By Liana LeFey
A lot of people might think being forced to stay home and not see other human beings beyond immediate family for more than a year is the perfect way to make a writer incredibly productive. I’m here to tell you that wasn’t the case for me. During the first couple of months of the COVID-19 lockdown, I did write. I wrote like crazy. I finished a book that was due for submission and then started several new projects, did outlines, made character bibles, and set a goal of cranking out three new books within the next year. But about three months into lockdown, my creativity (and productivity) began to suffer every writer’s worst nightmare: stagnation.
It became harder and harder to write. I was able to edit and revise just fine, but by the fifth month of the lockdown, I found myself completely unable to produce new content. My muse had seemingly stopped taking my calls and wouldn’t even answer my texts. I’d been ghosted! It was as if that part of me had simply shut down. Lights off, doors locked. And nothing I tried helped. Nothing excited me. Every idea I was able to wring from my little grey cells seemed uninspired and unworthy. I hit the delete button a lot, an action often followed by crying into my coffee (or all over a disgruntled feline). My usual escape from stress—writing—had been cut off. I felt like I was trapped in a big, dark, completely empty room.
I’d open those shiny new projects I’d started months before and just stare at the page, and nothing would happen. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. The more I pressured myself to just sit down and write the damned story, the worse I felt when nothing happened. With a growing sense of panic, I began to wonder if my writing days might be over. All I could do was hope those precious seeds were dormant and not dead, and that one day I’d feel the comforting compulsion to nurture them into full-blown novels.
At six months, I finally shared my fears with a close friend during a late night phone call. I was told that I was pushing myself too hard and that it’s okay to take a break, especially during times of stress. I didn’t understand how I could be “stressed” when everything around me was familiar, but she pointed out that my normal life was nothing like existence under lockdown. In addition to concerns about the virus itself, I couldn’t meet with friends to do writing sprints (or anything else). I couldn’t go take over a table at my local beanery or brewery, tune out the background chatter, and crank out words. I’d been physically caged, and it was affecting me. I was advised to stop trying to force my creativity, to just let myself be and do other things that made me happy until “the itch” to write returned. She swore it would once my stress levels went down.
Now I’m not typically a person who takes breaks longer than the few days necessary to get over a cold or make a weekend trip with my family. Not writing for ten months straight was simply not something I’d ever foreseen myself doing once I started down this road. But that is exactly what ended up happening. After that call, I took a deep breath and for the first time in my life, I gave myself permission to just…not.
I buried myself in binge-watching T.V. shows and movies. Because the lockdown had effectively shut down our family business, we couldn’t afford takeout, so out of desperation I taught myself how to make many of our favorite “restaurant” meals at home on a shoestring budget. This former kitchen disaster got out the wok that had been sitting in its unopened box for over a decade and mastered the art of the stir fry. I achieved the perfect French macaron—consistently! I learned how make magazine-worthy maki rolls and onigiri. I read. I listened to music. I played games.
Periodically, I would ask myself, “Is it time yet?” For a little over three more months, the answer was “no.” No new ideas popped into my head. There were no mid-shower epiphanies. I had no desire to create anything outside my kitchen. But I didn’t beat myself up over it or worry. I trusted. It would be there when I was ready. All my life, my mind has generated stories. Some have even made it to print. Surely, that well hadn’t run dry!
To clarify, I didn’t consider what I was going through to be “writers’ block.” In the past, whenever I encountered a dearth of creativity, I simply switched to another manuscript while the problem sorted itself out in my subconscious. And it always did. This wasn’t that. This was something much, much bigger. It was overwhelming, and no trick I tried proved capable of overcoming it. I just had to be patient and, like my friend said, wait.
After ten seemingly interminable months of being stuck in a holding pattern, it finally happened. I woke up one morning and grabbed the notebook I keep beside my bed to feverishly jot down an idea born from a dream, and I couldn’t wait to write! I made coffee, cranked up the laptop, and started an outline. The next day, I began writing in earnest. The relief I felt cannot be expressed in words as a new story began to gush forth from my fingertips. Since then, it’s been getting better every day, little by little.
The world is still not back to “normal,” and it may not be for a long time yet. It’s been a weird, stressful year, and we all handle things differently. If your creativity has seen a decline or even a total shutdown, like mine, don’t be hard on yourself. And don’t panic. It’s temporary. Your “muse” will come back. It’s only a matter of time.
A signed print copy of To Love a Libertine
A signed print copy of Scandal of the Season
An audiobook (CD) of To Wed in Scandal
1 letter sealing kit that includes a wooden-handled brass stamp, colorful sealing wax pellets, a melting spoon, and 2 tea lights
A shiny new coffee cup (one can never have too many)
Other sundry pretties and goodies (to fill the corners of the box)