Ok, so who thought I would ever be writing that as a title for a non-fiction piece of writing?
To be honest the strangeness of that statement isn’t just the use of the word ‘pandemic’, but that I find myself writing about writing.
Let me explain:
I always had a creative soul. I never wanted to conform. I spent my childhood during the 1970s attending a school that extolled the virtues of self-expression and individualism. I wore an Afghan coat inside out drenched in the obligatory patchouli oil and would attend lessons only when I felt like it.
I was only interested in lessons where I felt I would learn something new or where the teacher would stretch my imagination in some way. I loved art (but not the classroom variety) and I only attended half my English lessons because, in all honesty, I had a crush on the teacher.
Despite being one of the most gifted and difficult pupils, I managed to fall in love with literature and, rather surprisingly, Shakespeare. Who knew this very naughty girl’s waywardness could be subdued by Hamlet’s procrastination or Iago’s Machiavellian shenanigans?
I also, secretly, wrote poetry and thought one day I might write a book.
Thankfully, my teacher crush thought enough of me to organise a visit to an Arts College. I left armed with a degree and eventually became an English teacher. But in truth, I still harboured a secret desire to write and paint and be the artist I had told the career’s advisor I had wanted to be before he put me off with a careless and mocking exclamation that ‘one never makes money from art.’
My desire became a secret shrouded in self-doubt and fed a diet of cowardice.
So, after many years of trying to deal with the increasingly heavy burdens placed on teachers, I broke. I broke into a thousand pieces. I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and heart problems. To add insult to injury, my darling mother died in the same year. I withdrew into that dark place called depression.
I was confused, broken and in the dark. So where did I find the light?
Finding solace in creativity
Whenever I need to stop my mind from wandering, I doodle. I would doodle in my lessons so that I could fully focus on what the teacher was saying because it helped to calm my butterfly mind.
In meetings and seminars, I often find several elaborate drawings doodled on the papers in front of me that were imagined into existence by my hands as my mind busied itself elsewhere.
Finding that I couldn’t sleep at night, I bought a large sketch pad and started to draw in ink. The process of drawing with a very fine ink pen during the dark hours of the night proved to be strangely meditative. The more time I spent creating, the clearer my thinking became.
- Find a creative outlet that you enjoy
- Don’t force sleep but find something calm to do instead
- You may well experience strange sleeping patterns—go with it—you can always sleep in
An untidy room is an untidy mind…
Clutter is really not conducive to creativity. Trying to find peace and equilibrium inside a chaotic workplace is counter-intuitive. So I revamped a downstairs room into my very own art studio and bought a music player.
Sometimes, I would stir from my meditative trance at 4 a.m. and be genuinely surprised by the piece of work I had created!
- Organise a designated space for your creativity
- Make sure all your equipment is boxed and labelled so it is easily accessible
- Choose music that enhances the mood you want for your creative activity
Give yourself time…
I grieved for the loss of my mother as I drew fine, black lines and allowed myself to absorb her passing. This creative spell weaved its magic. It began to heal me. It gave me purpose. It made me feel like I had finally begun, at the grand old age of fifty four, to take the promised journey to express myself with courage and honesty.
- Loss causes grief. Loss of a loved one, retirement or loss of freedom. Recognise you are grieving
- Allow yourself to grieve naturally. It is ok to be sad
- Spend time understanding your loss.
- Find the time to explore ‘you’—no matter how late you left it
Finding a voice
Speak up for yourself…
But still this wasn’t enough. In losing my previous life along with many of my friends and colleagues, I needed to find new connections to the world. Facebook seemed the most obvious platform for using both visual and written material.
In the beginning, my Facebook posts were tentative and trying too hard to please. But soon my voice grew as my confidence blossomed. I published some of my poetry and got a huge buzz from the positivity I received in comments and reactions.
I have always had a loud, political voice. I soon realised that the compulsion to advocate and support the vulnerable of this world had not lessened. These posts turned into my own ‘ Daily Muse.’ My writing style began to emerge too. My confidence grew with each post and each response from the invisible audience. I was realising my power gradually and this was strengthened by the support of kind and generous followers.
- Use your voice and your opinions as fuel for your writing
- Write regularly (daily if possible) to hone your writing skills
- Use social media to ‘practise’ your art—it is great for feedback
- Don’t feel you have to write lengthy or time-consuming essays
Finding the positive
Remove the negative…
I blocked trolls but encouraged discussion and debate. I could experiment without fear of ridicule. I slipped into writing book reviews and music reviews with ease and began to realise that I had, in fact, found a talent for writing.
One sunny day, I sat outside in the garden and wrote a short story. It arrived on the page with ease and with a very different voice. I had no idea that that voice resided inside of my imagination. It felt like my lack of confidence had served as a dam to a reservoir of latent creative expression all bursting to escape.
It seemed that another voice had disappeared—and that was the horrid little negative voice that had whispered to me for most of my life.
- Don’t block your fledgeling attempts to write by allowing negative criticism
- Allow your work to be seen by people who encourage you
- Don’t listen to your own negative voice
- If the muse takes you, go with it!
Then something extraordinarily awful happened. Coronavirus hit our shores and after much prevaricating, we were told to isolate indoors for the foreseeable future. In fact, as I write this, I have been isolated in my room for over three months!
So what happens to a highly communicative creative in isolation for that length of time?
I will elucidate.
Finding the antidote
After witnessing Brexit and the terrible divide of our country—coupled with the ever-increasing horrors of the climate crisis—I, like many, many others felt that perhaps we were witnessing the end of the world. I thought that maybe this virus had been sent by a higher power to eradicate the wanton human species wreaking so much havoc across our glorious planet.
As a result, my political voice became louder and more passionate. Also, my ‘Muses’ moved from everyday thoughts to a commentary on the political machinations of our leaders, heartfelt pleas for our planet, observational insights regarding the growing community spirit of everyday people, and a gradual realisation that all was not well.
- Use your anger constructively
- Learn, observe, research and comment. These are all writing skills
- Write with passion, notice how your passion affects your audience
Finding the connection
Recognising that we were living in extraordinary times, I decided I would record it in a daily video diary. I did this because people asked for it. They needed to hear someone else feeling low, feeling scared, feeling bored, frustrated, angry or going stir crazy!
They wanted to have their own emotional responses justified, quantified and absolved just as I did. It seems the longer we are isolated, the more powerful the urge to connect becomes. As I reached out to them, I found great comfort through the connection.
- Share emotions so that you connect on a deeper level—as a writer this is essential
- Confess to weakness—we are all human and others connect more readily knowing you aren’t perfect either
- Pursue real and meaningful conversations. It helps to keep us all sane
And so…where am I now?
Still isolating in my room and I have also needed to pay for virtual counselling sessions to help me with anxiety.
But something magical happened once again.
Finding my people
I noticed the advertisement for The Writing Society, which promised a place to ’find the confidence to publish the book you’ve always dreamed of writing.’ I have had a play inside my head for over twenty years. The price to join was extremely affordable and although I am not really a joiner, I thought I might find the impetus to finally bring my play into existence.
As soon as I joined I realised I was amongst wonderful, warm and supportive creatives. We took part in a step-by-step guide towards achieving our goal through daily lessons and chats and regularly met virtually for webinars, mutual support, and a generous helping of care and encouragement.
- Join a community of like-minded people—or people who have the skills you wish to acquire
- Give at least as much as you take
- Learn from them and accept constructive criticism—they are helping you to be better
Finding the moment
Suddenly I realised that the only step left to take was to actually start writing my play.
I put pen to paper in trepidation with the idea that I would just write the cast list out and continue with writing the ‘real’ play another day.
But then ‘it’ happened once again.
My pen wouldn’t stop. The words flowed from the nib almost like automatic writing.
The spirit was with me. All of my experience, my life’s knowledge, my understanding of working alongside people, my history, my beliefs, my angst, my fears, worries, concerns, hopes and my life’s mission had gathered at this moment in time, this nib, this flat piece of paper.
Like a church confessional, this is where I would find salvation.
It seems that in my darkest hours, the magic of creativity—in this instance, the power of writing—had, once more, proven to be the most wonderful cure for an angry, lost and isolated soul.
- Don’t wait a second longer! Just do it!
SuZ is a thinker and a communicator with a creative soul. She is also a Mensan and a butterfly brain who communicates her thoughts and creativity through drawing, painting, writing, sculpting, musing, fostering children, and learning. Yes, she is constantly learning.