(Carola also writes under the name Chameleon in High Heels.)
More than a month ago, the world shut down. Following an invisible enemy threatening not just the elderly and vulnerable, but, as it turns out, all of us in some shape or form, our governments told us to stay at home, work from home, home educate our children and limit any direct contact with other human beings. The universe is in chaos.
Locked up and nowhere to go. Time on your hands. No reason to leave the house. Writers everywhere – rejoice! Get your laptops charged, whip out your notepads, sharpen your pencils and turn the kettle on! This is just what we have been waiting for – imposed solitude and peace and quiet to get our creative juices flowing. Or is it? I have been speaking to some writers about their experiences in lockdown, their feelings, expectations and fears. The variety of responses match the different circumstances we all find ourselves in. All interviews were conducted online and include a variety of genre writers from different nationalities and backgrounds.
I first started exchanging messages with Victoria a few weeks ago. Her kind encouragement and warm persona stood out for me, and I wanted to know more about her and her work in progress. Victoria is a seasoned writer who currently works simultaneously on a memoir and a children’s book and enjoys a solitude lifestyle with her husband. For her, lockdown has not imposed huge adjustments.
“I am a homebody”, she tells me, focusing on her health and well-being whilst enjoying more time outdoors and spending time with her husband. “Long walks have given me a new perspective about writing and why I do it."
Does she feel under pressure to write more during the pandemic? Her answer is negative. “I will not pressure myself and it will all fall into place when it’s meant to," she says.
Darcy is equally making the most of being isolated at home. She currently works on a dark fantasy novel for adults and is not too fazed by lockdown. Is she investing more time in her first book or are duties at home keeping her distracted?
“I have found more time to write and edit as I recently moved back in with my parents”, she admits, adding that, despite not being a fan of editing, lockdown has made her more focused and motivated and she is getting a lot of work on her story done.
“I consider myself lucky to have a hobby that is helping me pass the time constructively”, she tells me proudly, before adding that there is one thing she doesn’t like. “I am missing the inspiration which comes when I visit new places and wander through nature, so I shall be glad to get back to normal, but for now I am happy to utilise this time as best as I can.”
Both Victoria and Darcy have created a peaceful and grounded experience surrounding their writing in quarantine, something I have yet to find, but strive to work on as each day passes. During conversations with other writers and authors, it seems I may not be alone in my quest to discover the harmonious artist-in-lockdown relationship. My dialogues take me to Sarah, who is also working on her first book, a crime thriller set in a fictional city. Sarah, like myself, works as a teacher and is grateful for the distraction of work and being able to feel normal during those days. Conversely, she thought she would embrace lockdown more than she does. “I’d just about reached burnout before quarantine and wanted nothing more than quiet time to write.”
Does she have it now? She agrees, and tells me that, for the most part, she is getting on well with her first draft. However, anxiety and distracting thoughts keep her from staying focused at times.
“What a ridiculous thing to be doing when the world needs real help right now, not fiction!”, she exclaims, adding that, at the same time, she knows it’s not true.
So, what helps her overcome these negative thoughts? “The online writing community”, she muses, “where like-minded and supportive people are doing brilliant things. It’s so inspiring”.
Also still working, albeit from home, is Tom, an IT director at his own company by day and a published poet and writer any other time. Most of his ideas come to him when he is travelling for work, using the time others spend waiting, to write and plot. “Standing on the tube platform letting the ideas collide into one another; a punchy title careering headlong into some verse I’ve been quietly mulling; all the stimulation; the sights and sounds and smells of moving between cities and endlessly meeting people, talking, listening, drifting off... .”
Has the imposed lack of freedom changed his inspiration? Tom tells me that his inspiration dried up for two weeks. “Somehow, writing in cafés or a bus station waiting room feels safer than writing at home or among nosey friends. I now find working on the train to be one of the most productive places. Lockdown took all of that away.” Despite his initial struggles, Tom now cycles and listens to music, noticing a newfound source for creativity, which he is hoping to use for his future material. Knowing too well how a change of routine can impact on your writing habits, I want to end with my own account, which possibly combines the emotions and experiences of the writers I spoke to. Initially, my tired, introverted writer heart jumped for joy at the prospect of spending lots of time at home and banging out one blog post after the other. Who knew, I might even be able to start editing that novel I wrote nearly five years ago.
As always, reality has other plans. I have two young children, a full-time job and a master’s degree in progress, so writing is a luxury I sneak into my life at the best of times. However, quarantine promised something I had been longing for forever, and my desperate little writer soul kicked and screamed and demanded my sole attention, the minute our head of state grounded us. She shouts louder and with more passion than the 10,000 duties from my other life.
“Why?” I ask her gently, after having to pass on a meeting with the page and too many unwritten words, because, you know, the kids need feeding and the house looks like it has been burgled. “Because this is the time to write!”, she shouts back at me impatiently, causing my guilt to skyrocket.
It’s true. This is the time to write. And there is part of me that steals moments of breaks between parenting and working, dumping snippets of ideas on a notepad or one of my electronic devices, finishing sentences I usually wouldn’t be able to start, stopping ideas from turning into forgotten nothingness.
However, something else has also happened: I read more, absorbing the work of others, drinking it all in, learning, growing, recreating what I observed and applying it to my own stories. It makes me stronger and more confident as a writer. I may not be able to entertain my ultimate desire of writing from dusk to dawn, but I certainly have become bolder, braver and more curious. Our experiences as writers are as different and varied as words on a page, as genres and covers of books. We are individuals and so are our creative and productive challenges during these unprecedented times. The one thing we have in common though, is the ability to work around our struggles and persevere, as well as being open to conversations amongst us, and finding time to support one another.
When the world goes back to normal one day, or a kind of normal that resembles a world we are more familiar with, we may feel a mix of emotions and might even pine for the added peace and time lockdown offered us. My hope for all of us is that, no matter our experience, life in quarantine has made our minds richer, brighter and more colourful, ready to carve out new stories, tales and poems to be told.
Special thanks to @victoria.rose.writer, @redheadwhowrites, @sarahemwrites and @tomalex.write.