Saturday, March 06, 2021

"I can't connect with my imagination"

Last June, the Guardian's Alison Flood reported on the impact that COVID-19 was having on the nation's novelists. Back then, in light of Sarah Vaughan's comment "I can't make my characters exist without interaction", I suggested that "the pandemic is threatening fiction's very machinery, the devices that writers often rely on to create a story". There was, though, some hope that the exceptional circumstances might provide some creative inspiration.

Does the picture look any better nine months on? No - as Flood found, it actually looks worse.

Part of the problem, for Linda Grant, is that this is "a once-in-a-blue-moon example of every writer being affected by exactly the same situation". Rather than being inspired, she's found herself "completely cut off from material": "I felt I was forced into this interiority, when there was no exterior, no outside to engage with. You don't have those overheard conversations on buses, there's no stimulus. It's just a sea of greyness, of timelessness." Creativity doesn't occur in a vacuum, no matter how inventive and ingenious the author. Many of us sense that our social skills have atrophied in lockdown, so it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that writers feel the same way about their powers of observation.

There are other issues, too. Avoiding getting distracted by domestic chores is a challenge familiar to anyone already used to working at home, but, for those with young children, simply finding an opportunity and a place in which to work is now a significant difficulty.

In the article, Natasha Solomons talks about "spaces" more generally: "those moments when something opens up inside you - a pause, a breath. But there are no spaces now." As this suggests, not having sufficient headspace is also an issue. William Sutcliffe refers to "pandemic fatigue" - something that I suspect we're all feeling, but something that is certainly not conducive to creative endeavours.

Sutcliffe doesn't seem inclined to self-pity, though: "Of all the people to be complaining about not being able to work, writers feel like the strangest group, because compared to everyone else our lives have changed the least. It's interesting to see why it's pushed so many off kilter." Yes - and it'll be interesting to see how quickly (or, indeed, whether) things right themselves when circumstances improve.

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