11. How to Write During a Time When it’s Hard to be Creative

With everything going on in the world – many people still in quarantine due to COVID-19, many fighting against atrocities and even fighting for their lives, and other global issues – it can be hard to find the energy to be creative.

I recorded this podcast a few weeks ago when quarantine was the biggest issue for many of us in North America, but a lot has changed since then. While the podcast refers to living in quarantine, the teachings apply to any time of upheaval. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are going through, you can apply some of this thought-work to help you get through.

A few months back, during the peak of quarantine for me, it was fascinating to watch my brain struggle with the idea that I now have more time to write, and should be writing – yet still struggling with not spending the time writing.

I think a lot of you can probably relate to that right now. Having time to write, extra time, or time you previously set aside, and then not writing during that time.

If you’re stuck in this pattern, it’s important to notice what you’re thinking around writing. Often, what I see writers do is present it like it’s a mystery why they’re not writing. This shows up in thoughts like “I’m just really not motivated,” or “I don’t know, I just don’t feel like writing,” or “I’m not sure what’s going on, it’s really hard to write right now.”

The problem with those thoughts is they seem so believable at the time, but repeatedly thinking them takes away all control you have over it. What’s actually happening is that you’re spending all your time indulging in these thoughts and wasting the time you could be using for writing. A repeated thought like “I don’t know, I just don’t feel like writing” makes it seem like you have no control over wanting to write, and that wanting or not wanting to write isn't something you can change.

That’s the first thing to notice if you’re struggling to write during this time. Have you mystified the reason and made the solution outside of your control?

Not wanting to do something is being a human in the world, especially right now. It’s not a mystery, it’s not a surprise that you’d have thoughts like that. But wanting to write and taking the action of writing is 100% in your power to change.

The second thing I want you to notice is if you are repeatedly telling yourself that you “should be writing during this time,” or that you “should be using this quarantine time productively.”

These types of thoughts sound motivational. They seem like a good idea. But in reality, they are poisonous towards writing. Here’s why:

You can either spend this quarantine writing or not. But thinking that you “should be writing” means that you don’t get to enjoy the writing or the time off.

You’ve taken all the want out of writing by "shoulding" all over it, and you’ve taken away all the possibility of time off by "shoulding" all over that. You can’t win either way, you’ve trapped yourself and now you don’t get either option. You can’t get writing done and yet you can’t relax.

Many writers think like this and they’re not even aware that these “should be writing” thoughts are hurting them.

If you want to spend this quarantine time working on your mental health, or supporting your family, then do that. Enjoy it, be present, and don’t tell yourself that you should be doing something else.

And if you want to spend time writing, then you know how to get into that space to motivate yourself.

There is no upside to thinking you “should be writing.”

This means you either need to just go for it and start writing, or let that thought go. Because thinking about what you're not doing and acting like you should be doing it isn’t useful.

Motivation is harder during this time, but that just means your going to get stronger. Don’t think it should be easier and don’t criticize yourself if you’re having a hard time. You need to encourage and be kind to yourself now more than ever.

Listen to the podcast here.

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