We’ve been contained to our homes for over three weeks. The days are starting to turn into one another and the view from the window barely changes. I feel like one of those grandmas who stares out the window at passing pedestrians just for something different to look at, only now people hurry past quickly, hidden behind masks, not making eye contact. I look at the flats oposite with their more than usually active balconies and see people sewing in the sun, doing yoga, poking at their plants. Even these small movements have started to melt into the background of daily habits, like the reminder sticky note that you put on your computer and yet fail to notice after a week, or the half done renovation that waits to be finished for ten years.
Ordinarily when things start to blur into sameness or when I’m stuck on writing projects I would go for a walk. Like many before me, I find ideas can be taken out an aired during a good walk. It’s a chance to get away from the desk for a while and let my mind rest on different sights. The benefits of walking on creativity were investigated by Stanford researchers who found that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 per cent when walking. Although, surprisingly, the research found that it was walking itself, rather than the environment, that helped creativity, so maybe pacing up and down the corridor will be equally effective. In any case, during this time of confinement, taking my thoughts for a walk necessitates a new level of creativity.
The LitHub recently published a useful article titled ‘How to Spend 42 Days Stuck in Your Room’, which discusses Xavier de Maistre’s 1790 A Journey Around My Room. De Maistre whimsically proposes to cross his room ‘frequently lengthwise, or else diagonally, without any rule or method. I will even follow a zigzag path, and I will trace out every possible geometrical trajectory if need be.’ He also ventures beyond his room through letters and memories, as well as social commentary. But, perhaps more usefully, it could be worth learning from those who know isolation well: a former hostage, a writer with chronic fatigue and an astronaut. As Susanna Hislop writes, enforced isolation is hard. ‘The first thing, the worst thing, is the uncertainty. The existing on shifting ground.’ It’s hard to create from this place of uncertainty and waiting.
There are other experts who can contribute more comprehensive ways of coping while being physically distant or confined, but here are some of the tools I’ve been adapting recently to push aside the uncertainty for a while, to just create.
Playing with a new style
Whenever I’m in a rut I find it useful to try out a style I’m unfamiliar with. In my case it’s normally poetic form – I choose one that I’m less familiar with. By concentrating on learning the form, I start to treat the creative work like a puzzle and the pressure to write great verse takes a backseat. I bring to the fore the sense of play and creation for the fun of it, rather than for a specific output. It allows room for errors, for leaving things unfinished, for disruptions.
Being inspired by other forms
Another approach I use is to take another art form as a starting point. With theatres, museums and cultural venues opening up their content for online these weeks it’s a great opportunity to take a virtual creative date. Julia Cameron, who developed the Artists Way to inspire creativity, explains, ‘Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.’ Experiencing something you wouldn’t otherwise encounter can jolt you out of your ways of creating in order to experiment with something new.
Working in short stints
Like many I now have less time, it’s been shrunk and divided up into small chunks. By necessity I have adapted the way I work to focus on things that can be progressed in short segments. At the moment this is short videopoems of about a minute, that I’m using as experiments to eventually work towards a larger piece. If I give myself the goal of a larger work immediately I would get frustrated by my lack of progress. This way I can chip away at my creative practice, not overly polishing the pieces, but slowly building up my skills. I take inspiration in this from initiatives like a poem a day in April and daily creative challenges (such as Noah Scalin’s early Skull a Day project). The constraint of creating regularly, no matter the barriers, helps me to let go of excuses.
Catching up on the administration
It can be hard to switch off what’s going on in order to put your mind to creating. Perhaps instead of pushing this to be a creative time, it can be a chance to do things that support your creative practice, such as research, marketing or administration, things that have been put aside when it was too busy. It can still be possible to advance projects with important foundation work, but also not push to be extremely creative. That way when things go back to normal, or when you have more time again, you’re ready to go.
What helps you to continue to create in these strange times?