“For lots of writers I know, being at home with lots of "free time" sounded like a better opportunity than it turned out to be. Wrestling with guilt, anxiety, inability to focus, and guilt about inability to focus - these are the themes I heard from friends and felt in my own mind again and again, especially during the apparently endless month of March. What got me through and kept me connected was actually a renewed practice of writing in my journal, which I kept in longhand with a focus on detail, candor, and letting the writing be what it wanted to be at that time. Sometimes this was political anger, sometimes fears, sometimes it was a particular thing I noticed on my walks, but always something definite that happened that day, which helped keep me grounded as the days blended into one another. Showing up to the page and connecting what I noticed in the world with it helped me keep the lines open for my longer-term writing projects, to which I was soon able to return.”
“2020. The year of perceptual acuity. We’re all forced to take an uncomfortably long look at ourselves. It’s no coincidence the anti-racism movement has picked up vital and unrelenting energy at this moment. The daily grind is designed to keep us in line, and now that it’s gone, we’re confronted with our bad habits and dysfunctional processes. So, if you know in your heart you don’t read enough: now’s the time to start two books and read first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to sleep. If you write best in the middle of the night but force yourself to have a more conventional schedule: embrace your nocturnal proclivities. If you beat yourself up when you don’t write every day: stop beating yourself up and write every day! I don’t know if we’ll have another opportunity to uninterruptedly dedicate ourselves to dismantling the system and rebuilding it in a shape we know is healthier, more productive, more true to our core values. Personally, I’ve found confronting my own B.S to be so much less exhausting than the energy I put into avoiding in the first few weeks of lockdown.”
“I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night; a periodic occurrence during these times of pandemic and protests. The protests had come to my sleepy Southern town and I was worried—for the protesters.
I knew today would not be a great day for writing but I also knew I should do something to keep my hand in.
In The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life, I wrote about times when I was not able to write, for me, in the fear and darkness after 9/11. It seems those times are back. In their midst, I know I need to be gentle with myself. Today, reading a page of critique from my mentor or doing some research for my work in progress will be enough and will also take my mind off all that is going on. Tomorrow I will be able to to put words on the page. And if I am not, I have faith that at some point, I will. Sometimes we really are too busy carrying other weight to have our hearts and our hands free for writing. It’s ok. They will be free again. Let us live in this moment, taking care of ourselves and others, until they are.”
“What I struggle with the most during the pandemic is concentration. Writing, in particular, has been a challenge, and luckily I don't have any pressing deadlines, just some longer-term writing projects. Rather than force it, I'm giving myself over to the other creative pursuits that don't feel like a struggle, like tabletop role-playing games and a storytelling card game I'm developing. For whatever reason, those come easier for me and have been invigorating for my imagination, so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself for not being as productive as I would like when it comes to writing. Once things settle down more and I develop a new routine in whatever future we're hurtling toward, I figure I will slide back into the groove no worse for wear. We don't stop being writers even if we're not writing, so my advice is to be active in whatever creative pursuits work and keep that writerly brain on when you're reading, watching movies and TV shows, playing games, whatever. Amid the chaos, this is a time to be patient, to try to be positive, and to take care of yourself.”
“The first time I watched the movie Wonder Boys, based on the Michael Chabon movie of the same name, I remember thinking that the main character, Grady Tripp, a novelist and professor down on his luck, really needed to get his life together. He's just separated from his third wife; he's having an affair with the university chancellor, whose husband is his department chair; and he's carting around a dead dog in the trunk of his car. It's been a rough few days for Grady. Still, he keeps insisting on sneaking away to work on his novel, which frustrated me to no end. Get your life together, then work on your damn book!
Fast forward ten years: I'm now calling myself a writer as well—slowly publishing poems, essays, and stories—and have just taken my first academic teaching job. I watch Wonder Boys again, and this time I keep thinking: Man, just drop all that stuff. Go work on your novel. It'll all work out.
Now, I can't say in this strange, worrisome time that I wholeheartedly advocate this approach. Do take care of yourself. Do take care of your relationships. Do pay attention to the world around you. But remember, too, that time given over to creation, to language, to empathetically trying to see into the lives of others, can help us see into our own lives, can help us articulate and attend more fully to our own days.”
“Since I am a creative nonfiction writer, I search for inspiration in the world around me. It was this way during those old mundane times, and it is this way during these new pandemic times. So the creative juices are always flowing because the world, especially during COVID-19, is always shining in some new way. These days, the inspiration comes from my brother sick with COVID, over seventy days now. And there is watching my three-year-old navigate this new pandemic world. So what I write these days is born from my brother's sickness and my daughter's living in a world where she cannot hug the people she loves. Will she, our little mud-puddle-jumping girl, become a germaphobe? Will she, this girl so filled with love, learn that physical distance is more important than hugs? The struggle is not finding inspiration. This virus is the inspiration. The struggle is finding time between my wife and me juggling two jobs and one daughter. No daycare. So I have focused on writing smaller. Micro-essays and poems are what my brain and my work calendar have time for. These short pieces, whether essays or poems, can help me feel as if I am calling into the darkness, I am here, and here is how I am. Someone, a reader far away, replies, I, too, am here, and here is how I am.”
“I remember when I first learned the word "exigency" in a writing class. We used the word to name what gives writing a sense of purpose, what makes writing important. Considering the word's etymology, we find that "exigency" can be understood as "that which is needed." There is much that is needed in this world. As we face continued oppression, inequities, suffering, and pain, Toni Morrison told us: "This is precisely the time when artists go to work...We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." May we continue to work, to craft meaningful responses that bring justice, healing, and repair.”
“It’s not that I’m having trouble writing. I’m having trouble finding the magic—the verve or vibe or lightning feeling that I usually get when I write. I have four hundred writing tasks that I have to do—some of them even chosen ones! And still, I wonder what do I have to say? As so many people write so many important and intense things about Black Lives Matter or how they’ve suffered loss through the pandemic. What’s happening with me? I grew some tomatoes! I killed some tomatoes. Sometimes my sourdough starter doesn’t start. Some of the tomatoes survived.
We are adding a small room to our house for our parents when they come to stay or for when they come to live here. 100,000 nails to frame. 100,000 nails for new siding. 100,000 nails for drywall.
This is how I keep writing. Each word a nail. Each sentence a two by four. Sometimes, writing doesn’t feel magical. It feels like a bit of a slog. A day-to-day-we-will-make-it-through-this kind of project. But then I think of the carpenters working alongside me and think, we’re working on a building.”