When my life turns upside-down, my creativity nearly always freezes. My brain puts a halt to everything except what I need for my and my loved ones’ preservation. I quit writing and instead, focus on what matters most to our immediate future—safety, water, food, shelter. (And a supply of chocolate!) It’s been the same for many people I know, especially over these last few weeks.
But after the initial shock of the event wears off, what happens? Different things for each of us, depending on how we respond to anxiety and stress. Right now, some of us are trying to work from home. Some are essential personnel putting themselves in harm’s way for everyone else. Some of us are helping kids understand math—whether they’re our students or our own children. Some of us are watching the news constantly. Some are posting jokes and memes on social media, trying to distract ourselves from the worries and fears that reach out to touch us like phantoms from a dystopian novel. Whatever your situation is, chances are that you feel like you’re on a never-ending roller coaster. I know I do. It’s exhausting.
But I’ve noticed something else, too. Many of us are turning to entertainment. All over social media, people are sharing and recommending movies, books, audiobooks, recorded Broadway plays, music, and TV shows. Famous authors are reading their novels on live feeds. Musicians are posting mini concerts. Artists are sharing lessons to help people learn to create through various mediums.
If we dig a little deeper, we’ll see that we’re not just seeking entertainment—we’re seeking connection through creative expression. Especially to things that make us feel something . . . more. That give deeper meaning to our lives. And a lot of those connections have to do with story.
I don’t have all the answers, but from my own experience, I can unequivocally say that many forms of story are a welcome, needed distraction from life’s realities and remind me of my connection to all living beings. Songs often tell stories. My favorite art pieces tell a story in one moment and make me feel something.
Story reminds me that people triumph. Story reminds me that I can both do hard things and make it through hard things. Story makes me laugh and cry, both therapeutic forms of emotional release. Story gives me hope and perspective. Story helps me process in so many ways. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need something hilarious to clear my mind and help me face the next hard thing. (Psst—if you like humorous spoofs on historical figures like Lady Jane Grey or fictional characters like Jane Eyre, try the Lady Janies __series by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. You’re welcome.)
In hard times like these, the world needs storytellers more than ever. But hearing that pronouncement can make some writers feel weighed down and guilty if they aren’t able to write during a metaphorical storm. If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone.
In the last week, I’ve seen writers announce that they’ve outlined new books or have worked on current manuscripts. One even wrote 10k words in one day! But in contrast, I’ve seen many writer friends post about their difficulty writing any words at all, and instead, they’ve baked, sketched pictures, sang songs, and tried new things.
There is no right answer to how to preserve and/or express your creativity. No “shoulds.” If you’re feeling guilty or stressed about writing, let me tell you right now that how you’re feeling today, this very second, is entirely valid.
Before I continue, you need to know that you are allowed to give yourself permission to let your writing brain go dormant for a while, like garden seeds in winter. You are still a writer if you take a break to get through a rough patch. If you choose this, it’s intentional. There is no need for guilt.
That said, what if you choose to keep writing, or want to want to write, but feel stuck? Or think you might have writer’s block? If you aren’t sure how to get your brain to cooperate, I have a potential solution.
A year and a half ago, I was desperate to get into a writing habit. I liked writing—a heck of a lot—but between juggling daily life and my own brain I had trouble getting myself to, you know, write.
Then I had a flash of inspiration: For my fortieth birthday, I would give myself thirty consecutive days of writing to build a writing habit. But because I’m super good at feeling guilty (seriously, I should have an honorary master’s degree in it), I decided that it needed to be a no-guilt challenge. Instead of setting myself up for failure with a rigid, unyielding schedule, I would focus on building a writing mindset and come up with a huge list of things that would count as “writing.” If I could relate it to writing in any way, it would count.
And it worked. Beautifully.
From that decision grew a no-guilt writing-mindset challenge I host four times a year. Today I’m opening up the group to any writer who’d like some loving, non-judgmental support.
Our next round begins on Wednesday, April 1st. You tailor the challenge to fit your own situation. Our members are kind and supportive. The group is free. It is not sponsored by Salt and Sage, but some of us participate in the group. We’d love to have you join us!
If you request to join, make sure to answer the questions. (To help maintain privacy, I don’t approve anyone who doesn’t answer the questions.) If you come across this post after we’ve started? Feel free to jump in with the current challenge or join and wait for the next round. Check it out here: 30 Days of Writing
To sum up:
If you decide to take a break from writing, that is okay.
If you want to bake cinnamon rolls or draw a tree, that is okay.
If you want to keep plugging away at your manuscript or begin a new one, that is okay.
If you want to join my no-guilt writing mindset group, we’d love to have you.
Whatever you decide to do, please know that you are needed and valued and loved. All of us at Salt and Sage care about you and want you to feel comforted and safe.
You are the world’s voice.
You are the future.