I wasn’t going to write about writing during the pandemic. I found that other writers have written far more eloquently than I could ever hope to during these times which continue to be called hard, trying, unprecedented, and a number of other words I’m tired of.
It’s mid-May, however, and I haven’t written about writing since February. I had my excuses for this. The first was that I wasn’t ‘writing’, I was ‘editing’ as if this is really actually different. Having rewritten several chapters in the last six weeks, and by re-writing I mean trashed and started a-new, and having written the first draft of a short story, I can’t hide behind the ‘editing’ excuse any longer.
I’ll start by saying that I thought I wasn’t really impacted, creatively, by the state of the world. As someone with generalized anxiety, I am very accustomed to living and creating and writing under stress, under emotional toil, under a sense of everything being wrong but not being able to fix it.
This is different. What I’ve been feeling isn’t anxiety because it’s not a perceived threat or danger that I’m looping in my mind. It’s real. The feelings I’ve been feeling aren’t a sense of dread or deep seated fear even. It’s a sense of loss. Grief.
I’ve never been one to tackle grief head-on. I’ve had one coping mechanism that I’ve carried with me since I first found it, and it continues to calm me when the other coping mechanisms sometimes fail: writing.
If you’ve read my blog or followed me for the last year, you know I write openly about my mental health. I believe it’s important to de-stigmatize something that is not rare so that people feel less alone and know that they’re not broken or wrong.
Anyhow, I digress.
Writing has long been for me a way to process my experiences and feelings. But with grief, I stumble. Grief makes me tired in ways I’m not used to. I know the exhaustion of anxiety. Grief is a heavy wet blanket that never seems to dry. It slows me down. Makes me cold. Makes me feel ill.
I don’t have great tips yet for how to write through grief, but I have managed to do it. I think the most important thing for me was to be compassionate with myself (and others, but that comes easier). With my anxiety, I knew when to push myself to break past those fears and uncertainties. With grief, I have to be patient. I have to allow myself to just be.
Being still and in the moment is not only essential to your health, but it’s also essential to building up that writer’s toolbox of experiences and stories to share.
Most recently, I was in the process of revising. That process for my latest manuscript involved taking a rough draft that had almost all of the core elements it needed, recognizing what it was lacking (and adding that sucker in there, because it really was necessary), and then creating a list of the finer details to paint in on this most recent pass.
Those finer details are what writers can harvest from moments of being present. Those details are what make the world on the page come alive, and make your characters seem like people the reader could meet some day. Those finer details come through in the layers of descriptions: taste, smell, feel, sound, an emotional response based on experience.
These little yummy bits that we love as readers sometimes come pouring out of us as writers, but other times they’re painfully pulled out from us.
I’ve taken this period of grieving to try to reconnect with the present. Typically I’m busy rushing around, cramming my days full and trying to carve out time to write. Quite honestly, I still have to carve out time to write. I’m working from home, so it’s not like I just added 40 more hours to my week. But the gift I’ve found, or the silver lining, is that in this new reality of our world, I need to take moments away from screens and the media to sit and stare out the window. Or, weather permitting, go out on my porch and sit in the sun, absorbing some daylight, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze on my skin, and remembering what it’s like to be with myself for fifteen whole minutes. Just me. Alone. Being.
I hope that you are all safe and healthy right now. And if you’re struggling to find a way to create, take a step back, take five to ten deep breaths, feel your body, and just be.