Before you read this – I am not complaining. Many people suffered more than me in the last few months. I come from a privileged background and have a stable job and home life, and this post is as much therapeutic for me as anything else. I’m not asking for sympathy, nor should I receive it. There are many better causes for your sympathy, rather than someone who was trying to have a creative lockdown.
Lockdown really threw me creatively. More so than I thought it would, if I’m honest. Although my family have been unaffected, and are still healthy, there was something about being confined to the house that just halted my desire to write. I thought the sudden lack of a commute, a vital part of my routine getting work and writing done, was the culprit at first. Looking back, even if I didn’t realise it at the time, I think anxiety about the whole situation was getting me down.
Early on in the crisis I tried to avoid the media. It wasn’t just the bleak updates on deaths and infections that was making me feel awful. It was the constant suggestions for things to do to pass the time. Every day there was a new recommendation for ‘games to play in lockdown‘, books to read in lockdown‘, or ‘Netflix series to binge in lockdown.’ All well meaning, and more likely put together to chase SEO clicks than to heap pressure on people, but in a strange way it added to the FOMO. No one person can consume all this entertainment.
There was also a flurry of productivity articles about ‘working creatively in lockdown’, ‘how to use lockdown to your advantage’, and ‘why lockdown means everyone’s writing loads’. It was relentless, and I know that it was people trying to find the positive side of a pretty shitty situation, but it was getting to me.
Pretty soon, I realised that my day-to-day life hadn’t really changed that much. Sure, I was working from home and limited in the number of times I could leave the house, but I was one of the lucky people who had a secure job and the ability to work remotely. Meanwhile, my little girl still needed looking after, she still needed her bedtime routine and she still needed entertaining.
Finding a balance between childcare and both my job and my wife’s was a constant challenge, and one that never went away, but what it did mean was that all that time that the media promised I’d have to binge TV or write loads vanished into the ether. My workday got busy as I helped respond to the crisis, and the highlight of my day became my permitted walk with my family – no way was I giving that up. There wasn’t the time to write or binge TV.
It took a while, but I realised that, despite the media pushing all this content and comparison my way, I wasn’t going to be more cultured or more productive during lockdown. I could be as well-read and productive as I was before, but I would have to work at it.
Finding the right advice
As lockdown progressed, I learnt to pick and choose how I engaged with the news, and how I engaged with the ‘productive writer’ community. I read a number of books on writing by indie publishers and writers, but these just made me feel worse. These guys were telling me to write 3000 words a day, because that was the best way to make money as an indie author.
How was I supposed to write 3000 words a day? Queue shallow breathing and anxiety.
Then, I picked up Stephen King’s book “On Writing” again. I read it slowly, digesting his advice.
Paraphrasing (sorry Stephen) he said: Write every day, he said, don’t make an excuse, but set a target that works for you. Get that draft done, get something down. It doesn’t have to be good, but, the longer you write, the easier it becomes.
So I did. I gave myself the target of 1000 words. Less than SK’s recommended 2000, but more manageable for me.
The 1000 words was the clincher. I can write that in about an hour, give or take. But it meant that I stopped watching the clock, and started concentrating on the word count. By concentrating on the word count, I started thinking about the words. Then the story.
I got myself a calendar and marked key milestones on it. I crossed off the days I’d written, and put it in a promininent position by my work computer. It made me feel a bit of pressure, yes, but this was my pressure. I wanted to fill that page with Xs. I wanted to hit those milestones.
Before I knew it, I was writing 1200, 1500 words a day. The story wasn’t always easy to find, but I persevered. There were some days when I struggled to get to 1000. I stopped at 1021, or 1004 words. I made it through.
What I’ve got
I’ve now got the first draft of a 78000 word novel. I’ve taken Stephen’s advice and locked it away for 6 weeks while I process the story in my head. But I’ve achieved something, and I think it’s pretty great.
Lockdown started as a really difficult time for me. As the days went by, things got easier. My own approach to the relaxation of rules is still uncertain, I’m still not happy with all the crowds I see on the TV, but I can control that now. I’ve found that I can look after my family, I can write and I can work in this new world. When I write a sentence like that, it makes my feel bloody good.
I am in control of my writing, not some virus and not some people on the internet making me feel guilty. I write for me, and I shouldn’t compare that to anyone else.
I’ve already found a typo…