Creativity in the Time of COVID-19

When this pandemic first broke out, and everything shut down, I noticed that creative people I knew were all coping in one of two ways. Either their creativity completely shut down, squashed by the constant panic of not knowing what was going to happen, or else they clung to their creative pursuits like someone clings to a life raft in the open ocean.

Six months in, I don’t think much has changed.

I remain somewhere in the middle. Some days I can not wrangle the muse, but there have always been some days when I just can’t get myself to sit down and write. Sometimes my brain is just full of bees, or I’m too sad to write; that’s not anything new.

But neither has my productivity increased. Thanks to some communities I’m part of (shout to Cat Rambo’s Discord and Zoom calls!) I’ve continued plugging away at a more or less steady rate. Since the pandemic started, I have finished a draft of novella, written one short story (which I am now in the process of revising), and written and revised one flash story (which I am about to start submitting to magazines).

Sometimes it’s frustrating. I want to have something massive to show for this time, like my friends who have written entire books, or knit multiple sweaters. But we’re all coping with uncertain times in our own ways. I don’t think we can judge one way as objectively better than another. Even if you’re healthy and financially stable (which I have the good fortune to be), there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear and isolation. As long as you get out the other side in tact and don’t hurt anybody else in the process, then that’s a win.

I don’t think it serves any of us to compare our creative output, or our coping skills. There’s a lot of talk in the writing community about “butt in chair,” about the need to treat it like any other task and not wait for the fickle muse to show up and grace us with their presence. And I think that is true of every creative activity that is important to you, whether that’s writing or music or art or knitting. If you want to make progress, you have to put in the time.

At the same time, creativity is not always a faucet that flows on command. Everybody is different, but most of us need some measure of safety, security and rest, or the flow slows to trickle or stops altogether. To some extent, it is our responsibility to figure out ways to give ourselves those things, even when the wider world is not conducive, but that’s not always possible.

Productivity is never entirely under our personal control, but I think that is especially true right now. Whether the creative impulse is the only thing keeping you afloat (because it’s the only place you have control), or if that has dried up altogether, it’s not really up to you. So try not to blame yourself if it’s not going the way you would prefer. If you need to refill the well, maybe take some time off to read or walk or bake or dream or do whatever it is that brings you comfort. Just don’t beat yourself up about it, okay? I know it’s tempting, but it’ll just keep you stuck longer. And you – the person who you are – are more important than how much you can get gone. Be kind to yourself.


Why I Love Frozen II

WARNING: This post assumes a basic familiarity with Frozen II, and continues spoilers. You have been warned!

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how much I love Frozen II. I’m cool! I’m smart! I have discerning tastes! But I’m also very easily won over by emotionally manipulative songs and plot lines. And honestly, there’s a lot to like in Frozen II. Never did I expect to see Disney address imperialism in one of their animated films, yet here we are. And they even showed the (white, European coded) main characters actively rightly the wrongs done by their ancestors! Truly, we live in an age of miracles. And the songs! I’m still grinning over the fact that they gave Kristoff what amounted to a late 80’s/early 90’s power ballad, complete with riffs off of the old music videos. And they gave Elsa not one, but two entire songs! I was thrilled to see them making good use of Idina Menzel’s talents.

But what I really loved about this movie was the way it finished the story told in the original Frozen. Like many people, I enjoyed Frozen. I definitely belted out “Let It Go” while cooking dinner far more frequently than anybody without kids can really justify. But I think that Frozen II is the necessary second act to complete Elsa and Anna’s story.

Frozen shows Elsa moving from a place of fear and isolation (thanks to her parents misinterpreting the trolls’ advice, but that’s another rant), through to accepting her powers but continuing to isolate herself, and finally learning that she can embrace her powers while still being part of a community. That’s a heady journey, but did anybody really believe that Elsa was going to be happy as a queen? Power doesn’t equal belonging, and the role we are born to are not always what’s best for us.

While it’s important that Elsa learned that her family/country of origin could love her for who she is, and while the lesson of communal responsibility is key, she deserved to find a place where she truly belonged. I love that Frozen II showed that it was possible for her to find that, without abandoning her responsibility to Arendelle. It’s important that kids learn that not everybody can bloom where they are planted, and that finding the place where they belong is not necessarily a rejection of the people who loved them.

This is why I absolutely adored “Show Yourself.” While everyone else was fawning over “Into the Unknown” as the breakout hit from Frozen II (and with good reason! It’s a great song!), I can’t get over how “Show Yourself” mirrors “Let It Go” (right down to the magical costume change at the end!), but from such a different place. Now, Elsa is coming from a place of both strength and humility. When the lyrics switch from “Are you the one I’ve been looking for all my life?” to “You are the one you’ve been waiting for all your life,” I get chills. It’s such a powerful message, and all the more poignant for how it takes two whole movies for her to get there.

Anna, similarly, gets to complete her journey. In the first movie, her fierce love of her sister saves Elsa, and she gets to have the kind of sibling relationship she longs for. But in the second, Anna learns that she is strong even without her sister, and begins to find her own future and her own role.

Now, it is distinctly possible that I am overthinking this. Frozen II is not high art – it’s a Disney cartoon. But we are meaning-making animals. I can’t wait any sort of narrative without thinking about this stuff, and when something captures my attention like this movie did… well, the results are inevitable.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Wish List

July 1 question – There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t yet have much experience with the publishing industry. But as a life-long reader, what I’d really love to see is more diversity. At the moment, I am most focused on racial diversity, but we also need more diversity of upbringing, of class, of gender identity and sexual orientation and able-bodiedness.

I want to see more people of color in my books and stories. Everybody deserves to see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, whether those stories are escapist, gritty, or anywhere in between.

I want to see more books by people of color, as well. Yes, authors can (and should!) learn to write characters who are different from ourselves. We should do our research, hire (and listen to!) sensitivity readers when appropriate, and listen when corrected (And if you’re interested in doing that work, might I recommend checking out Writing the Other?). But Black, Asian, Latinx, disabled, trans, queer, and poor authors deserve space to tell their own stories. We can all strive to write about worlds that are full of diverse characters, we also need to recognize that while our imaginations may be limitless, not every story is ours to tell.

I also would love to see more diversity in our editors, publicists, and agents. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to favor stories by people who have had similar life experiences, or to believe our experiences are universal. Yes, that’s something that those of us with more privilege can (and should!) improve on in ourselves, but if we want to see more diverse stories, we need more diverse gatekeepers, as well.

I could say more, but as a white woman, it’s not really my place to say exactly what writers of color need from the publishing industry. I just want them to get that support, so that I can read their books.

Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse, or Good Things Still Happen

As you may have seen on twitter, Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse, featuring my short story, “A Witch for the Chrome Furies,” is out! It’s been out for almost a month now, actually. Even in paperback!

This is a weird time to have something good going on.

It’s not that I think it’s frivolous to think about books at a time like this – personally, reading is the only thing getting me through some days, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I want to hear all about what new books are coming out, and what older books people are digging up. Now is the time for more books!

And it’s not that I don’t think I have a right to be happy when bad things are going on in the world. Sadly, there is almost always some horrible slaughter or human rights violation going on somewhere, and while it’s important to stay engaged and aware of that, we can’t wait for the world to be fixed. Happiness has to exist next to despair, or we’re all sunk.

I think I just don’t have the stamina to be excited for very long.

When my author copy of Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse arrived in the mail last week, I was over the moon! The cover is even more vibrant in person, and I picked up on all sorts of details that I hadn’t noticed on my computer screen. And the inside of the book has the most adorable drawings of cats wearing hats and/or goggles between some of the stories. It was absolutely amazing to hold it in my hands, and I get a little frisson of pleasure every time I see it.

But I never even posted to Twitter about having gotten the book. I’m not embarrassed to be promoting this anthology. I just forgot. My excitement keeps getting buried under the weight of Everything Going On In The World Right Now.

I imagine this is happening to a lot of people right now, and for a lot of reasons. To a certain extent, it’s probably unavoidable, given our ambient stress levels. But I also think it’s important that we do our best to hold onto joy and excitement when we can. The world is dark, so we owe it to ourselves – and to everyone else – to create and reflect as much light as comes our way.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Getting in the Zone

May 6 question – Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the ZONE? Care to share?

Truthfully, the best way for me to get into the zone is writing with other people. Under normal circumstances, one of my favorite things to do it to meet up with a writing friend at a cafe, catch up over pastries and beverages, and then settle in for a nice writing session. Since both sitting in cafes and socializing is canceled for the foreseeable future, I have had to compromise.

Zoom is currently the best tool in my arsenal. I’ve been meeting up with one of my regular writing buddies almost every week, and Cat Rambo has been hosting writing sessions on Zoom for her Patreon supporters and members of her Discord community since the pandemic began. They are well-attended, and it’s nice to see the same faces on a regular basis. She’s set up a really nice format for the medium, and it’s a great community! It doesn’t always get me all the way into “the zone,” but it’s 1.5 hours of writing time that I would not have otherwise managed, which is pretty darn good, especially right now. While I would prefer to be in my favorite cafe, these writing sessions are the next best thing.

Other news

Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse is out! My physical copy arrived in the mail on Monday, and it’s absolutely beautiful. This is my first anthology publication, and the first time I have seen my fiction in hard copy. It’s been a strange experience, to have this happen during a pandemic, but it’s a weirdly appropriate time for a book of semi-hopeful stories about the end of the world.

How are you all doing? I’m looking forward to reading some of the answers to this month’s ISWG question from other people! Maybe it’ll give me the inspiration to create a decent writing ritual of my own.