Most creatives are capricious creatures, prone to rapidly alternating between heated passion for their chosen pursuits and utter disdain for everything associated with them. If you’re a creative then you’ve probably experienced this — if not, well, it’s easy enough to notice in the world.
Do you suppose George R. R. Martin is still working on The Winds of Winter after almost a decade because it’s had his undivided attention? Of course not. He’s a wealthy man with other things to think about, and he probably spends days hating the world of Westeros as much as we all do after the ending of the TV show. Creative effort is hard. Going to Hollywood events isn’t.
Normally creative professionals figure out ways to best marshal their waxing and waning talents, coming up with neat schedules to maximize the value of their inspiration and minimize the damage of their sudden cognitive deficiencies. But then along comes a pandemic, throwing not just a spanner but the contents of an entire tool shed into the works.
Working through the COVID-19 is tough for everyone, true, but it’s particularly easy for creatives to feel unmoored and fall into bad habits. Here are my tips for staying productive — or even becoming more productive, perhaps — as we negotiate this enduring lockdown:
Invest in mental health development
Creative types aren’t known for having exceptional mental stability, as the up-and-down nature of what they do can be extremely taxing. When you define yourself by your ability to create, those moments when you reach into your bag of tricks and find only a few grains of sand can be infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure. Throw in a terrifying viral outbreak and you have a recipe for stress, anxiety, and no shortage of deleterious negativity.
This is why I strongly suggest putting time and effort (and money, if needed) into mental health development. Maybe you suffer from bouts of panic and you don’t know how to deal with them, in which case you should look for resources that can help: Life Coach Hub has a solid piece on dealing with panic attacks, for instance. Or perhaps your self-worth has bottomed out and you’ve come to view yourself as an unlovable waste of space with no prospects, suggesting that a service like Orion’s Method — with a focus on confidence — would be more your speed.
The first step of identifying your needs and making a commitment to address them is all on you, and no one can make it happen on your behalf, so don’t sit around and wait for someone to save you. Make a start, then let friends and family members help you keep going.
Establish and maintain a routine
There’s a solid chance that your regular job has fallen by the wayside due to the lockdown measures put in place to arrest the spread of COVID-19. Even if it hasn’t, you probably now have more free time than you know what to do with. No more commuting, no more real-world social events on weekends, no more justification to get out and explore. Just your couch.
When the lockdown arrived, that might have seemed wonderful. More time to use as you wish! You could sit around reading, watching TV, or playing games. You could sleep late and get up late. You could eat several bowls of cereal every day and really feel the childhood regression.
The problems with living like that are twofold: firstly, it gets boring really quickly, and secondly, it’s horrible for productivity. Soon enough you find that you’re living like a hobo not because you want to but because you can’t muster up the effort to do anything more. You’ve fallen out of sensible habits and become lost in the apathy wilderness.
So fight as hard as you can to avoid that by establishing a clear working routine. Start as early in the day as you can to focus your mind. Commit to getting something meaningful done every single day. Have a working area that feels distinct so you can achieve a separation between working time and leisure time. Once you’re actually working again, you’ll rediscover the significance of your free time.
Get inspired by the conditions
It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and history is littered with examples of creatives flourishing in difficult circumstances. Adversity pushes us to act. Having limited alternatives can help you commit to what you’re doing. Everything you’re feeling, whether it’s despair at the state of the world or relief that you’re getting by, can serve as creative fuel.
If you’re a writer, then write about how the lockdown has affected you. If you’re a filmmaker, come up with a short film you can record at home using your phone camera. You’re not going to make something with spectacular production values, but that isn’t the point at all. It’s about rediscovering the spirit of invention. Kids making costumes out of cardboard don’t care that they’re not achieving historical realism — they love the process of creation.
So get out of your comfort zone, take a deep breath, and think about what you can do differently that would suit the conditions. Maybe you could pursue a passion project, or find a new freelance opportunity. Think back to the dizzying hopefulness you presumably had when you first decided that you had creative inclinations: what would that person do with a lot of free time, a laptop, a camera, and the incredible resources of the internet? The mind boggles.
Getting work done in these times isn’t easy, and anyone who finds that they just can’t achieve their old rate of productivity shouldn’t feel any shame or guilt — but that doesn’t mean we should all shrug out shoulders and expect to get very little done. Creatives might be somewhat flaky, but they’re nothing if not adaptable, so you can flourish even in the midst of a pandemic. You just need to take these steps.