If my creativity were a creature, it would be that fickle cat that decides to leave and set up a new home somewhere else for a while only to eventually come back home. I caught glimpses of it over the last few years, sauntering down a distant alleyway, but it’s finally come back home.
Over the last number of weeks, I’ve had a short story idea, written it fairly painlessly, been excited about the process and the end-product, have revised it and sent it out to a publisher. I enjoyed the process, none of it felt like pulling teeth, and I’m feeling energized to start another one or keep working on other writing-related projects.
This post will likely be more personal than previous ones because the topic and experiences are so fundamental to my identity. I finally feel (I don’t think I’ve used the word ‘feel’ this often in any previous entries) able to explore this a little more fully. My writing-related creativity left me for almost three years and I’ve only now been able to process that loss.
The pandemic affected people differently, and in the grand scheme, I had it pretty good. My wife and I get along really well (and enjoy spending lots of time together) and so lockdowns weren’t onerous. I didn’t lose my job like so many did and was able to continue working throughout, despite the difficulties of adjusting to online and hybrid teaching. No country had a flawless response, but over and over I’ve thought about how lucky I was to go through this in Penang, as Malaysia, by and large, did a solid job in their response, especially how they handled the vaccination drive. So many other people lost their livelihood, their health, their loved ones, and had the trajectory of their lives altered significantly.
I just lost my creativity for a while. But it was still a loss.
I’ve been writing for decades. I’ve known that it is something I need to work at consistently, and have diligently invested time and effort into my creative writing endeavors. There are some people for whom it almost seems to come naturally and flow from an endless well of literary outpouring. But it has always been difficult, from my first ill-fated novel to the fumbling short stories. What has sustained my years of writing improvement was that I always had new ideas, knew that each failed story could be followed by another—hopefully more successful—one. The actual process of writing was a joy, even if some of my end products didn’t meet my expectations. So when my creativity ran away from home, I was at a loss.
I suspect it was a combination of the changing life-pace, the sudden need to adapt my teaching to new formats (which in itself took a lot of creativity and narrowed my daily capacity), and the influx of an ever-changing worldscape. At first, I tried to stick to my usual patterns for writing. I internalized many years ago that I need to write regularly, whether I feel like it or not and for the most part, this has worked for me. But during much of the pandemic, even that felt untenable. Forcing myself to sit down and write wasn’t working and for months at a time, it was healthier for me to simply not do any writing at all. And that saddened me because it took away something that I loved doing.
It wasn’t all barren spells though. I did write two short stories, though it was very laborious and took far longer than either story should have. They’re still in their rough drafts, but I anticipate revising them this year and ending up fairly happy with them. I wrote a rough draft of a novel that turned out nowhere near what I’d hoped for and will likely join the discard heap. And I finally managed to finish a major overhaul of my main novel project (I’d hoped to have that done by the summer of 2020 and didn’t finish it until July of last year). So it wasn’t that I did no writing, but that it all felt harder, took more energy, lacked the joy I was used to, and didn’t infuse me with a desire to do more.
I knew all along it was going to be temporary; I never felt as though my lack of creativity was a permanent state. I’d occasionally get glimmers of story ideas, find a moment of inspiration, or catch myself thinking about an old story I’d written. I didn’t know how long it would take, but eventually, the cat would come back home.
Thankfully, that fruitless season seems to be over. I hope to make the most of my rediscovered creativity and I won’t take its presence for granted in the future.