Monday, April 20, 2020

Creative Work in Stressful Times (or, It's Not Just Me, Right?)

I’ve been thinking about managing creative work in stressful times, and about the struggle to find creative focus, creative energy, creative purpose. (Surely I’m not the only one struggling?) I get snatches of focus from time to time, and dare to delight in feeling hopeful once again – I don’t mean hopeful in a whole existential or spiritual way… I haven’t lost that, by the grace of God. I mean simply feeling hopeful that I’ll be able to write, to do meaningful creative work once again. But you know, that hope keeps getting dashed.

As I finished my 12-hour shift at the hospital yesterday, I was hopeful – tired, but hopeful – because I have several days off ahead of me, and my work-in-progress is finally calling loudly enough again that I’m hearing it over the noise. The creative spark is there! Or, it was there. But then, news last night of a mass shooting, perhaps Canada’s worst ever. Such events are rare in Canada, and I’m far from numb to such horrors. (Does one ever become numb to such horrors? I hope not.) It shook me. So this morning, once again I’m looking for light, looking for focus, looking for the mental energy to create and the ability to believe creating is a worthwhile endeavour. So yeah, that’s my Monday morning so far…

I’ve no advice to offer, because what do I know about anyone’s struggles, but I thought I’d share what’s helping me lately, as I try to find my way back to reading and writing in these strange days. And so, a list! It’s all very specific to my own experience, and YMMV, but I offer it in the hope someone might relate to it or glean a little something helpful from it.

What I’ve Learned in 2020 So Far: A Personal List  
  1. Lowering my expectations doesn’t mean giving up; it means adapting.
  2. Change means stress, and stress takes energy; it’s okay to sleep late, to nap, to give in to insomnia and watch Doctor Who until four in the morning. See number 1 above.
  3. Books are written one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time. Small steps forward are still steps in the right direction.
  4. Audiobooks and verse novels are portals back to my beloved habit of reading when I’ve been otherwise unable to focus long enough to engage with story.*
  5. Mental meandering is essential for me. There’s a difference between “filling the creative well” and clogging up my thoughts with constant input (social media and news apps refreshed at alarming rates, podcasts, audiobooks, music). I need to turn things off sometimes, and make space to wander in the quiet.
I do wonder how you’re all doing. Have you found something that works for you right now? Have you found the support you need? Are you struggling? Are you coping well and managing to support others? Are you able to focus on creative work? Are you reading, or are you longing for the time when you’ll be able to focus on reading again?

Sending love to you all. Stay well, my friends.

*I just finished listening to the audio of Joy McCullough’s MG novel, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (delightful—I loved it!), and I’m currently reading K.A. Holt’s Redwood and Ponytail (so good, and the structure is brilliant).


Judith L. Roth said...

I'm swinging between incessant news-seeking and turning it off completely. Grateful for being able to borrow e-books from the library, now that I can longer go there and I've run through my library stack. I'm able to revise, but I haven't written anything new for the last two or three months. Wishing you comfort, joy and light. Please stay safe while you're on the frontlines, friend!

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Love this Shari! I’ve struggled myself these past weeks, finally giving myself permission to go refill my creative well by physical labour, not writing. There is a season for everything. And being so close to Nova Scotia, and having gone through a similar thing three years ago here in Fredericton, this weeks’ news has been horrendous. We will get there, but it will take time and self-care, I think.