With the beginning of the pandemic three years in the rear view, we’ve adjusted to our new normal. Or have we? Working from home has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. With so many things vying for our attention in a home office environment, creative folks may be feeling this pinch more than ever, leaving lots of us wondering how to stay creative in our new, post pandemic world.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg…
Chances are if you’re anything like me, you’re also battling burnout, isolation and just plain boredom. So how do you stay creative in a post pandemic world? Can remote work actually be good for creativity? Here’s how to conquer writer’s block (or any other kind of creative stagnation) in our new work from home world.
1. Put Your Mental Health First to Stay Creative
For a while, I felt about as lost as this wee red hat in the snow.
I’m just gonna be blunt: the pandemic was a traumatic experience for most of us. We don’t just shake that off. But humans are funny creatures. We’ve just survived an extinction event, but we expect ourselves to keep crushing it. We’ve gotta crush it at home, at work, in our professional lives and our creative lives too.
Let me tell you a story…
How I burnt out trying to stay creative during lockdown
At first, lockdown seemed like a golden opportunity to shut the world out and focus on my craft. ‘Didn’t Shakespeare write King Lear while in isolation from the plague?’ I’d ask myself as I stared at a blank computer screen, trying to block out the endless loop of depressing news reeling through my head. As my novel sat collecting virtual dust on a hard drive, I’d scroll Twitter and curse all those other writers announcing pandemic book deals.
Why was I so lazy? If I really deserve to be a writer I’d be writing up a storm while cowering in my family home, afraid to so much as make eye-contact with the guy that delivered our groceries every other week.
Okay, okay, so maybe I was feeling a little depressed. But still, that wasn’t a good enough excuse. I should have transformed myself into one of those writers who uses their raging depression to fuel their creativity! That always works out so well!
I’m just gonna take a time out here and tell you that if that little voice in your head is telling you depression isn’t an excuse, tell it science says bug off! It’s now been proven that depression can impair your cognitive ability including memory and attention. Don’t believe me? Read this and stop being so dang hard on yourself.
How I got my mental health back
Perhaps unsurprisingly, powering through my depression and anxiety didn’t end up to be a winning strategy for anything in my life, let alone my writing.
People, it was grim. I was fortunate to have my physical health, but for a while it felt like the pandemic took everything else from me:
my livelihood, my independence, my social life, my joy.
It took getting myself into a truly dark place to realize that I needed to put my mental health first.
I got help. Yes, I’m talking about therapy.
It was no easy task finding a good shrink during lockdown. At one point I felt like I’d left voice mails for every therapist in the tri-town area. Nobody was taking new patients. I widened my search to practitioners who take patients online, which helped. However, it still took time to find the right person to talk to. I ended up trying out four different therapists before I found one I clicked with. It was so worth it though.
If you’re feeling discouraged with therapy, or even just finding a therapist, my advice is to rest, not quit.
Now that I’m finally feeling well enough to write again? Guess what? Mental health still comes first. Without it I have nothing.
Need more tips on how to look after your MH? Mindfulness can be a useful tool for rolling with life’s emotions. Here’s my guide to meditation for travellers, but these tricks can be handy in all types of situations.
2. Get Physical to Stay Creative
My first steps back to myself were those walks on snowy afternoons…
Ah, those pesky physical needs! Even in good times, we creatives tend to put to self care last on our massive to do lists.
Remember, you are basically just a houseplant with complex emotions. You need water and sunlight too!
Get walking to stay creative
I decided to prioritize going for a walk every day regardless of the weather. Not only did walking lift my mood, it helped me discover some parts of the city I’d never seen before. Now some of these places are my favorite spots.
Another major bonus? I get some of my BEST ideas when I’m away from my desk, out walking in the fresh air. Don’t worry about forgetting those inspiring moments, that’s what the notes and voice memo apps on your phone are for.
Eating and sleeping
It seems super basic, but it’s so important. I prioritized eating healthy, getting enough rest and getting into one of those regular sleep/waking schedules we creatives are so resentful of.
It’s Ok if your self-care comes in small doses
I recognize that my ability to put myself first is in and of itself a privilege. I had a roof over my head and plenty of food. I didn’t have other humans to take care of or a job that was forcing me to put in overtime. For others, the self care piece of the puzzle is much trickier.
I’ve been there at other parts of my life and my advice is to start small, maybe with ten deep breaths at a time or five minutes of fresh air when you can get it. It’s hard to see it when you’re depressed, but every little bit helps and adds up.
3. Re-evaluate your social media diet to stay creative
Let’s be real. They call it doom scrolling for a reason. When things got grim, I put my social media accounts on ice and focused on what I could control. Now I’ve reinstalled most of them, but they don’t infringe on my life the way they used to.
If deleting the apps that are the biggest time suck for you seems a bit extreme, most social media these days allow you to set yourself a time limit. I put time limits on all of my social media apps. Whether I stick to it each day is another story entirely.
4. Change Your Focus to Stay Creative
Sometimes all it takes is walking through a new door
My pre-pandemic goal for 2020 was to edit, query and sell the novel I worked on in my master’s program. I had the letter and the synopsis ready to go and pile of agent feedback to work with and I was ready to go! However, but for most of lockdown my novel was like a plate of unappetizing food I couldn’t bare to look at. I was so close to having it polished and ready to go. I’d worked so hard. But I just couldn’t bring myself to go the extra mile.
Instead of chocking down the novel revisions and tying to sell a book with a smile on my face when I felt like I was dying inside, I changed projects. I decided the novel would still be there when I was ready to work on it again. But I wasn’t in the mindset to do anything to it except pick it apart and be hyper critical.
Instead, I focused on new projects. I wrote essays and short stories, wrote and directed my first play for Zoom, submitted my work and entered contests. If you’re struggling to bring that passion project to the finish line, put the guilt aside and work on something else. Enter a few contests. Do some writing prompts. Try something new. It will re-energize you.
5. Read, Read, Read, Read
I once had a professor tell me she could always tell when she was reading the work of a writer who never reads. She did not mean it as a compliment. I never forgot that idea.
The great thing about being a writer is that reading books isn’t just a hobby, it’s actually part of your process. If you’re writing, don’t stop reading. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read stuff that’s massively different than your own work. Read stuff that’s similar. Read classics. Read contemporary. Heck, go ahead and read some crap. It will help, I promise.
6. Connect With Community to Stay Creative
Reaching out to your community may feel like more work now, but it’s well worth it.
Even if it’s ‘just virtual.’
The times my writing was in the most trouble I was lacking two vital things, structure and support.
Fortunately, Zoom came to the rescue. I joined an online coffee shop for writers, which gave me an opportunity to join with others (and a brew!) to re-create the cafe-like environment I was missing, no pricy avocado-toasts required! I also joined a writer’s club I was connected to through my uni. We combined spurts of focused productivity with a much needed social outlet. This given me a set time to do work while also networking with other folks in academia.
I know other people who have had great success joining Facebook support groups too. Why not try a few things and figure out what works for you?
7. Try Pomodoro Sessions
If you’re anything like me, the pandemic has zapped your ability to focus.
Most of my work is from home now. Meaning I’m using the same workspace that I write creatively in to do all of my mundane work too. It can be so, so difficult to dedicate time to focus on your creativity when you’re in a home office. If this sound familiar, why not try using Pomodoro sessions to stay creative?
Pomodoro sessions combine 25 minutes of focused work with 5 short, 5 minute breaks. During my Pomodoro I am completely focused on my task. I don’t check my phone or my email. I use the 5 minutes for a dance break, a snack, a walk around my flat. Lather, rinse repeat until you reach your daily goal.
At first I was a bit cynical that 25 minutes was enough time to concentrate on anything. Now, I’m a believer. Pomodoro sessions have completely changed the way I work. I use them for all of my creative, academic and professional tasks. Heck, I even use them for things I hate doing, like preparing my taxes.
It has taken me some time, but I’ve adjusted to working both professionally and creatively from home. If anything, I feel that I use my time more efficiently now. Being a cafe writer is fun, but a built in excuse comes with it. If I can only focus in a cafe then I have a reason not to grab those small moments of down time at home to work on my manuscript. Now? Excuse time is over. If I have 25 min for a Pomodoro, I have time to write.
Don’t believe me? Try this free Pomodoro timer and let me know how it goes!
8. Manage Your Expectations to Stay Creative
Be patient with yourself, growth takes time.
Pre-pandemic I was a sucker for word count goals. Marathon writing sessions fueled by cappuccino and cakes in my local cafe were my strategy for hitting every deadline. And hit them I did. I was relentless. I was annoying. Procrastination was a problem for other writers. ‘I just force myself to sit down and write for a set period of time and the words just come out,’ I’d say with a shrug when writer friends asked how I stayed so motivated.
Whelp. There’s nothing like humanity facing an extinction event to make your resolve collapse like a flan in a cupboard (thank you, Suzy Izzard). On top of that, where was I supposed to write when all the cafes were closed? Little Miss 1K A Day was not getting the last laugh.
In order to get any work done at all, I had to seriously humble myself.
To make room for mental health, I couldn’t chain myself to a desk all day and write. Instead I would go for my daily walk or yoga then sit down and commit to just one hour a day of writing. Just one. Slowly but surely, ideas began to trickle out.
As my work began to pick up steam again I reigned myself in a bit so as to nurture enough energy to keep my mental health on an even keel. Now I’m at a point where spending several hours a day writing doesn’t feel so taxing anymore.
9. Create Your Own New Normal
Although I’ve begun to allow myself more than one hour a day to write, I’m still focusing on balance, quality and longevity over sheer quantity. I’ve also began to think about how I’ll simplify my post pandemic life. Are there things that I can let go of or change my outlook on in order to feel like I’m getting what I need out of life?
Although I’m learning to hate the expression, ‘new normal’ it is worth thinking about. Was my pre-pandemic writing habit ever sustainable? How do I want my life as a writer to look long term? What I know for sure is I want to live a life where I’ve got enough energy for my writing and my day job while still nurturing my mental and physical health.
10. Let Life Surprise You
A year ago if you’d told me right now I’d be writing and producing theater online and working on a completely new novel that has nothing to do with the one I planned to sell in 2020 I’d have laughed at you. And been disappointed in myself. But I’m feeling more vibrant creative and hopeful about my future as a writer than I have in a long time. The pandemic has reintroduced me to the notion of how important it is to ride the waves instead of fighting the tide.
What’s your strategy for staying creative in a post pandemic world?
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7 thoughts on “10 Ways To Stay Creative in a Post- Pandemic World”
I feel “Put Your Mental Health First” is the biggest and most important one! If you’re in a bad mindset it’s so hard to do anything creative! Also, I find walks and in general going out and changing scenery really helps. You might just see something outside your house that will inspire you! 😊
I agree 100%. Without out mental health we aren’t able to tackle the challenges life sends our way. It’s important to stop putting our well being in the backseat
I really loved every point under “read read read read” . Very helpful .
Absolutely! Even time I’m struggling with my writing, reading more helps.
I always stick to reading content I associate with. The point on reading anything and everything was a sheer eye opener . Especially because reading stuff you don’t connect with is tough.
Not putting pressure on myself to create anything and just going with the flow – I think creative juices flow when you stop trying to force them, it’ OK to take a back seat until inspiration strikes 🤗
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