A friend of mine emailed me an article today on cleaning house for the coronavirus. Armed with sprays and wipes I vigorously scrubbed all the high-touch surfaces I could think of while trying hard, as instructed, “not to be neurotic about it.” Fifteen minutes into my manic marathon, my stress levels rising, I shelved the wipes and reached for tea and shortbread. I was gonna need a better project.
Hunkered down at home, we’re all scrambling to find ways to get through this crisis and maintain our sanity, our spirits and our sense of self. And while being stuck inside is hardly an opportunity any one of us would have wished for, it does give us time to do things we might never have considered. Sure there’s binge-watching Mad Men or re-reading Jane Austen, but for me neither stretches the boundaries of novelty. And as the world spins wildly around me, I’m not inclined to file photos or organize my kitchen cabinets. So let me suggest a project that will set your imagination free, throw you back into the past, or jolt you into the future. A project that’s all about you: creative writing.
One of the first and best books I ever read on the subject, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, talks about writing without any expectations, “to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination.” Let go of your paralyzing constraints. What will people think? How do I begin? My spelling is terrible! And instead, dive in:
- Forget your computer, use paper and pen. There are plenty of options: a repurposed notebook, a yellow legal pad or a brand new journal, if you want the thrill of getting a package delivered.
- Find a private space and commit yourself to a few minutes, a half-hour or even an hour.
- And as Goldberg says: Don’t get logical, don’t think … lose control.
- She offers a wonderful array of starter questions to get you going, among them, begin with “I remember,” small memories or big, just keep going.
- Write about the street you grew up on, the walk you took this morning, your first love, a meal you cooked, going home.
- Stephen King’s masterful writing memoir, On Writing, advises that the most interesting story lines can be conjured asking “what-if questions.” He writes: “What if vampires invaded a small New England village (Salem’s Lot)? … What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog (Cujo)?
- Of course not all of us have the King’s strange, you might say tortured imagination, but letting your own thoughts wander unrestrained can kick off some fascinating ideas. What if a virus shut down America? …. Maybe not.
- Finally, there is visual journaling – the new rage. Surrounded by artists most of my life, including a son in art school, I’m not surprised the world at large has adopted the idea. These are essentially diaries with both images (usually drawings or collage) and words. They can take the structured, often stiff, task of keeping a journal into a whole new imaginative realm, tapping into your creativity in an entirely different way. Be inspired and don’t let your inner critic get in the way, you might find the process liberating and fun.
If nothing else, letting your creative side run free might take your mind off the world outside the window. Remember, some of our most treasured writers were witnesses to the toughest times.