“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been really struggling with creativity for the last few months. It’s unsurprising, really – the unprecedented (sorry) COVID-19 situation has left many of us reeling, lost, and unable to focus. Hardly conducive to amazing creative work.
I’m so sick of all the pressure that has been piled on us during this period. Anyone remember that hideous tweet implying that anyone who didn’t come out of lockdown with new skills was lazy? This might have been the most high profile example, but it’s far from the only one.
As I pointed out to Mr Haynes in a reply to his tweet that he probably didn’t read: it’s a pandemic, not a creative retreat. We’re not on holiday, many of us are working as hard if not harder than ever, only now with chronic stress and occasionally existential terror piled on top.
To that end, I’ve put a few COVID-times creativity tips together for you. I hope they help. As always: use what works for you and leave the rest.
Be kind to yourself
You might just be less productive and less creative right now. What would happen if you let that be okay? We’re in the middle of a global crisis the likes of which hasn’t happened in any of our lifetimes. If you’re feeling fuzzy headed and not able to connect fully with your creativity right now, that’s not only normal but to be expected.
So be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for failing to meet the level of productivity you aspire to, or the level of creativity you enjoyed pre-pandemic.
This will pass, and you’ll be in better shape to get back up to speed when it does if you treat yourself gently now.
Set realistic goals
Goal setting is important, but giving yourself outlandish or unrealistic goals will just leave you feeling like a failure when you inevitably fail to meet them.
Instead, set yourself realistic goals. What would you like to do that’s actually achievable? Maybe you want to just write for ten minutes today. Or perhaps you’d like to send three good quality pitches out this week.
Giving yourself a goal gives you something to aim for, and achieving it gives you that little boost of gratification and self-belief.
Use prompts and themes to get you going
One of the things I love about entering writing competitions is that they often give a theme or prompt as a starting point. I enjoy the challenge of interpeting the theme, taking it in a different direction, and using it as a nudge to get started.
Here’s an example: my first competition win was for my short story, Reboot. The theme was speculative fiction, a genre I’d never written (and honestly, don’t read very often). I ended up starting with a genre I felt more comfortable with – the love story – and adding a speculative element to it.
So pick a competition, or just do a search online for some fun prompts, and let your imagination take you wherever it wants! You don’t have to submit the resulting work if you don’t want to (though if you do feel inspired to, that’s amazing!)
Do something to take you out of your head
What helps you relax and calms your mind down?
I’ve started doing yoga each morning before work (I’m the latest Yoga with Adriene devotee!) and it helps me to chill out, clear my mind, and get into a space where I’m ready to be creative. Don’t worry – I’m not going to turn into one of those obnoxious “yoga fixes everything!” people. It’s just something that’s been helping me lately.
Your “thing” might be going for a walk, meditating, listening to calming music, cuddling your pet, playing with your children, or just screaming into the void (hey, I’m not judging!) Whatever pulls you out of the endless COVID-induced stress cycle long enough to function creatively is a great option.
Consume others’ creative work
I consider reading to be an essential part of my work as a writer. Fortunately, I love reading, so it’s an easy and joyful part.
Consuming others’ creative work can be a great way to tap into that part of yourself during difficult times. What if you allowed yourself to read a book for pleasure, watch a favourite TV series, visit an online art gallery, or listen to some music?
Consuming art is a vital part of the process of making art. It’s also great for your mental health and can help you de-stress and feel more connected to the world.
Try being creative in a different way
When the UK first went into lockdown in March, I found I could barely write. I was simply too stressed out, unsettled, confused, and altogether out of it. I managed to get my client work written, but working on my own projects was difficult to impossible.
One thing I found comforting, though, was knitting. Something about the repetitive nature of it was incredibly soothing, and seeing something coming together was satisfying in a low-key way. I spent much of lockdown stress-knitting a blanket for my baby nephew, Freddie.
Why not try a different type of creativity? If you can’t write right now, try knitting or card-making or painting or crochet or singing or playing an instrument or…. whatever speaks to you!
Do something collaborative
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to work on a creative project, collaborating with someone else can give you the nudge you need. Maybe you want to co-write a story with a friend, or even just have a virtual coworking session on Zoom? Or you could sign up for an online class, course, or workshop in a relevant creative discipline.
Involving other people makes it more likely you’ll show up and actually do the things you want to do.
Give it time
Even though it seems like COVID-19 is going to last forever, I promise you this will pass. Some days, when it all feels hopeless, I tell myself: time is the thing that will fix this.
Someday, there will be a vaccine or a cure or the R-rate will dip so low that this virus isn’t a threat any more. Eventually, we will get our lives back. Until then, we just need to keep taking it one day at a time and taking care of ourselves and each other as best we can.
You don’t have to come out of this crisis having written the next bestseller or composed a whole symphony. If you come out of it having done nothing but survived, you’re doing great.
You’ve got this.