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Beyond the pause

9 June 2020

Many fellow writers are struggling with a paralysis similar to my own. Inspiration has vanished; discipline is non-existent; the words just won’t come. I’m a writing coach – I should know how to shift the foggy feeling so many are describing – so what advice would I give myself if I came looking for help?

My first suggestion would be to take the pressure off. Write about what is occupying your thoughts, I’d say, rather than trying to dream up a new project. Well, the pandemic is on my mind, of course, and all the anxiety and uncertainty that goes with it.

At first I put everything on hold as I tried to digest the implications of what has happened to the world. I marked time, waiting for lockdown to end. It’s taken me weeks to accept that this half-life of isolation and distancing is my new reality and will probably be so for many months to come. I’ve had to grieve my lost freedom, adjust to current limitations and do what I can to stay engaged and productive. That’s actually enough. Recording a few of my swirling feelings – inadequately and incoherently – has to be seen as a writing achievement.

The second suggestion would be to write just a little; a journal entry, a tiny poem if that’s all that can be managed, to keep the wheels turning. Many people have had swathes of time but it’s not been ‘free’ time. Our lockdown days have been energy-sapping in both obvious and subtle ways. This is not the moment for self-flagellation because the novel has not sprung into being; it’s more the moment for assessment, reflection and composting of the thoughts and experiences that will find their way into the stories that are still being forged in the fires of an emerging world.

Thirdly, I’d encourage myself to be both patient and alert. To observe my internal process, to take note of ideas that occur to me and to allow them time to germinate. To write something, anything, without judging its merit, in order to keep the channels open for the day that the creative flow returns. Because it absolutely will (this would be my parting shot to my floundering self), and when it does, I must be ready.

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