t push yourself too hard.
Don’t pile on a mountain of guilt and bury yourself in work or hobbies because you’re trying to distract yourself from the state of the world. I promise, that only makes it worse. Pandemic fatigue and crisis fatigue are real, and are probably why you’re feeling crappy right now. Very few of us are operating at normal capacity right now.
Recognize that you may not have as much energy to work with right now, and that’s OK. You aren’t the only one. Don’t give more than you have, or you will definitely burn out.
Use Your Support Network
Lean on your support network. Your friends and family (I hope) are around to help you if you find yourself in a dark place. If you’re exhausted, ask a partner, friend, roommate if they would be able to pick up some of your chores for a day or two so you can rest. If you’re working too hard, see what you can let go of for a little while.
I love the metaphor that Nora Roberts gave when asked how she balanced writing and family. You’ve probably heard this one – the key to juggling is you have to know which of the balls are glass and which are plastic. If you drop a glass ball, it shatters. But if you drop a plastic one, it bounces. You have to know which balls are glass and prioritize them. This Twitter thread from Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a great breakdown of the metaphor.
Write What Speaks to You
My final tip for today – write what speaks to you. A lot of folks are reexamining publishing right now. Along with that examination comes a deep look at the stories that are being told. And a lot of folks are saying, “Screw it, I’m writing what I care about.”
If that book you’ve been working on forever is stalled, let it stall. Set it aside and come back to it. Write the idea that has been sitting in the back of your brain like a gremlin waiting to get out and wreak havoc in your fingers and paint itself across your page. Write the story that is going to have you typing at lightning speed because the words are coming faster than your fingers can move. Write the story that wakes you up at 2am and demands attention.
Whatever it is, write that story. Don’t worry about if it’s publishable – that comes later. If you’re worried about writing anything at all right now, then write the thing that you care about. Your passion will bleed onto the page and give magic to your words.
And we could all use a little magic right now, couldn’t we?