Weathering a crisis with a writer’s mind

Writers and other creatives can only make their art because they are hypersensitive to the world and the human condition. So it’s no surprise that a global crisis like the pandemic makes such a deep imprint on us, it can choke off our ability to create anything at all. And hearing people say, as they did this week, that William Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague lockdown doesn’t help.

I’m writing the first draft of a brand-new middle grade book and am one of the lucky ones. With the exception of a few panicky days where all I can do is watch the news and nurse my cracked knuckles and dream of rubbing my eye again one day, I’ve been able to keep writing. But two years ago exactly, I was at a total standstill, laid low by the flu and by frustration that my writing was going nowhere (it passed, thank God, and I began writing again after a few months).

What I told myself then is what I would tell any writer now: you don’t have to create. You don’t have to stress that other people seem to be creating and you’re the only one who isn’t.

A salve for the writer’s mind

Just trust that the sensitive, creative mind you were born with is taking it all in and maybe, one day, will do something with it. Or not. But it’s okay to crumble. If anxiety, or mortal terror, are pressing in, stop yourself looking at the news any more than twice a day. Treat yourself to anything you find to be a salve. Sketch a daffodil. Watch Patrick Stewart read sonnets. Get a step-by-step guide on how to do that mindfulness breathing thing from the Zen monks who mastered it.

If you’re up to it, try a creativity exercise like this one led by Jason Reynolds, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US, just to get the free-associations moving in your brain.

Don’t forget the flowers

None of us is Shakespeare. But this tulip is: it’s the very first tulip to flower in the garden, every year, and it raised its face to the sun this week. Wherever you are, this tulip is for you.

Sheila M. Averbuch is a former journalist who’s interviewed billionaires, hackers and would-be Mars colonists. She co-founded the Scotland network of SCBWI and is author of the middle-grade thriller FRIEND ME, publishing in 2020 with Scholastic US. She holds a 2019 New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust.