Have you found it hard to maintain creativity during isolation? I have, but I’ve also found many ways to stay productive.
Isolation is in the nature of my beastly writing profession. Once I enter my cavelike focus, shoulders rounded, back hunched while typing away on my laptop, the plot unfolds and imaginary people slip into my dreamy setting like magical beings. Interrupted, they vanish along with anything they were about to say or do. I whip my head around, growl, and snap and claw. Okay, so not claw, but I’ve come close…
You get the picture.
My reaction to isolation surprised me. Instead of going through a creative surge, I became reflective. And this is why:
Writers and artists are sensitive and empathetic. We feel everything and most of the news has been tough. Interaction with others, no matter how isolated we become, is crucial to everyone’s mental health. After three months, I’m still not used to it. Not to mention, as an adventure and misadventure blogger, my world has become waaaaay too small. Boring. What happened today, probably happened yesterday and will happen again tomorrow. I just yawned in response. Life experiences are the catalyst for creativity. We need to loosen the detritus from the dark eddies in our imaginations. Creating something new has taken on a new meaning.
I broadened the meaning of the words, creative writer.
I started my self-isolation in lockdown and remembered my first Master Class instructor, Neil Gaiman. He taught me to think of my experiences and scribblings as part of a mulch pile. I’ve been tossing quite a bit of organic material into the compost. Thank you, Neil!
I started isolation by taking a few more Master Classes to add tools to my craft toolbox.
I’ve learned from Dan Brown and Margaret Atwood. Joyce Carol Oates is my current instructor. I take my place in the first row and furiously take notes. Writing input of any kind gives me a new perspective on current projects. Writing a novel is more than complex and it takes time and practice to fully understand each craft tool to implement it. Sometimes, learning through different presentations and methods makes the tool less cumbersome. Use it enough and it becomes second nature. It’s an amazing feeling to discover the shiny tool in my hand when I write something new. Master Class has been a great way to keep the dust from settling in my brain.
It occurred to me that with all the rewrites of one of my manuscripts, the beginning has constantly changed. The opening chapters haven’t gotten the same spit and polish as the rest of the novel. I dove back in and added more description and deeper POV while cutting anything repetitive or obvious. Revisions can be tedious but necessary to crafting the best possible book. My goal is to waste as few readers time as I can.
This is the year when I get my hands dirty. When I come inside, hair fashioned into a massive rat’s nest, arms scratched, and ragged fingernails filled with soil, I always smile and reflect on the day. My dad grew up on a farm. It’s in my blood. I make sun tea, plant a few seeds, and wait for a late afternoon storm to roll in. Digging around in the dirt for voracious snails and tossing them in the recycle bin can be a highlight for me. I’m weird like that.
What does gardening have to do with writing?
The repetitious nature of yanking grass from my flower beds is a great tonic for allowing ideas to percolate. Similar to walking alone with my thoughts, they seem to pop into my mind from nowhere. Boredom is good for creative thinking.
Walking, whether around my yard or in the neighborhood, seems to add up in thousands of steps. I had gotten out of the habit before Covid-19. Now, I take breaks throughout the day. No matter the weather, there’s a real benefit to fresh air. It gets my blood moving. So does biking. It’s really important for mental health. It’s easier to get something accomplished when I feel good about myself.
Since the second week of March, I’ve read The Family Upstairs, Fates and Furies, The Dutch House, and the first book of The Expanse, Leviathan Wakes. It’s a pretty wide range of genres, from thriller to romance, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and a sci-fi space opera. My current read is a paranormal thriller called The Sun Down Motel. As a writer, I believe it’s important to read a ton to improve on craft. It’s amazing how it rubs off. I learn from every book I read whether it’s well-written, I love it, or not. I read chapters of non-fiction craft books too.
The distraction of wildlife.
Our wildcat population migrated to downtown Boulder, although I keep my Arlo cameras charged just in case. The squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits are plentiful this year and I’ve let my Bichon, Roxy, off-leash. I finally took it to the squirrel and raccoon population and suspended a bird feeder from a long string tied between two trees. It’s hilarious, watching the squirrels ponder the dangling food dispenser from the branches. They can’t navigate the string and it’s too far away to jump. The raccoons are too short. Ha!
I discovered male raccoons are very nasty. I caught one on video growling like a lion. It tore after a female who cried outside the shot. The Arlo camera showed her walking up the steps of our deck all tattered and torn. Damn. Nature can be violent.
While writing this, the string suspending my feeder broke. A happy squirrel clung to the feeder and chowed down. I MacGyvered it and the birds are going nuts. Take that squirrel!
Blogging has been tossed into the way back of my station wagon like a neglected pet. It whimpers for attention almost every day. Once in a while, I toss it a bone. Thing is, blogging is the only writing outlet that gives me instant gratification. I’ll get into the habit again. Soon.
Writing in a new genre for kicks and giggles.
I’m a thriller writer. While revising manuscripts and a screenplay, an idea tugged at my elbow. “Stop that!” I said several times, out loud. I finally gave in to its needling. After starting on this new project for grins, it occurred to me that my Word Of The Year is S T R E T C H . Writing futuristic suspense requires research and my protagonist is a dad. That is a stretch. I started with a woman’s point of view but switched sex since men are more out of their comfort zone when taking care of kids. Sorry guys, but I bet you have seen more dads than moms, who walk ahead of their kids while cars pull in and out of busy parking lots. Anyway, its always fun to be in a guy’s headspace. It’s so organized and linear, unlike mine. More for my mulch pile.
What about social media?
With isolation continuing through the summer, social media is a great way to stay connected. I check Twitter for trending news a few times a day and have started to interact a lot more with Twitter friends. Facebook has always rubbed me the wrong way but I have reached out through PMs. I should post more frequently on Instagram. I check stories daily. Instagram is where positive people hangout. Yes!
For a while, I became obsessed with TikTok. Warning. You will need self-control or time will slip away. I always discover one short video that makes me laugh until tears run down my cheeks. Right now, that’s a very good thing! My wheels are turning with a few ideas, but haven’t recorded anything for my channel, yet… I’ll keep you posted.
Roxy’s haircut was creative!
Every April Fools Day, I’ve considered cutting Roxy’s hair with a French twist. With Roxy’s fur reaching two and one-half inches, I decided to try my hand at grooming. Her haircut still cracks me up!
I definitely tossed baking into my creative mulch pile. I’ve made two rhubarb, blueberry, and strawberry pies. I experimented with the amounts of each fruit. I better make a third one to make sure I get the proportions correct. It will end up in one of my books, I’m sure.
Onward, upward, and forward.
I have only driven in the car a couple of times other than retrieving my groceries at pickup. A peaceful protest in Boulder inspired me to write my last post. We’ve been up to the mountains once in the last three months, but it was just as beautiful as I remembered. Really. We drove to Denver and shopped at Overland Sheepskin while saying hello to my sister, Patty. Now that I’m feeling more confident about safely being out while wearing a mask, I see more adventures in my future.
So what have you been doing to stay creative? Are you writing or creating something for your mulch pile? Made any pies lately?