(The quintessential covid-19 thing)
One of the strangest side effects of the Coronavirus outbreak is that it’s made me feel like less of a writer. I’ve been sitting at home for almost two weeks, reading for hours every day and watching every artist I know and follow on social media work prolifically on one masterpiece or another. Inspiration seems to be just as contagious as the virus itself, and people all over the world are writing beautiful things about solidarity, the yearning for hugs, the incomparable strength of the human spirit and the punishments we’d all like to inflict on the idiots who don’t stay home.
And meanwhile I have just been sitting here. It’s not like I haven’t had creative impulses lately (I’ve done everything from arts and crafts to singing to organizing a treasure hunt for my brother and tidying the bathroom), but I really couldn’t get around to writing. I just didn’t feel like I had anything bold or necessary or important to say about all this. I am completely in over my head here. I agree with all the wonderful sentiments that other artists have been expressing, but I cannot add anything new to them. This whole thing has been so unexpected, and it is having such diverse and incomprehensible consequences, that it has left me at a loss not only for words but for feelings as well. It isn’t that I can’t communicate to you how I feel about what’s happening; I cannot even communicate it to myself.
All this is rather discouraging. If I cannot use my words for wisdom and solace in a time of despair, what kind of a writer am I? If this, which is by far the most interesting and unique thing that has happened to the world in ages, does not inspire me to write anything, what might? Every writer I know seems to have something beautiful or terrible or funny to say about this. Why do I seem to be the only one whose words haven’t found her?
A few days after classes were cancelled, when I realized that I would make a disaster of my life in every sense (academic, social, professional, creative) if I was simply left to my own devices, I imposed on myself a set of rules, realistic but firm. One of them was to write an entire page each day in a lovely little blue book I was given a few months ago, which contains writing prompts and spaces to follow where they lead. One full page every day means I usually do two to four, depending on how big said spaces are. Nothing Nobel-worthy has come out of it. I frankly don’t think that will happen. Neither the prompts nor my answers are designed with that end in mind.
Still, this is the closest I have ever come to feeling like a professional writer, and, ironically, it is not because I’ve written something good. Contrary to what one might expect, it’s because most of what I wrote was bad, and I wrote it anyway. Real writers persevere, they are consistent, they don’t wait for inspiration to fall from the sky and fuel their work. They go grab inspiration and drag it back, wherever it is, and if they cannot find it, then they carry the work on their own shoulders. They focus on quantity, not quality, and out of one hundred and fifty seven bad stories, maybe they get one good one. Just maybe. But that is what makes them pros.
I’d never used prompts as a mechanism before, and while it may not lead to anything worth publishing, it has taught me the importance of commitment and self-reliance. Basically, that you cannot be a writer unless you are a person who writes, and if you happen to be exactly that, then you are a writer by definition.
Funny thing is, as soon as I learned this lesson, what I wrote began to get good. Well, not capital G Good, but maybe better. It is not this belief that has led me to share some of the results of this little enterprise here (although it certainly had something to do with alleviating my nerves), but the hope that it will lead more of you guys to try your hand at being writing people. Not writers, if that scares you. Just people who write.
So don’t wait until you come up with something incredible to put it in paper, because chances are your fear will eat your words and you’ll do nothing. If I had a finished story for every idea I’ve ever had that I deemed too insignificant to follow up on, I’d have enough material to publish one thousand books. They’d be a bunch of weird books, for sure, but they’d be books!
I suppose that if I must leave you with some words of wisdom for the quarantine or some inspiring message for the troubling times that are upon us it should be that: be people who write. Or draw, or play, or compose, or photograph, or bake, or whatever comes to you, but take charge of your own creative spirit and use it to survive these days. Instead of believing that our creative acts necessarily have to be deep and worthy of acclaim, let’s celebrate and value them for what they are: the thread keeping us connected even when we are alone.
I am here to recommend websites for ideas on any topic, look at your work, or inspire you in any way I can. It will make me feel closer to you and I’ll appreciate that endlessly. In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing, one prompt at a time.
Writing prompts sites and books:
- 642 Things to Write About – San Francisco Writers’ Grotto
- 300 Writing Prompts – Piccadilly (my lovely little blue book)
*When literature goddess Azar Nafisi asked me (yes, she asked me personally, eek) if I was a writer and I asked her, in return, what a writer was, she told me this. I have held it as the guiding principle of my life since. It seemed relevant to give her credit, if only so that I could tell this story.