Lockdown Isn’t a Creative Retreat

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An Asian man wearing a face mask and playing a guitar into a laptop during lockdown

“I think the reason Shakespeare managed to write King Lear while a plague was going on is primarily because he didn’t have Twitter.”

@MattHaig1 on Twitter

Well, here we are yet again in lockdown. In the UK, this is officially the third lockdown but, like many people, my partner and I have functionally been living in lockdown or close to lockdown conditions for about 10 months at this point. So today I wanted to address the pressure many of us are feeling to make good or productive use of this time in isolation.

Many people have found comfort through keeping aggressively busy, throwing themselves into learning new things, and taking on projects galore during this time. If this is you, I’m super happy for you! Please keep doing what brings you joy (and also maybe share your secrets?) You’re also not who I’m talking to in this one.

This is for the people who are struggling. Whether your mental health has been worsened (hi, me too!) or your symptoms triggered by the pandemic, or you’re isolated and lonely (or surrounded by people all day and longing for some solitude), or you’re just suffering with brain fog and can’t concentrate for any length of time – this one is for you. I want you to know that you’re not alone and that everything you’re experiencing is normal.

Perhaps you feel guilty. You’ve never had this much free time before! So why can’t you get words on the page, get paint on the canvas, or finally sit down and learn how to play the piano?

Hear this: a lockdown isn’t a creative retreat. A pandemic (even if you’re working from home, even if you’ve been furloughed, even if you don’t have kids to homeschool) isn’t a holiday. This is not a low-stress time in which we can all relax, breathe, and be our most productive and creative selves.

What we’re going through right now is an enormous, collective trauma, the likes of which hasn’t been seen before in most of our lifetimes. Thousands of people are dying every single day, and many more are getting sick. Fear, stress, worry, and loneliness are the order of the day for most of us.

You don’t have to be super creative and productive. You don’t have to do anything other than what you need to do to survive and get through this. If creative projects and work are helping you cope, have at it. If not? I give you full permission to set them aside for a while.

I believe that creativity is a form of play. It requires dropping a degree of self-consciousness, stepping into a place of suspended disbelief, and getting out of your own head for long enough to invite inspiration in. This is a really difficult thing to do when you’re actively in survival mode – which no-one should blame you right now if you are.

Trust yourself, if you can. If you’re tired all the time, that’s your body telling you that you need to rest and recuperate. If your brain is foggy, that’s a very real and rational response to the daily horrorshow we’re all being subjected to. You’re not weak, unmotivated, lazy, or a bad creative person if this is your reality at the moment.

So please give yourself a break. Lockdown isn’t a creative retreat and you’re not wasting time that has been unexpectedly gifted to you if you’re not writing your King Lear while you self-isolate. You’re surviving a pandemic. And whether or not you come out of this with new skills, a new business, or a tonne of new work, you’re doing fine.

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