Most writers have contingencies attached to how prolific they wish they were, or how prolific they might be . . . if only. They make up scenarios about the right kind of conditions that would need to exist in order to write often and optimally, the kind of conditions that would allow for more time and more space. These are the two barriers that crop most often in the writing classes I teach given that people have legitimately busy lives, working long hours to maintain their lifestyles, tending to young children or aging parents, making time for family and friends. I’ve often confessed to my writing clients that half of the benefit of hiring a writing coach is accountability. It’s tough to find the time and space to get the work done, period.
Enter COVID-19. While the disease and the shelter-in-place orders have taken so much, in exchange we’ve been given these two precious commodities of time and space. And many writers are seizing the moment. Every book coach and writing teacher I’ve spoken with in the past month has seen a surge in their businesses. My own spring memoir class had double the number of students over a similar class I taught in the fall. Online writing groups are growing in size and numbers. Anyone who’s been Zooming with old friends or family members they don’t see regularly or haven’t seen in years well knows this cultural phenomenon of awareness we’re experiencing—that we can connect collectively online with anyone, anywhere. It’s been this easy for years, but only now, with our local connections being as inaccessible as those halfway across the world, are people tapping into the bounty that’s on offer in the online space. And for writers, that bounty is overflowing with writing classes, writing events, author interviews, free webinars, and countless resources.
The only downside of this embarrassment of riches in the writing world is that it encroaches on our newfound time and space. It’s easy to fill up empty time, and for many it’s difficult to tap into the inspiration to write when the world feels like it’s ending. This crisis is nothing if not disorienting. Our schedules and routines have been obliterated. Many of us cannot do the things we normally do. Countless people are laid off, furloughed, looking out at the long arc of each day, indistinguishable from the one that came before it, riding the rollercoaster of feelings that come with this uncharted territory we’re trying to navigate.
Recently on my podcast, Write-Minded, guest Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Verge and The Chronology of Water, shared that she felt “wobbly and weird” as a result of the pandemic. While normally she’d cycle through fear and grief and mourning maybe every few days or weeks, she said, now she’s cycling through these emotions every hour. The writers I’ve been working with and speaking to in the past months have reported something similar—touching into joy and gratitude and despondency and panic within such a short space of time that it’s jolting to the senses. We are not experiencing the normal rhythms of life right now. And while this is disorienting, there are opportunities, especially for writers, to cultivate a practice that will see them through to the other side of the pandemic and perhaps shift their priorities once it’s over.
A writing practice, of course, is its own routine. Never has there been a better time to start a new routine than now. Yes, there are writers who are paralyzed by fear, and some who are mourning the loss of loved ones to this disease, and others still who are battling with their guilt around tapping into a creative well in the middle of a global health crisis, and yet, most writers I speak with report feeling more expansive. I have talked with writers whose senses seem to have awakened in these weeks of solitude and quiet, who are more aware, more present. Are the birds getting louder, or is the hum of traffic and human activity receding just allowing us to hear and feel and experience more holistically? There is a direct correlation between the space the pandemic is affording and their physical experience of space in their bodies. Writing asks for this kind of space and spaciousness. It begs us to be present. It requires time to unpack the message that wants to come through. It turns out this pandemic has created the very conditions many writers long for.
We don’t know how long all this will last. We don’t know what the world will look like on the other side. But we do know that busy humans will find ways to be busier than ever. Our schedules will once again dominate our lives. Our experience of space and time has been fundamentally altered—for now. So let’s write our hearts out. Let’s embrace self-expression and allow for our voices to soar in this time of uncertainty. I spoke with a writer recently who said she always longed for more time, and now that she has it, she reminded herself to be careful what she wished for. She was being funny, and I laughed with her, but we also need to be careful what we squander.