To begin with, I thought writing in lockdown was going to be a doddle. My normal working life was sitting alone for hours alone staring at a computer screen. Then there were those bursts of high energy word-cookery. What would change?
Actually, I was even crazier than that. Staying home and not seeing people, I thought, would give me oodles of time to complete the umpty-um projects on my 2020 schedule. Maybe this was the year I completed three books, cleared out the study, got to grips with social media and started exercising regularly.
Um – no.
The Big Freeze
It was a nasty shock. I was ashamed and a bit scared. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone.
The house got more and more of a tip. I started things I didn’t finish. But for a while I was self-isolating. So nobody knew.
That stage didn’t last. But struggling out of it took me time. And, from things I have been hearing, I’m not alone. Writing in lockdown can be harder than you’d think.
There’s a load of Advice for Writers on the Internet. But they all set me tasks I couldn’t manage. What I needed was a bridge out of the Ice Palace. Then to travel at my own pace.
But first I had to work out what was holding me back.
Lockdown Challenge 1 – House Arrest?
What’s more, caging an animal has always been one of my big horrors. I wept over the guinea pigs and hamsters my primary school friends loved. Taking me to a zoo was an experience nobody repeated, ever.
Essentially, when I write, I nest. Writing in lockdown, my subconscious was constantly trying to make a break for it. Instead of concentrating on the words, I spent hours staring out of the window. Into an empty street, for the most part.
Solution? I didn’t find one. Though staying away from caffeine reduced the symptoms a bit. Any advice gratefully received.
Lockdown Challenge 2 – Here Be Dragons
I’ve been in places and situations that were new to me before. But never one where nobody at all had a reliable map, at least in outline. Politicians and pundits bleating about how unprecedented it all was just made me want to kill.
And, of course, the old analytical brain kept sifting and analysing and synthesising every parallel I could think of. OK, it drew blank after blank. But I couldn’t distract it from its obsessive path seeking. Made me feel helpless.
Solution? Clearly a little therapeutic assassination was not on the cards. (Though maybe I could write that murder mystery now.)
Cutting the pundits and politicians out of my life definitely improved it. It also saved some of the crockery I might otherwise have flung at the radio. But it was very, very hard to do and even now I can’t give up the News completely.
Lockdown Challenge 3 – Creativity Struggles
I was writing a novella for our Libertà Beach Hut anthology and it was due imminently. Yet whenever I sat down to write, I would flip into thinking about something else the moment I sat back to take stock.
Even when my concentration improved a bit, I found myself writing short scenes, out of sequence. Some, enough, were for my Beach Hut story, Going Home? Phew! I had colleagues waiting for my story. Simply getting it done gave me the best feeling.
I wasn’t concentrating on one single story, even then. One or two of those scenes pushing at me to come out of the fog and onto the page were for the story after that. One other – a big one – was for a substantial long term project.
But some were about new people entirely. And yes, you’ve probably guessed it. They were in lockdown. Will I ever put that book together? Who knows!
Solution? Go with the flow. Writing in lockdown seems to have its own momentum.
Lockdown Challenge 4 – No ending
Lockdown had a terrible effect on my perception of time. I had no sense of sequence. The structure of my day was gone and, with it, all the priorities. Everything was equally urgent and could await mañana. Self-isolating, I drifted in hallucinatory stasis.
Yes, I knew it was barmy, even at the time. One of my first creative bursts was writing the diary of a man struggling to bounce himself out of that state, helped by a cat.
For the Companion Cat pretty swiftly imposed a structure on my day. Breakfast sachet at eight. Dreamies snack mid-morning. Top-up of kibble around one etc, etc. And reminded me pretty sharply to jump to it, when i began to drift.
The lockdown timetable lurched and frayed and dissolved and re-coalesced. Tom Kydd focused like iron. Bless him.
I usually plant seeds in the spring. This year was difficult because all garden centres had been closed. But I ordered on line, went a bit mad and planted morning glories, a forest of sweet peas, nasturtiums, night-scented stock and tobacco plants. Checking their minute growth every morning well and truly fixed the progress of seasons.
And then writing in lockdown began to have, if not a timetable, a demonstrable measure of momentum. It was slowly moving forward and my writing with it.
By summer we calculated that I had 18 species of plants in possibly the smallest patio in England. It made me very happy.
Solution? Find markers of time that are outside your control. Cats work particularly well in this regard.
Writing in Lockdown to Come
The regular phone calls, the occasional updates, the surprise messages on social media, they all gave me steady orientation points when I needed them.
Whatever the coming Diktats from the government, I shall draw on these experiences to start me off writing in lockdown earlier and better.
But above all, I shall count on and be counted on by my friends. Blessings on their pointy little heads!