Locking it down..

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.. Probably the most common complaint of "wannabe" writers, is the lack of time they have to commit to their projects. Day jobs, family and the inability to keep your head in the game whilst juggling everything else are struggles we're all familiar with. So, those of us who weren't (and had no loved ones) in imminent danger from Covid-19, ought to have rejoiced at the enforced time chained to our notebooks and laptops. Why then, have writers, rather than publishing reams of new material produced during lockdown, been reporting reduced inspiration and motivation? The time might have been a blessing, but the restrictions, fear and constant loop of bad news that came with it affected us all, and all in highly personal ways. The three week announcement, which felt largely like a nice opportunity to those of us who were safe, felt different come week nine and, in my case, it was all a bit of a mixed bag.

In between the Netflix binge-watching, movie nights with friends over Facetime and eating my bodyweight in ice-cream (which ironically increased both my bodyweight and our ice-cream budget exponentially) I did make some big leaps. I finished the historical novel I've been working on for two years, chased contributions for a collaborative project, waded through the research for my latest travel book and even drafted the plans and first chapter of a new novel. I was elected volunteer editor of the Tolkien Society's Member's Magazine and threw myself into the role with great gusto, grateful for the time to find my feet. Nonetheless, I couldn't shake the feeling that I should be doing more. And what of lockdown itself? It's certainly a new one to me and, hopefully, won't happen again in my lifetime (once we're fully through this pandemic), so shouldn't I also be using that in some way?

A letter from reader Julia Thorley in the June edition of Writing Magazine hit the proverbial nail for all of us having that debate with ourselves: "The virus isn't the story, it offers the perfect setting for the locked room mystery... relationships being built or falling apart. our dependence on technology, a spy thriller or conspiracy yarn... By all means start with the virus: but then what?... Agents will be swamped with diaries recording battles to find toilet paper or home-school children, as well as heart-breaking stories of seperation and loss..." I'd been bemoaning my failure to keep a diary, so was grateful to Ms Thorley for letting me off that hook as well. I felt better, but was no closer to any conclusions of my own. Aside from the individual writerly plight, book fairs, speaking engagements and literary events had been cancelled, screenwriters were hit by the cancellation of TV shows, book shops were deserted (though Waterstones reported a 400% increase in online sales so they'll probably survive). The whole industry was in completely new territory, of which the boundaries seemed to change by the hour. What was the answer for any of us?

I think, really, it's just to be kind to ourselves and accept that everyone reacted to and used this time differently. Any gains or achievements were massive wins in such turbulent circumstances and if all we did was manage to keep ourselves clean, then that counts too. I'm pleased with what I managed overall - though I still believe I could have done more - but the more vital things I learned are that:

1, This is what I want to do. This is the only thing I want to do. I can be disciplined and productive and I can make the lifestyle work for me in a healthy and enjoyable way. 2, My partner (a photographer) works mainly from home, and me doing so as well doesn't make us want to kill each other.

When, after almost four months, I got the details about going back to my day-job, I was quietly devastated. I would miss him terribly and I would miss being a full-time writer just as much. For the first time in my life I'd had a true taste of it, things were still unfinished, and I wasn't ready to give my new routine up. The universe obviously heard my complaints, because three weeks after going back, the company made me redundant. Financially, this is not okay, but emotionally and mentally it is the only way I see myself moving forward. I'm applying for part-time positions here and there to keep myself afloat, but I don't want to work for anyone else full-time again. This is my job now, this is what I do and I intend to use this series of setbacks as my biggest opportunity yet. Perhaps there are others in a similar position who, through the highs and lows of lockdown, learned more than they worked. Perhaps they failed to find their motivation or inspiration, but came out the other side with a fresh perspective. Perhaps these people are exactly what the world needs now.

So, I ask myself again; "by all means start with the virus: but then what?"..


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