Isolation and Writing

Photo by Elias Ruiz Monserrat

I’m sitting here in our library, with the clothes dryer whirring next to me. This room is no longer the domain of the kids’ toys and our books. It’s a temporary kitchen now, too, during lockdown, while our building work has been paused. We could have moved the books upstairs but this room would have been sad without them.

Books are portals to new worlds and other kinds of people. Books are friends. They bring comfort in the early hours of the morning and the dead of the night. I can be comforted just by opening a loved one and reaching for a quote. I even love the smell and feel of them. They’re the first thing I unpack when I am somewhere new. Forget my toothbrush. It’s the books that I’d really miss if I forgot them. It’s always a surprise to me if I enter a home with a scarcity of books. Then, a house isn’t a home without books and a love of reading.

The first three weeks of lockdown, I barely wrote at all. I’d been nearing the finish line for An Ocean of Masks. This novel has been trickier than the ones I’ve written before. My concentration has lapsed repeatedly. I’ve been distracted by the news cycle. I’m still trying to find its pulse. What makes it tick. I made a break through and then lockdown happened, and the children have been home. There are mountains of laundry in our dusty building site home. There is more homework and tech support now some lessons have transitioned online, more grocery shopping and cooking. The children are small still. They come first and that’s how I want it to be.

Usually, isolation would mean uninterrupted writing time. It would mean deep work. This isn’t a normal situation.

It’s okay to judder to a halt creatively when the world shifts on its axis. It is understandable, expected even. All around, there is fear, grief and suffering. There are health and financial consequences to this virus outbreak. We can’t armour ourselves against the extra stresses it has brought. We are rooted to the world we live in. The most important thing right now is to be kind to others and to ourselves. To be as safe as possible. To take everything one day at a time.

Photo by Nick Kenrick

Still, if your balance and sense of self are aided by creativity, even small amounts can improve your sense of wellbeing. Creatives need creativity to be happy. It might mean a break from writing and a foray into something else creative instead. We’ve done a lot of sewing, baking bread and painting over the past few weeks. Or it could mean tentative steps towards reclaiming your previous routine. Now, we’ve settled into a rhythm at home, I’ve worked out again how to squeeze out small burst of work. Even a page of writing lifts me. It makes me a better parent, a better wife, daughter and friend when I am creating.

What has worked for me during lockdown is sprinting with a friend. We’ve discovered The software is free and easy to use, with a simple interface and limited options. There is a global countdown that follows the Pomodoro method: 25 mins work, then a 5 minute break, repeated indefinitely. You sprint alongside anyone online in the global sprint. No one else can see your words. However, your word count progress is tracked on screen alongside other participants and that alone encourages you not to give up. It’s also possible to set up a custom sprint so you can sprint in a private forum with friends. Just follow the on screen instructions and then just share the custom web link with your sprint partners.

Be well, friends. Stay safe.

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