Creativity in the Time of Shutdown

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being told to stay home, stay distant, stay safe. No, this isn’t a political rant, at least not too much of one. After all, I’m basically anti-social and prefer not being out in crowds. But I’m also contrary. Tell me I can’t do something and, by golly, that is exactly what I want to do. This time of Covid-19 is no different. So, instead of running through the neighborhood screaming like an insane person, I’ve put my energy to work doing things around the house I’ve been putting off for far too long and, in doing so, realized this was exactly what was needed to jumpstart the creative juices.

I’ve written about this before. When I find myself hitting a wall with a project, whether it is figuring out how to get started or I’ve hit that mid-point and can’t go further, doing something physical helps. Well, let me tell you, I’ve been doing a lot of “physical” around the house and the words are flowing. Repair the fence? Oooh, now I know how the story should open. Tear down the bathroom plumbing under the sink and I suddenly see the foreshadowing that needs to be laid in this book in preparations for the next. Turn the soil in the raised bed and get it ready for planting and I have the rest of the series planned out.

Add to that Plottr, which I blogged about last month, and I actually have decent output for the first time in months. (Speaking of Plottr, an updated version has been released since my original post and it has some new features I love. Better yet, the devs are planning to add the ability to track series in the program which will be invaluable to keeping track of plotlines, characters, etc., over a number of books)

Now the challenge is keeping the creativity going.

All this has made me wonder how the writers out there who have been used to having their alone time to write have coped with suddenly having their kids and spouses/partners home. With schools and businesses closed, our isolated work styles have been impacted by having people home all the time. A number of us have had to transform into teachers and tech advisors as our kids try to navigate their school classes through Zoom and similar programs. We’ve had to adjust to our spouses/partners invading our work area as they work from home.

Sooo many people in our spaces again.

And we can’t even escape to the library or the coffee shop because they’re closed too.

It’s even impacted me. My 80-something mother was still volunteering once a week, going to get her hair done another day, playing maj-johngg yet another day of the week. She did the grocery shopping on occasion. In other words, she got out of the house. Now she can’t. Oh, the hair appointments are back on finally (thank goodness. Hair cuts have been had!) but everything else is still on hold. That means she gets bored and wanders through to my office and has things for me to do, usually prefaced with “You don’t need to do this now but. . . . ”

So, even with the creative juices flowing, they get interrupted. And that is where the challenge comes in. How to get up from the middle of a scene and come back to it before the “need” to write has ended.

I finally sat her down and we came to an understanding of sorts. She could come ask me to do something and I could tell her “Sure, but it will be later today or tomorrow before I get to it.”. Of course, that means I have to remember to follow through, which is sometimes difficult to do if I’m deep in the hold of a current plot point.

So how have you been coping with the “new normal” and creativity? (And I so hate that term. This isn’t a new normal. This is a temporary condition unless we roll over and let the assholes who want to strip us of our liberty win.)

To prove I’m not giving up on returning to normal, I’m going to find my second cup of coffee, take it out onto the back porch and start to work. That is my new normal only because it is cool enough to enjoy and the mosquitoes aren’t the size of hummingbirds–yet.

Oh, here is what I am currently working on. This is the draft for the cover.

Featured image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

45 thoughts on “Creativity in the Time of Shutdown

  1. I’m tired of being told to stay at home stay distant stay safe while the governor telling me that is traveling to his vacation home in the Outer Banks.

  2. Creative-wise i am making a cover for a novel that doesn’t exist as a portfolio piece. Will probably make another after that…. and another etc

  3. — So how have you been coping with the “new normal” and creativity? —

    Writing a sappy geriatric romance in a near-future SF setting. (Hey, old folks are entitled to some romance too. Aren’t we?)

    1. I am so tired of snarky perky young characters, that I find the idea of sappy geriatric romance… entirely refreshing. Go for it!

  4. My writing time is gone. I love my family. My husband is the best Evil Muse. But dagnabbit, I cannot write off someone is talking at me constantly. I need to have a half hour of time to pound the keyboard. But in the new normal…. sigh.

      1. Our bedroom is also our office. Usually this shared space works for us. He isn’t working, and I am, so when I am there, he talks to me. And I don’t have that hour of alone time when he was off to work any more. Sadly, there is no place in the house for me to have a sanctum.

        1. Another writer I know had the same problem. He bought a small used trailer, mounted it on blocks behind his house, commissioned an artisan to hook it up to the house’s water and electrical lines, and made it into his office. Total cost of the project: slightly under $20,000. Only he has a key. He’s written a lot more since he did all that.

          1. You don’t need that much expense. The cheapest travel trailer you can find (they start at “free”), of no value except having a non-leaking roof (you may need to reseal it, easy job), a few cinder blocks to stabilize it, a heavy-duty extension cord (and a power adapter if you want to actually plug in the internal system), and better lamps as may seem needful… and only you with the key.

            1. Oh, he could have cheaped it out. But he had his eye on an Airstream, and even used, those don’t come cheap. Plus it was an expensive hassle to run hot and cold water lines out to the trailer. But expense and all, he’s happy. He has a retreat from wife, kids, dogs, cats, aardvarks, giant ground sloths, ringing telephones, process servers, and religious solicitors. And it has a desk, a bed, a fridge, a mini-range, a microwave oven, and a Capresso coffee maker that produces fabulous cappuccino. Frankly, I’m thinking of following his lead!

        2. Here’s a thought. Mama gets an hour a day alone in her office. Since hisself is not working he can bloody well hang out with the littles for an hour somewhere else in the house or the yard for that matter. As I recall your littles ain’t so little so perfectly capable of looking after themselves within reason, and dear hubby could relax in a comfy chair with headphones on and his favorite music or book on tape.
          But then such is often the case. Family of authors simply cannot grasp that an author needs time alone to create. Their needs always supercede yours to have uninterrupted time to complete a chain of thought. Non writers somehow cannot comprehend that you cannot simply put aside that thread you were following, deal with their issues, then pick that thread back up again. And act offended when you get upset that said thread is now lost forever.

        3. I used to be able to count on some extended time while he watched sports, ran errands, or worked. None of these available now.
          So, he is underfoot. And it hits my concentration.

        4. Cedar, hit craigslist and look into backyard shed. Then make your teens help you retrofit it for light. Can be a shop light, hanging from ceiling, with outdoor cord plugged into yard socket.
          Paint it, whatever. And you’re in business. Depending on the neighborhood, you could retrofit a non-functional panel van, but I feel that would take more. The shed was something our next door neighbor did in other house, when job moved to telecommuting.

          1. Well, we have a shed. But it’s full of stuff like the lawnmower that sort of needs to be in it 😀 I will start thinking about possibilities. Since the kids are living in what was going to be my writing office (and I work in the other direction, now).

  5. My biggest problem is the isolation (which is tapering off a little), the TV [three cheers for white noise and headphones], and being sent message 2-3 times a day about germ spread, isolation, wearing a mask, staying out of places so they can be cleaned, “shared sacrifice” and so on. Enough. I miss the gym, but walking six-seven days a week helps.

    I’ve gotten a lot of fiction and non fiction written. My blog has suffered, but that’s because some things I can normally accomplish at Day Job now have to be done at home by hand, and it takes four times as long as it used to.

  6. I have plenty of writing time; the First Reader is a quiet bloke and, sadly, we aren’t getting to see much of the kids and grandkids these days. We even order dinner out half the time because my artificial knees still hurt if I stand up long enough to cook. Time, leisure, no excuses. But I’m not writing. The closest I come to intellectual effort is reading novels in German to build my vocabulary. Perhaps it’s time to hang it up.

    1. Please don’t, Margaret. This time has been hard on everyone and you are still recovering from the surgery. Give yourself time and give yourself permission to just relax and read. I’m here if you want to talk.

    2. Yeah, what Amanda said.

      This is a crazy making time.

      Now, I may be in general crazier, and have more need to be watching myself for this stuff… I’m definitely not sane enough now to be making and committing to life choices. It might be that most of that is specific to me, but the stress from current events is definitely a part of it.

      And surgeries can be weird where aftereffects are concerned. Once upon a time, I had a surgery, and it looked like I was recovered enough two months later. Four months after the surgery, I wound up flattened for a month by a known health issue that I hadn’t had to handle as carefully before the surgery.

    3. Talia will haunt you if you stop telling her stories. It’s not at all about me wanting to read them.

    4. Hang out, don’t hang up. Sooner or later, something will niggle. Until then, trilingual puns, and commentary from the peanut gallery is welcome!

    5. Add me to the “don’t stop!” list– if nothing else, a time of crisis is a horrible time to make ANY big choice.

        1. “Note to self: do not make any life changing decisions when a fire worm is gnawing at your shoulder…”

          …Or knee.

    6. Don’t hang up. I go through periods like this, and the latest was SHEER ANGER at what was being done to our economy and our people. Shut me down so completely I couldn’t think.
      Dan is going to be doing the knee thing. Should already have, but “elective” you know. This affects us insofar as we can’t walk the neighborhood. He lasts fifteen minutes…. :/
      Don’t hang up. You have my email if you need me.

      1. I can’t thank you guys enough for all the encouraging messages. Amanda, I apologize if my whining seems to have hijacked your post. My situation is so good in terms of the time and solitude that many of us are starving for, I feel ashamed of not using it more productively. Ok, I guess it’s time to lower the standards. Write 2000 words a day, and nobody said they have to be *good* words, right?

        1. My goal is simply 10 words a day. So if you get 2,000 a day, you’re doing a lot better than me!

        2. Margaret, you have nothing to apologize for. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to share what you’re going through with us if for no other reason than so you can see how much you mean to all of us.

          I know I’ve said this before, but the first time you commented on one of my posts, I squeezed like the fan girl I am. I’d moved away from SF/F for some years because I didn’t like what was coming out. But, one day, I was in the local Waldenbooks and asked a clerk I knew and whose judgment I trusted. She handed me a book written by you and Anne McCaffrey. Since I’d met Anne at a signing earlier and liked her Pern books, I took a chance. I’ve been a fan ever since.

          Just remember we are here to help through these tough times. You have my number and email. I’m a good listener. Now go relax and don’t stress about anything. Give yourself time to finish healing. As several upthread have said, this too will pass.

  7. Need library back! Need to be able to get away from roommate and dog!

    (Not my dog. Unfortunately my problem as owner is now in care. Neurotic dog. Shut the door, “Whiiiiiiine”. Writing = pfft.)

    1. Our family dog is of the opinion that a hand on the keyboard is a hand that isn’t currently being used to pet the dog, and is therefore completely wasted. Fortunately the rabbits in the green space keep him distracted enough that I can occasionally sit down and produce without having Labrador snout shoved under my arm.

      The toddler, on the other hand…

  8. For non-crisis interruptions, I instituted a whiteboard in the kitchen. That was pre-pandemic. Otherwise, I could use that as a “reason” for the non-production of late.

  9. I does love me some erie side of the tracks stories.
    Most pleased that you are back in action young lady.

  10. I didn’t think much had changed; I work from home three days a week, anyway. However, there is a difference between rarely leaving the house and never leaving the house. If the local axe-throwing place survives, I think it’s first on my post-house-arrest list.

  11. Please don’t quit Margaret! I’ve managed to finish Rimworld- The Rift and got it up this week. Now working on a new Western series taking place in the 1870s. Doing a LOT of research. Walking and yard work, plus weekly mowing is keeping me moving.

  12. I’m doing slightly better. The closing of our church AND the ah “cultural institutions” that pass for entertainment around here has kind of gutted me. That was my way of rewarding myself. Work all week:get to go out on Saturday and paint the town a very faded mauve. (Church? Well, we go to the one with the amazing choir, see, and…)
    So… I’m being a farmer. And dehydrating and storing food. And I’ve downloaded a book on regency embroidery.
    But really, I want my date-day back.
    Meanwhile I might only have another year of functional work life, (no, not death, but high chance of going doolally. Plans in place to get me off the net if/when that happens.) depending on a lot of stuff, so I’m trying really hard. However, today I went shopping for potting soil, bought two more grapevines (I swear it’s a reflexive thing in me: feel threatened, buy grapevines and plant them) and…. stuff like that.
    Note to self: Might not have been the brightest idea to transport manure in new car. Make sure to clean back before husband goes librarian poo.

  13. I’ve been struggling a lot with just sort of spinning my wheels, unable to get any traction on anything. At least part of it has been not knowing which conventions will actually happen, whether rescheduled conventions will land on the same dates as other conventions I already have scheduled, and whether I’ll have to kiss my money good-bye if I can’t resolve a conflict.

    I finally ended up setting up what I called my Experiment in Storytelling on the domain name, which I’d bought some time ago but never used. I write a segment each day, without worrying about formal structure, just play around in that world. At least I’m writing something, which may or may not turn out to be canonical. I’m thinking of it as being along the lines of the various vignettes in the Grissom timeline that I do for various vignette challenges.

    On the home front, I’m putting in a garden. Yesterday evening I laid out the raised bed with landscaping timbers, then put the soil in. Today I planted the hardy seeds — lettuce, radishes, carrots, snow peas. I still need a couple more bags of garden soil to completely fill the boundaries of the raised bed, and next week I’ll plant the warm-weather crops — green beans, zucchini and bell peppers. If the onion ends that I’ve been sprouting are ready to go into soil, I’ll plant them too. Why buy onion sets when I can make my own? As long as the bunnies don’t eat everything, we should have some veggies this summer and fall, and if we have an abundance, I may just set up a card table and sell some of the surplus. I have an Indiana business license, and with both our conventions canceled for this year, I might as well get some use out of it.

    Because it took so little time to plant the seeds and I was feeling energetic, I went around to the front of the house and started digging up the flower bed in front of the window. I had to be careful not to damage the crocuses or the daffodils (we’ve lost a lot of the latter, but the former are doing well, and I’ll want to dig them up this fall and divide them up). I ran out of time to get the whole bed turned over, but tomorrow I can finish it up and plant the lily bulbs and the wildflower seeds. Later I can pick up some annual bulbs for the areas I don’t want to commit to perennials for, and get them planted, even if I need to move some of the mulch I want to put down.

    At least it looks like we’re moving into a warm spell, so maybe i can keep up with the work on the garden and the flower beds until we have something to be proud of.

  14. I don’t have the other people, but the stress is accumulating. I had less trouble earlier.

    And I’m not only running dry on stories, I’m being slow to switch between them. that’s not a good sign.

  15. I’ve had my own issue the past week. I can’t seem to get more than 6 hours sleep a night, sometimes less. 2 or 3 times in a row is tolerable. 8 days of disrupted sleep isn’t. My writing has been minimal after a couple weeks of pumping out a lot.

      1. Last night was 7 hours. A couple more and I might feel human again.

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