Why It’s So Hard to Create During a Lockdown

Creative people often work in solitude, and they need time to work. So why can’t I work?

You don’t have to be creative to relate, especially right now. Productivity waxes and wanes. At any given time, some or all of the following have been in play.

Stress from being unemployed

Long-term unemployment is not the same as a vacation or a sabbatical. Not having an income involves a lot of stressful emotions — worry about bills, despair that one will never work again, a sense of inadequacy at the lack of response to your efforts.

Before mine, which predated the pandemic, I lamented the lack of time in which to write. If only I could do it full time, I thought, I’d have so much more content out there.

Now, the time I have to write is filled with job applications, scouring pages of listings, seeking just the turns of phrase to make a potential employer realize that failing in a job no longer suitable for me did not make me a failure. That being unemployed did not make me unemployable.

advice on writing a cover letter--briefly inhabit the persona of a high elf who thinks they are hot shit and cannot imagine why any of their experience would be less than impressive
This is GREAT advice, tbh.

Too much unstructured time

At first, productivity remained untouched. I restructured one novel and wrote another. I published a short story collection. I started making a conlang. I dipped back into my blog.

But I soon discovered that limits on my creativity actually hone my concentration. If I had an hour to write, say at lunch, my brain knew it had to make the best use of that hour. Too much time can be as bad as not enough. In short, I’ve become so used to working around other things that when I have no things to work around, it’s harder to work.

Professional artists treat their art as a job, with dedication, discipline, and determination. After all, talent means nothing if you do nothing. Schedules are important. Having little to do all day can really mess with your sense of time.

Venn diagram - one circle is time, one is writing, and at their intersection, it says  eating all the things

Lack of privacy

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now tentatively emerging (too early, IMO) from a nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, perhaps the first of many. Countless workers have lost their jobs. Others are able to telecommute but find their productivity lacking. To buckle down when other members of the household demand your attention or ignore the presence of another person toiling in close proximity requires mental effort most people aren’t used to.

I can relate to this; in my own house, I was alone. Now I’m in someone else’s space. Their constant footfalls, muffled phone conversations, and occasional forays into the space they carved out for me are distracting as hell.

Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, leaning over a table and looking up
And we don’t even have a barber shop in here to generate a little extra inventory—I mean, income.

Physical discomfort

Basements tend toward chilly no matter the weather outside. My hands are constantly stiff, the fingers icy. The drugstore hand/wrist supports I use when typing for long stretches of time don’t help. Thanks to the virus, any other working space, such as a library or coffee shop (noisy and distracting themselves) are off-limits.

Also, it’s dark in here. A bright space tends to feel warmer, the sunlight pouring in and warming not only the room but the mind. Windows or not, it seems perpetually dreary compared to my old city.

The cure will undoubtedly involve more exercise when parks feel safe again. It’s very unpleasant to walk in the neighborhood, plus it keeps raining. If nothing else, I can get on the floor and stretch.

orange and white cat lying upside down on a stone patio stretching its front legs, mouth wide open in a yawn
Perhaps not as cutely as this, but the facial expression will be the same.

Image by s02cf8 from Pixabay

Mental discomfort

I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in my old city either, but I especially don’t want to be here.

If I’d found a job that was (heavy air quotes) “good enough,” I might have stayed a bit longer. (I definitely would have if I’d known the ‘rona was coming.) I had friends, a spiritual group of like-minded practitioners, personal service providers I respected and liked, and a sense of community even as I despised the limitations of that community:

  • Depreciating job market — low pay, little growth, few means to escape
  • Cultural isolation — lack of diversity, a dearth of entertainment options
  • Bigoted politics and an evangelical religious majority (the less said about this, the better)
gif of Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars saying "It's a trap!"
The Admiral said it best.

I want to leave the state entirely. The weather can be extreme and often violent. The economy here is depressed thanks to years of conservative rule. Salaries are below average.

It’s no wonder writing is tough right now.

What’s a writer to do? One thing that can really help is to pivot your creativity. Exercise that muscle, but in a different way.

Make something. I did make a wicked new book trailer for Tunerville, however. Huge thanks to my friend John Hutch for the excellent voiceover. He did a fantastic job (and yes, I did pay him). That took a whole different set of skills.

I’ve also been making masks for the family from an Instructable. I’m getting good at them; I can whack one out in an hour. Sewing sucks, but now that it’s mostly an automatic process, I can let my mind wander while I stitch.

Try a different kind of writing. I’m taking a screenplay class. I’m writing a screenplay! I have software! The same kind Rian Johnson uses!

Read something. Not only does reading rest your mind, but it can inspire you, especially if you’re stuck. Or watch a movie. Pay attention to the storytelling, or just relax.

By the way, writing a screenplay is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from writing a novel. It deserves its own post. I really wish I had my own space; I like to exercise my dialogue out loud (even for prose), and I can’t comfortably do that here.

Regardless, it’s not time to give up yet. I will find a job, have a place of my own again, and Book 2 will come out. I’m not giving up.

Aileen Quinn as the title character in the musical Annie, singing "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow"

Shut the f**k up, kid. I’m workin’ here!

Check out the new book trailer here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.