Novels are our way of asking questions of the world. And the world feels like a funny place this week. Things feel uncertain. We feel destabilised. Why don’t we take a rest this week?
It’s okay to not write, right now. It’s okay to pause the momentum. It’s okay to feel as if your novel cannot begin to fathom the global existential crisis we may all be in. Who are we if we cannot be with others? Who are we when no one else is looking? Who are we when we cannot find our rhythm in the outside world?
If you feel like writing is a comfort and fiction is a way of escaping, of creating for yourself, of imposing purpose on your day, keep going. If you feel like you’re on a roll and the space you’ve been gifted is snowballing into words on the page, page after page, keep going.
If the very thought of writing is crushing you down, because how can you escape when everything in the news feels so real, keep going. Keep going with whatever you need to.
Coronavirus has hit my extended circle. People I know, relatives of relatives are dying, friends of friends are dying. We’ve tried to grieve online collectively. And in those moments, as you stare at the fifty or so heads, smiling at being transported from their house, briefly, into someone else’s, those are moments I’ve been living for. Even if those are moments borne out of sadness.
I read essays about the clarity art can offer in a crisis. I look at my well-thought out structural plan for my novel. I listen to comfort music (this week, stone-cold jungle classics from the mid-nineties) and I think, ‘how might my characters fare in these times?’ and then I think, ‘does that matter?’ and then I think, ‘how am I faring?’ and then I go online and see people offering advice, people panicking about money, people starting Instagram live conversations so we feel like we’re spectators in interactive things happening right now, people posting hacks for bossing our living spaces, people complaining, people comforting by saying we’ll get through this, people depressed that the words don’t come, people taking care of business, people gloating, people commiserating, and I think, today is not the day for me to write. And that’s okay.
So my writing tip for this week is: do what you need to. We can’t always get what we want, as the Rolling Stones song goes, but we find sometimes we might get what we need.
What do you need in this moment? Do you need to escape or do you need a hug? I need a hug. Do you need to write your novel today? Fine if you want to and can find the headspace to do so. But at the same time, don’t think of today as wasted if you just sit staring out of the window, holding a half-eaten apple slowly browning in your fingers, listening to an old Shy-FX mix, thinking how do I text my aunt my condolences in a respectful and thoughtful way that acknowledges the bizarreness of the situation and our inability to observe tradition? How do I convince my dad to stay home?
What is within our control? What do we need to try and keep control of in these times? Our mental health, sure. Our living space, sure. Anything certain. Anything that pushes back against instability. We will lose work and we will lose time and we will lose the opportunity to see people and we will lose our sense of self without human connection and we will lose our minds somedays, staring at the same four walls.
That novel won’t stop the spread of a virus. It won’t bring my uncle or friend’s dad back. It won’t be better if we finish it now, rather than in six months. And that’s okay. It’ll get written when it’s written. Don’t pressure yourself to get it done.
So this week, write if you can. If you’re not feeling it, watch a favourite show, read a favourite book, video call a long lost friend (that one who you always pick up with where you both left off, no matter the length of time inbetween), stare out of the window, listen to jungle classics, watch a YouTube video that makes you laugh, write a poem about how you feel. If you’re going to do any writing, maybe use this week to write without consequence. Something for you. Something that, instead of asking questions of the world, it asks questions of you:
How am I?
Who am I?
How am I doing?
How am I feeling?
All of this is okay and normal.
Write that. Read it back. Tell yourself you’re going to be okay. Read what you wrote back to yourself and hold it in your chest.
Much love to you. I’ll do the same.