The Gift of Time and Space: Writing Through the Pandemic
For some writers, the pandemic means more freedom to writeWriters like to imagine scenarios that would allow them write often and optimally—the kinds of conditions that would give them more time and space. Time and space are the two barriers that come up most often in the writing classes I teach, given that people have legitimately busy lives, work long hours, tend to young children or aging parents, and make time for friends. I’ve often confessed to my writing clients that half of the benefit of hiring a writing coach is accountability. It’s tough to find the time and space to get the work done, period.
Enter Covid-19. Though the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders have taken so much, in exchange we’ve been given the two precious commodities of time and space. And many writers are seizing the moment. All the book coaches and writing teachers I’ve spoken with in the past month have seen a surge in their businesses. My own spring memoir class had double the number of students over a similar class I taught in the fall. Online writing groups are growing in size and numbers.
As Zoom has taught novice users over the past three months, it’s remarkably easy to connect online with anyone, anywhere. It’s been this easy for years, but only now, with our local connections being as inaccessible as those halfway across the world, are people tapping into the bounty that’s on offer in the online space. And for writers, that bounty is overflowing with writing classes, writing events, author interviews, free webinars, and countless resources.The only downside of this embarrassment of riches in the writing world is that it encroaches on our newfound time and space. It’s easy to fill up empty time, and for many it’s difficult to tap into the inspiration to write when the world feels like it’s ending. This crisis is nothing if not disorienting. Our schedules and routines have been obliterated. Many of us cannot do the things we normally do. Countless people are laid off, furloughed, looking out at the long arc of each day, indistinguishable from the one that came before it, riding a roller coaster of feelings.
Lidia Yuknavitch, the author of Verge and The Chronology of Water, said she felt “wobbly and weird” as a result of the pandemic on a recent episode of my podcast, Write-Minded. Though she would normally cycle through fear and grief and mourning maybe every few days or weeks, she said, now she’s cycling through these emotions every hour. The writers I’ve been working with and speaking to in the past months have reported something similar: touching into joy and gratitude and despondency and panic within such a short space of time that it’s jolting to the senses. We are not experiencing the normal rhythms of life right now. And while this is disorienting, there are opportunities, especially for writers, to cultivate practices that will see them through to the other side of the pandemic and perhaps shift their priorities once it’s over.
I have talked with writers whose senses seem to have awakened in these weeks of solitude and quiet, who are more aware, more present. Are the birds getting louder, or is the receding hum of traffic and human activity just allowing us to hear and feel and experience more holistically? Writing asks for this kind of space and spaciousness.
We don’t know what the world will look like on the other side. So let’s write our hearts out.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, a TEDx speaker and writing coach, and the author of Write On, Sisters! and Green-Light Your Book.