Friday, April 24, 2020

Ways to Inch Back into Writing--If You've Stalled Out (Some Good Habits to Test Out during a Pandemic)

I subscribe to Jane Friedman's excellent newsletter and the recent article, "Writing from the Bottom Rung." by guest writer Lisa Cooper Ellison hit home (if the link doesn't work, go to her website and search her blog for that title).  

Jane discussed Maslow's hierarchy of needs: the bottom rung is food, shelter, and warmth, the top is self-actualization, where creativity happens.  

Like many of us, she hasn't been writing either.  She reasoned it out:  If the bottom rung is where we are living during this pandemic, then we can't expect to support a productive writing habit.

Make sure that rung is strong enough to support your weight, Jane advised, before trying to move up.  

I studied my life.  My family is well, fed, and tolerating confinement so far.  We are enjoying hanging out together.  We get outside regularly, we nap and read and watch movies and work jigsaw puzzles.  I'm struggling to transition my teaching to Zoom, which keeps me busy (and stressed in a good way).  I don't like gearing up to go out, sanitizing everything on re-entry. I don't like the fact that the Covid deaths are getting into circles of acquaintances now. I don't like the fear running rampant.  I do appreciate the kindnesses, the unexpected generosity, the deeper connections that are happening because of the pandemic.  

But according to Maslow, this rung is pretty strong.  I can stand on it.  If I manage to stay clear of panic and the news links, I should be able to start creating.

So I signed up for an all-day workshop on Zoom.  I brought my cast of characters and I learned some good stuff.  The ideas tickled that creative part of my brain, and I found myself musing over my storylines as I fell asleep, which hasn't happened in a month.  I felt like the class inched me a bit higher on Maslow's ladder.  

And even though that weekend passed with more naps, more puzzles and novels and movies, I did find myself playing with art and music over that weekend after the online class.  Although I wasn't un-stalled, I was dabbling in low-risk creativity.  Drawing and painting, two old loves, came back with colored pencils and collage-making, cutting out magazine photos and arranging them on paper or in my journal.  This felt soothing and pleasing and yes, creative. And I can see it's not far leap to use collage/color to describe one of my more reluctant characters.    

Another great tip came from Grub Street writing school in Boston.  Grub's creative director, Christopher Castellani, recorded the first video in a series on how to get back into your writing, called "Write On Prompts."  He talked about reading, and how right now it can build a kind of foundation for boosting you back into the writing.  He picked a book that scared him (George Elliot's Middlemarch) and read it, not to learn, but just to read and absorb.  He also really promotes the idea of stream of consciousness writing right now, the dream state, not the intense revision state.  

I had been savoring a novel that week, a difficult book, but one that left me breathless and admiring as a reader.  I have a stack of unread novels--scary ones, if I was honest, put aside because they were also difficult.  Chris's video prompted me to comb through them and set a few by my reading chair.  

Finally, the stream of consciousness.  This is so much more than just the reporting we sometimes use journals for.  It's wondering, it's curiosity, it's exploring.  It's scary, so maybe you're still shoring up that bottom rung and can't put weight on it yet.  But when you're ready and you begin longing for writing, as I have been, some of these tiny good habits might give you a boost up the ladder.  

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