Writing During a Pandemic

Like most of the world, I’ve been in semi-isolation for months.  You might think this would be a blessing for a writer, especially an introverted one, wouldn’t you? 

Yes and no.

According to Health Canada, depression, anxiety, and stress are common side-effects of the pandemic.  The outer signs vary from one individual to another.  In my case, I often felt bone-deep tired. I had trouble concentrating.  I withdrew.  I neglect Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other ways of keeping in touch. Socializing required effort, some days more than I had to give.

Shuttered and at home, creativity suffered, too. I’ve heard that the same has been true of some other writers. Jane Friedman – blogger, columnist, professor – explains it this way in her blog Writing from the Bottom Rung: How to Sustain Your Creativity.

Right now, our hearts are filled with COVID-19 cases and deaths, and which relative might be at risk, or which grocery store has the food I can eat—or better yet, toilet paper—or how much space is required to actually socially distance or how I will get paid or when will this end.

The bottom two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs include our physical needs for food, water, warmth and rest as well as security. The top rung—self-actualization—is where creativity happens. Many of us are just not there, yet.

Fortunately, I never did contract COVID-19, suffer economic woes, had to homeschool children, or worry about elderly parents like so many others. I was lucky in many ways, and my dip into the dark side of the pandemic was short-lived and mild. 

If the pandemic had a negative side, it also had a positive one. Being confined to the house meant a shift in routines.  For 30+ years, I’d gone out to coffee shops to write. That’s how I jump started my writing day.  Sit down, sip coffee, crack open my laptop, write with the comforting murmur of voices around me.

In search of a coffee spot in Venice, Italy. The red backpack containing my laptop has been my companion for many years.

Also, part of my routine, I went to the gym right after my writing session to pump iron (an exaggeration), walk the treadmill, and huff through rounds of ellipticals. Exercise freed my mind. I was reasonably fit, too.

Then the pandemic.  No more coffee shop.  No more gym.  A 30+ year routine gone.

Fortunately, I quickly settled into a new one. I learned how to make decent coffee in the machine we’ve had for years. I inhabited my office (our son’s converted bedroom).  I wrote uninterrupted, often for longer stretches than I normally would.  I pounded out a semi-complete draft for a novel. So far, all good.

To replace my gym visits, I devised a new exercise regime. Before coffee, before writing, I went for a long morning walk in our neighbourhood, aiming for 5000 steps, half of my goal for the day. Most mornings, the air was cool, the sun was just beginning to rise, and over 3 months I observed small changes on my route.

With the sun rising, the full moon wanes – March 2020
A sharp breeze ripples icy water flooding a nearby park – April 2020
A pair of Canada geese in a nearby park just after touchdown – April 2020
Cones weigh down the branches of a mountain pine – June 2020
Elm spanworms that infested the city, wove a delicate web around this tree – June 2020
Either rising early or arriving home late, this cat blends into its surroundings at sunrise – June 2020
Caught on camera in the neighbour’s yard, it’s not clear who was more surprised – the deer or the photographer – July 2020

I also started an evening routine of weights and stretches. I found time to read and revived my interest in photography.  I discovered podcasts to accompany me on my walks, and audio books and apps that do wonderful things. I put my car into temporary retirement – no need for two cars when there was nowhere to go. I put my travel insurance on hold, too.  Money saved. Another plus.

Compared to so many others, I fared well, and it set me on a new course of routines that seem to work. I don’t need to go out to write. I don’t need my gym membership to exercise (at least not yet – winter might change my feelings on that). I’ve discovered I can live without social media, but that life is somehow cheerier with it. 

Overall, I discovered ways to shut out the negatives that surround us, to harness the positives, and to capitalize on hidden opportunities that went unrecognized before.

3 Comments

  • Jo

    July 24, 2020 at 8:03 am Reply

    Yes, amazing what we learn through forced change!

  • maryloudriedger

    July 24, 2020 at 8:25 am Reply

    The pandemic has brought some major changes in my writing and personal life too Larry. I have been able to find lots of silver linings. Two jobs I loved ended but I have found that I am not missing them as much as I thought I would. I have been able to do a lot more writing and prepare more work for submission. Two effects of the pandemic however still can send me into a spiral of sadness -its impact on my once vibrant and sharp 91 year old father and the fact that I haven’t seen my granchildren for 7 months. Yesterday my one year old granddaughter said the word Grandma for the first time during our FaceTime call and I started to cry. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I need to do better at monitoring my social media use. I think that is very wise of you.

    • Larry Verstraete

      July 24, 2020 at 6:04 pm Reply

      There have been so many ups and downs with the pandemic, MaryLou. Not seeing family and feeling disconnected from them is one of the toughest parts, for sure. We are lucky that two of our grandkids live in the city so we’ve been able to visit with them a few times. Not so with our granddaughter in Seattle who turned 8 a few weeks ago. It felt very strange blowing out candles on her birthday cake over Zoom. Seeing a parent decline so rapidly, feeling helpless to stop it and yet feeling somehow responsible for their care – I can only imagine how difficult that must be. I’m glad you found a silver lining in the midst of all the turmoil.

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