When the pandemic first started and we all began to physically distance ourselves, I wondered if would-be authors would finally find the time to write their books. With all of this newfound time, maybe we would all have the desire and the mental room to get started on the project we’ve been talking about for years.
But then things stretched on for months, and stresses only seemed to mount. If you’re a parent, then you have probably been getting your butt kicked. Maybe work has slowed down, but you also have less time to do it in. And when you’re not working, you’re wrangling your children into lessons, or into doing their chores, or trying to keep them from tearing the house apart altogether.
Then, over 100,000 people died in the US alone. We watched as millions of people around the world died in stadium-sized hospitals, spread out across cheap cots.
And then the murder of George Floyd was splayed out across social networks and news media, and the fuse was lit.
Writing a book might feel like a distant dream at this point, and that’s okay. You have full permission not to play the productivity game and flog yourself into being uber productive at this time.
Writing a book requires space to breathe and think. As writer David Moldower put it, in the midst of this pandemic, changing social dynamics, and all there is to consider in the world right now, we lack the “elbow room” for good thinking, which is a precursor to good writing. More on this:
A pandemic delivers a punishing allostatic load: “the physiological consequences of chronic exposure to fluctuating or heightened neural or neuroendocrine response which results from repeated or prolonged chronic stress.” That weight on your chest and that ache behind your eyes and that mist clouding your thoughts = allostatic load.
My favorite line of his explanation of allostatic load: “A big chunk of your think-loaf is just plain occupied by all this.” Your think-loaf is so busy worrying that you are naturally operating at a reduced capacity than you would otherwise. Everything in your life is getting less bandwidth, so adding the task of writing a book (or continuing if you’ve already started) is a challenge.
But… consider writing anyway – writing for yourself, that is.
For me, writing is cathartic. It’s how I express myself. It’s how I wrap my head around what’s going on in the world, and it’s how I discover what I feel and think about it all. While writing a book is the opposite of cathartic because it requires so much structure, strategy, and big-picture thinking, free-flow writing can help you get a grasp on what you think and feel about a situation.
So is this a good time to write? Yes. This is an unusual time we live in and keeping a personal journal is a marvelously good idea. While we think of the history record as fairly set when it comes to big picture events, we forget that it’s the personal narratives that drive home the point of the time. Anne Frank’s diaries struck a nerve because they were a personal perspective on the horrors of the Holocaust, told with the wise innocence of a young girl. She died decades ago and yet her voice still carries on, and likely will for generations to come.
Personal journals, unlike any other data source, add a richness to our understanding of the time in question. Journaling can not only act as record-keeping but as catharsis — studies have shown that journaling can reduce anxiety, stress, and ease the symptoms of depression.
Is this a good time to write a book? It depends on you.
Don’t force yourself into writing a book right now if it isn’t the right time for you. Each of us responds differently to the kind of pressure and uncertainty that we’re all facing right now, and if you’re feeling overloaded as it is, don’t feel additional pressure to take on this task.
However, if the idea enlivens you, and you feel more inspired than ever to do it, or if you feel like you have so much to say about what’s going on in the world right now, then it’s time for you to say it.
Nobel Prize winner and author Toni Morrison once wrote about creating art in a time of despair. It was 2004, the day after Christmas, following the re-election of George W. Bush:
I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine — and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election…” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.
Now more than ever we need reasonable and compassionate voices who are able to share their unique perspective and help the people in our world. If you feel more inspired to write your book than you ever have in your life, then heed that call.