"Some people have compassion for even strangers, but not for their own bodies." - Mokokoma Mokhonoana
I read a lot of blogs and articles about being productive during lockdown.
Some told you - rather aggressively, might I add - that you should 'BE PRODUCTIVE' and 'MAKE A SCHEDULE' and 'FILL EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR DAY' and 'USE THIS TIME BECAUSE YOU MIGHT NEVER GET IT AGAIN' because 'CAPITALISM'.
I didn't like those ones. They made me, a fatigued spoonie with mental health problems, feel like a failure.
My partner and I did get sucked into that mentality at the beginning of lockdown, primarily out of productivity-guilt. Even when one (or both) of us was depressed and struggling to even roll out of bed, or when my as-yet undiagnosed lower back pain meant that I was doubled over and in tears with the pain, we still felt like we were being guilted into doing... something. Anything. Just BE PRODUCTIVE, I could feel influencers screaming at us.
Eventually, we realised that the whole attitude was bullshit. For some people, of course, a rigid schedule and flat-out rate of output worked but, what that mindset failed to comprehend or acknowledge was that there were some people for whom this method would never work. Those with physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental health conditions, key workers, front-line workers.
That isn't to say that my partner and I weren't productive! We were, but on our own terms. We had no schedule over lockdown. We played it by ear, paid close attention to our bodies and made sure we weren't running ourselves into the ground (something we both have a tendency to do). Over the course of five months, we prepared our small garden plot for growing vegetables and we redecorated one room. It was slow progress and we'd sometimes go a few weeks without working on these things, but we were productive in our own way and on our own timeline.
When in doubt (and pain and depression and WHY-IS-APOCALYPSE anxiety), build a fort. My partner and I spent HOURS in this fort with our cuddly stuffed animals and popcorn, at 29 and 30 years old.
How is this relevant to writing and creativity?
Well, in April, the fantastic writing group that I'm a part of tackled Camp NaNoWriMo.
Needless to say... it didn't go well. For most of us.
I was still cornered in the 'I must do all of the things' pitfall and went hard for... a week, whilst also going hard at everything else that I was doing. My chronic illnesses, physical illnesses, pandemic anxiety... everything accumulated very quickly and I hit a block.
A block that lasted until July.
I could barely write, sketch, paint, embroider... none of the creative things that made me happy were things that I could do. I say 'barely', because I can't honestly remember if I did those things at any point. I might have, but I can't remember doing anything even once. My Scrivener lay abandoned, my sketchbook had not been added to in months and an embroidery commission that I was working on hadn't been touched in too long. I had to apologise profusely to the person who commissioned me who, thankfully, was very understanding of my mental and physical health problems. I was lucky there.
In June, my writing group approached July's Camp NaNoWriMo a little differently. We set lower goals, we did some planning in short bursts in June and we acknowledged that pandemic malaise was setting in something shocking and that we should cut ourselves some slack. We Zoom-ed twice a week, technically, but there was never any pressure to show up. You showed up if you could. If you couldn't, you knew that the group understood and that they had your back.
This approach worked so much better and, by the end of the month, we had all proudly written something. Even if it wasn't a lot, it was something, and we all congratulated one another on a job well done, even if it wasn't the level of 'job well done' that we had initially hoped or planned for.
After Camp, most of us took a short break, as we always do after a NaNoWriMo event, but we are now back at work, with the approach and vague method that got us through July in mind. If anything, I think the majority of the group felt more refreshed and ready to write after Camp than we'd expected! I knew that I had to take a break, but my fingertips were itching to write, ideas and inspiration ricocheting off my skull with barely contained excitement.
It's incredible what can happen if you let yourself breathe. You don't need to be productive 18 hours out of every day. Your goals don't need to be lofty and unattainable. You don't need to race through your objectives and breakneck speed. The bar doesn't need to be sky-high. What someone else has achieved should have no bearing on your capability and your abilities. Approach your ambitions slowly if you need to. I know I certainly need to, even though my brain is always trying to go at a million kilometres an hour.
This quote from the wonderful Rachel Aust really resonates with me: "Do you think you're not productive unless you're rich by 30? Do you think you're not fit unless you have abs? Dive in and figure out where this standard comes from. Who did you learn that from? And when did it find its way into your priorities? Is it still important? I think a huge part of happiness is feeling like you're showing up for yourself each day and putting your best foot forward in everything you touch. Note that I said 'your best' and not 'perfection', because that's not realistic."
I think what I'm trying to say is this: you're a writer and you will always be a writer. Being unproductive at times or not performing 'perfectly' (what a fucking awful word!) is fine. It's more than fine. Sometimes it's necessary. You need to breathe. You need to rest. You need to recharge. You need to gather your thoughts and most importantly (especially during times such as these), you need to honour and respect your body and your mind. I know that this sounds so wanky and I hate myself a little for typing that, but it's true! You can't achieve anything if you're running yourself ragged; you will burn out and you will make yourself unwell, whether that's physically or mentally.
And if you're like me and have health conditions on top of that, you really, really, really need to stop sometimes. It's so important.
I'm learning that.
I'm still learning that.
Take care of yourselves. Shoot some zombies instead of 'being productive'. Have a nap in the middle of the day instead of 'achieving your goals'. Sit down with a book and a cup of tea instead of trying to 'overhaul your life' in one day.
This advice applies always, but is particularly pertinent at this moment in time. We're all experiencing and witnessing this massive upheaval, this enormous collective trauma. Now and always, you're allowed to stop.
You're allowed to breathe.
Stay spooky, friends.
- Stéph x