Today’s Inkpot post comes from Molly Beth Griffin.
What if I never write again?
I can’t be the only one asking this question, after over 18 months of pandemic life. Up till two weeks ago, there had been four humans in my tiny house 24/7. The reality of my COVID-era existence has been no privacy, no energy, and no creative drive. My brain is foggy, my body lethargic. Other writers seem to be churning out new material, but I have barely written at all.
I should clarify that I still work. But emailing my agent and organizing zoom events and critiquing manuscripts for clients is not the same as writing. Writing is something else entirely, and it feels impossible.
And I feel immensely guilty about that. Like I’m a fraud, over here being a writer and teaching other people how to be writers while not actually writing. But guilt doesn’t help one bit.
So what should I do?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you’re still reading this, you might be feeling this way too. So instead of saying ‘I’ here, I’m going to start saying ‘we.’ I’m writing this out of hope that there is a ‘you’ out there, and we’re in this boat together, you and me.
So what should we do?
People somehow think that we can just snap out of this. And in the past, that felt possible. If you’re not writing and you want to be writing, just start writing! Obviously. Decide to go for it and put some words down on the page. Butt in chair, and so forth. Shitty first draft. Just bust down the front door and get to work. Yes, yes, in normal times, that is good enough advice. But these aren’t normal times.
My therapist says that our brains have been changing, that extended crisis mode and constant risk assessment have rewired us, made us extra cautious. Our pandemic brains tell us to conserve energy, to stay focused on basic needs (feed the children, wash the clothes, take out the trash, water the garden). So even though my kids have been at school during the day for a couple weeks now, I still haven’t been able to switch off this vigilance. I told myself that once they were out of the house I’d get back to writing, but instead I worry and fidget and fuss. Do they have masks and backup masks? Are their chromebooks charged? What time is pickup and when do I need to leave to get there? What appointments need to be scheduled, which teachers need to be emailed, when are the next COVID tests, where should we get flu shots? It’s hard to loosen my grip on the real world enough to venture into fiction or tinker with poems.
So instead of giving ourselves the usual commands to snap out of it and get to work, I think we need more patience this time. More love. More forgiveness. It’s ok that it’s hard. We are doing the full-time, exhausting work of protecting ourselves and our families from very real threats to survival. For me, that’s not something I’ve had to write through before.
But plenty of people have. People have written through all kinds of hard times. That doesn’t have to make us feel inadequate; it can show us that it’s possible. The art that comes from crisis is precious, and vital. So although I want to let myself off the hook completely (with patience, love, forgiveness), I know I shouldn’t. I—we—CAN do this.
We can do this. But it might be slow. It might look different from normal. It might show up in a different form, at a different pace, through a different process. We might have to let ourselves in through the side door.
If you’re having trouble getting back to writing, what are you going to try? A different format? Maybe a very short format? A new genre, like humor or romance or fantasy? Different materials, like a pen and notebook instead of computer? A change of setting? Maybe outside? A collaboration with another writer or artist so that nobody is facing a blank page, alone?
Maybe we can gently nudge ourselves back toward the writing life. Or toward a NEW writing life, that works for this strange moment in time. Who knows? Perhaps it will lead us somewhere amazing.
Molly Beth Griffin (MFAC ’09) is the author of several books for young readers, most recently the picture book Ten Beautiful Things (Charlesbridge, 2021). At the Loft Literary Center, she teaches writing for children, critiques manuscripts, hosts a monthly Picture Book Salon, and mentors emerging writers through the Mirrors & Windows Fellowship. She lives with her partner and two children in Minneapolis where she spends her days hiking, eating pastries, drawing birds, watching mysteries, and waiting for the mail.