In the past this blog has focussed on how to keep going in difficult times during periods of upheaval, overload, uncertainty, loss and grief and in 2020 during the time of the Covid19 pandemic we have all these together. If we have not lost a loved one, we know of someone who has, we have seen the devastation on our screens and in the daily reports. Across all occupations and in the arts and culture sector outlets and earnings are severely curtailed. Some of us may have been gifted time along with the burden of uncertainty or guilt.
For writers, what does anything mean anymore? What is going to happen to the publishing industry. Isn’t the book we were just about to pitch completely out of touch now? How can we write without referencing what is happening? Should we? Isn’t the skin of self-doubt we have always worn since we decided we have to write just a petty arrogance in the face of real problems?
To the latter question, the answer is Yes, and No. For the writer the aim, beyond fashioning words and sentences for their own sake, there is usually a further calling – to amuse, entertain, inform, console, touch, inspire, create a common human feeling. Surely these aims are just as important now, than ever? And when everything is called into question, when everything is meaningless and horror abides, isn’t it the choices we make (as put forward so touchingly by Edith Egar and Victor Frankl) and the ways we make meaning and enhance the lives of others through writing more important than ever.
Be on your own side
So many of us struggle with self-belief, self-esteem, even basic self-respect. We vilify ourselves with our critical self talk. As writers we beat ourselves up about the opportunities lost, wrong choices, lack of productivity, lack of progress, lack of publication. Yet when we hear of our writing colleagues getting a break after years of trying or a small success along the way we cheer. Because we know what it took, we can empathise with how hard they worked, how they wanted it. Yet we do not afford ourselves the same cheer leading. I’ve benefited hugely in the past couple of years from the work of Rick Hanson whose message ‘Be on your own side’ tells us how important it is to be a friend to ourselves, to visualise ourselves and put a hand on our own shoulder, to have genuine delight in our own achievements, to have pride and joy in our efforts and aims. When we treat ourselves with compassion we allow ourselves to stop panicking about panicking, to stop being afraid of being afraid. Everything I say to you I struggle to do myself but I know that the moment I soften and enjoy the fact that I have written 500 words today instead of getting fraught that I wasted 3 hours, I feed myself more energy for my next attempt rather than taking the ground from under my own feet.
I will explore all of these ideas more in the coming weeks but I think one of the things that we can do especially in these times of uncertainty whether in the writing or arts arena in general is to use any spaces or bestowed time to listen to how we want to respond to our situation, our creative situation and what are the things we want to say. Mindfulness practice is one way that has been extremely beneficial for me in creating equanimity – not filling my mind with the rush of frustration, anger, confusion and so on. Jotting down early morning phone notes or journaling have also been ways of collecting those interesting fragments and juxtapositions of ideas that have arisen both generally and in these ever-changing times. Ideas are everywhere and in chaos even more so. And adversity is a fire that can forge these ideas and allow us to shape and utilise them.
Accept where you’ve come from and where you are
In my next post I will focus specifically on perfectionism and self-doubt and how we can discover the creative potential of our limitations. The broad point I want to make here is that yes, we all do have limitations and blind spots, we all came from certain backgrounds and cultures, we have certain educations and upbringings, we have financial security or we have none. We can see right now that there is a huge impetus in society to break down so many prejudices and barriers and open opportunities to wider groups but it’s also true that people have never been so judgmental. We have also never been as exposed to so many (quantum) possibilities against which we can judge our own progress or path. You may have a physical or mental health challenge, be a carer, be discriminated against, be exhausted, or nervous, or not fit into the profile of the bright young star or the critically acclaimed author or artist. You may never ‘make it’ because of these issues but, personally, I know it helps to shine your light as brightly from where you are, especially if that place is dark. We have all felt helpless or frustrated in the face of barriers of time, finances, visibility, market forces etc but we can only work from now, sometimes in the smallest of ways. Tara Brach’s work on Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion has been hugely helpful to many. Sometimes it’s right to rest, recoup, take a realistic appraisal of our chances but it’s also a testament to the human spirit to keep trying, to look for opportunities, to create, submit, use the mulch of our difficult experiences as a way to enrich our writing and reach others. It is when we accept ourselves and our circumstances that we, as so many have done in this crisis,that we can begin to be endlessly innovative and creative.
Let me know how you have found these past months in terms of creativity, has your head been buzzing with everything but you’ve struggled to produce writing? Have you managed to focus even for a short time on putting down your thoughts? Have you been working on an existing project that has enabled you to leave the current chaos and focus on another narrative? I would love to hear from you.