I think we can all agree the last year and a half has had a profound effect on everyone. As writers, it’s safe to say we’ve all been changed in some way or another. I can tell you that in the last eighteen months my creativity, as well as my mental health, have taken quite a beating. My normal writing processes have been completely derailed, leaving me wandering through my drought-stricken imagination, searching for any trickle of inspiration.
So, now that things are opening up, how do we pull out of the funk and get the creativity flowing again? Here are a few ideas that seem to work for me.
I know it sounds simple and that’s because it is. I’ve been staring at the same walls for so long I know every cobweb in every corner of my office, so a change of scenery works wonders. I never thought of taking the dog for a walk and breathing some different air for a few minutes could make such a difference, but when I’ve been in isolation for so long, it’s a game changer. Listening to the sounds of outside life and trying to describe the tree, flower, or bug I just came across is a good mental exercise that gets the brain cells chugging along again.
When I say go for a drive, I’m not talking about running errands or getting the shopping done for the week. I just fill the gas tank and drive aimlessly. I might take that road I’ve always wondered about but never turned onto before, or slow down and really look at the places I pass every day but haven’t paid much attention to. If I see a house that catches my eye, I might make up a story about the family who lives there, or maybe someone who died and now haunts it.
I’m also lucky enough to have a vehicle that allows me to get off the road and explore the deserts and mountains near my home. Ghost towns, old mines, and long abandoned structures offer loads of inspiration.
When everything shut down, a lot of things got messed up. Familiar routines were disrupted and the places we escaped to had limited access or shut down completely. We lost our comfort zones. I had certain pubs I would write in because the character of the location (as well as the people) inspired me. Returning to those places has opened doors in my brain that were slammed closed during the lockdown.
I’ve also been able to return to the Musical Instrument Museum where I volunteer, and it’s done a lot to get me inspired again. Every piece in every display has a story, as do most of the patrons I have the opportunity to interact with.
This one is a biggie. Reconnecting face to face with people again has helped my mental state. While I’ve enjoyed the time spent on video conferencing and chatting over social media, there’s nothing that recharges my soul like catching up in person. We’ve all got that one friend we lost touch with (maybe even before Covid) that always brightened our day when we sat down and caught up. It’s time to look them up, invite them out, and spend a few hours laughing, crying, and just reminiscing.
This one might sound a little selfish when you have family and friends who have suffered as well, but self-care is important. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be doing them any good either. Rediscover that one thing that made you happy before all this pandemic stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s something no one else in your circle enjoys doing—do it for yourself.
I help take care of my spouse, my in-laws, a few outlaws, and any other strays that might happen by. When it all gets to be too much, I escape and sneak out to the antique mall (thank God it’s open again). It’s my happy place that I don’t have to share with anyone else. I find things that remind me of my childhood and go on treasure hunts for whatever inspires me that day (usually old cast iron skillets).
There’s no doubt the world has changed and will never completely return to life as we knew it, so we have to adjust. In truth, the world never stops changing from the time we’re born until we draw our last breath, so we’re used to adjusting to whatever comes next. Things just happened a lot faster this time. My best advice is to slow down, take a deep breath, and give your brain a chance to catch up.
What impact has the last year and a half had on your creativity and productivity? What have you found helps you deal with the changes? Let us know in the comments!
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma, Catching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room, Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.
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These are such simple suggestions, but golden. Thanks for getting me thinking about how to ease myself back into the "real world."
Thanks, Maggie. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to get ourselves to do. I'm much better at doing for others than for myself.
You've listed some great suggestions for getting back into the swing of things -- such that we are able as we seem to be in a constant state of flux.
Right now I reach out to friends and am spending more time in the great outdoors, taking photos of and near the Guadalupe River. Those things are helping. I really look forward to in-person writers conferences!
How are things at the Musical Instrument Museum? Sounds like a wonderful place.
I love going out and taking pictures as well.
Yes, the MIM is a magical place. It's the only museum of it's kind. There are other instrument museums, but this is the only one that encompasses the whole world. There are so many things to see that I volunteered so I could have an excuse to spend more thine there!
The hardest part of this is that it isn't for me. As someone who has been living with something like long-covid for over three decades, and trying to write anyway, I see people wanting to get back to 'normal' - and me having to stay under siege conditions again. Still.
Don't forget us, now that you understand a bit of what it's like. Don't let things like working from home - which disabled people have requested for years while being told 'it's too expensive and it would never work' - disappear.
What works? Dealing with the challenges one day at a time, and trying not to worry about what I can't change. Writing anyway. Using the experiences coming my way to deepen the characters, especially the one who is disabled.
I write in the Journal when it seems too much to deal with - and that honors the fears while not letting them run things: I always come back out ready to tackle the day's challenge. Every little bit helps, gets me closer to finishing THIS book. Talking some of the junk out with a counselor. Taking care of myself, getting the rest.
In some ways, it is good not to have to change my whole approach!
I second everything you've said, Alicia. My wife has worked from home for over four years due to health issues, so I hear where you're coming from. The biggest thing she had to adjust to was how other people were dealing with working from home (and having me around all of the time). One day at a time is truly the best way to deal with change.
Please give my best to your wife - and hope we end up with a kinder world that is ever more inclusive.
Thanks for this list of ideas to recharge our own batteries. It's edifying to know that other writers struggle with the ups-and-downs of life and take time for themselves.
The Jeep trip looks like a lot of fun and potential shenanigans. Glad your family could get away for awhile!
Early in the pandemic, I had several irons in the fire, but with everyone home (work/college/high school), everything came to a halt. Two of my three boys graduated from college in May (DPT--passed his Boards--for oldest, Master's of Finance/Bachelors' of Math, Finance, and Economics for middle). Middle moved to Dallas.
Beginning to see the light and feeing the itch to write, so I started a new WIP the other day. I had visited a writer friend in Dallas, and she gave me some invaluable writing advice, and just the other day the spark hit.
It has been so terribly hard to have everyone home! My creativity took a major beating with that one. The only thing that saved my bacon was noise-canceling headphones. 🙂
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