(Or: why applying your life to other people’s is a moronic thing to do)
I keep seeing people complaining about how unproductive they’ve become, writing-wise, since the world went to shit and entered lockdown some five or six weeks ago. That it’s difficult juggling working from home with a home life that suddenly decides it’s going to intrude at all kinds of random times (usually while they’re working) and fitting both the motivation for and the action of writing into all that.
So let’s try a little thought exercise.
Imagine you’ve been working from home for maybe eight years or so.
Imagine that three and a half years ago, on top of that, you became the sole carer of a disabled person whose intestine dramatically exploded and who then spent a week in a coma. When someone is in a coma for even one day, they can lose up to 20% of their muscle mass (according to the ICU doctor). When they’re in a coma for four days on mechanical ventilation, they can achieve 50% muscle atrophy. On top of that, you were informed by a surgeon the day after their operation that it was “very, very likely they will die.” So that’s a lot of stuff you will have to do for that person when they get home, and three and a half years later you’re still doing a lot of it despite the fact they can now move around relatively freely.
And imagine, on top of that, that you have your own physical disability involving a congenital, and deteriorating, hip condition that makes even sitting painful, makes standing still in one place for any length of time worse, and causes your hips to just drop randomly out of their sockets at any random time. And, on top of that, the disability is now starting to cause sciatica.
(This is not including any mental disabilities or impairments; imagine that, on top of that you have depression, stress-induced alopecia that just makes you more stressed… and there’s a very high chance you’re autistic, but you live in the arse-end of nowhere with doctors who couldn’t care less and getting that diagnosed is an uphill battle at the best of times, to put it mildly.)
You also work from home, on a non-too-fixed schedule that starts at 8am and can finish at any time, but usually sometime between 4-6pm. (But for three of those full-time carer years, you finished between 8-9pm, having arranged your schedule for one hour to make lunch — not for you, but for the person you’re caring for — and two hours for dinner.) So you can be working 9-10 hour days. And, for a few weeks, you were working 60-hour weeks because what is sensible scheduling and a 40-hour cap when it’s your company doing the scheduling, not you?
So you’re working full-time, caring for someone else full-time, making all the food, fetching their drinks — even if you’re in the middle of a really busy time at work — and attending to other things like the cleaning, gardening, washing, and pets both sick and well, albeit elderly and occasionally prone to accidents, all on your own with no one else to help.
And also imagine that you never, ever get to leave the house. You get one Saturday with your writing group a month, and that’s it. Nothing else. Even your shopping is delivered; you don’t go into town to fetch it.
Does this sound a lot like your last few weeks in lockdown? Trying to juggle working from home with caring for your family, and finding that no matter what you do, something will always interfere with your work, and that’s before you even get to think about writing?
Because I’m seeing a lot of people complain about how they’ve had no motivation to write just lately. It’s stressful, working from home, caring for other people who’re also at home, knowing you can’t go anywhere, you can’t get away. No holidays, no breaks, no chatting with people in the office. No help. Just the same walls again and again and again.
And now imagine someone telling you, “you’re just not trying hard enough.”
Because your last few weeks in lockdown have been my life for the last three and a half fucking years. And yes, I was told the above because I wasn’t releasing a new short story or novella every month.
So where are your lockdown-written novels? If you’re furloughed and you don’t have to work but you’re still getting some income, you’ve had five weeks, which is apparently more than enough time to write one.
Or maybe you just don’t really want to be a writer?
You heard ’em. You’ve got plenty of time to churn out books. Get to it.
If you’re stressed, contrary to the charming person above you don’t need to make it your raison d’etre to hammer out a book. You need to take the time to get your head together or you’ll end up hating your writing, hating the entire story, not wanting to see the damn thing again.
Take your time. You’re stressed. If you’re dealing with even half of the above, or even if you’ve got a partner or a family member who will actually help, then you’re tired, you’re anxious and you’re probably unhappy.
But remember this awful, anxious feeling for the future. When you get the urge to lecture someone else on their productivity because you are doing fine, because you have help and a break from your home life… remember that you hated this moment, that you felt helpless and sick and your brain refused to co-operate.
And when you remember that, extend the sympathy you want people to extend you to the person you think is ‘lazy.’
DISCLAIMER: This is not aimed at disabled writers, those caring for other disabled people, or those who’re now stuck in difficult living situations they can’t escape from because of the lockdown. Gods know I understand how they feel. Nope, this is aimed squarely at those able-bodied, neurotypical writers in happy relationships who’ve suddenly decided being stuck at home for a few weeks to protect the rest of us is the Worst Thing Ever and has killed their productivity stone dead.
Welcome to our world.
The difference is, in a few weeks, they get to leave it again. The rest of us aren’t so lucky.