It’s Okay to Not Write a Book During the Pandemic

01 May 2020 on Blog  

I’m not sure what I was expecting—maybe with more (read: all) time at home, I would be nothing short of prolific, à la “Room of One’s Own” at last. I wanted to be inspired to write full-time.

However, what I have found is that it’s been more challenging to do the minimum of what I used to do back when I had a full load of in-person classes and meetings. Part of it is that none of my work feels all that pressing anymore. Deadlines are shadowy. To-do lists seem like suggestions.

How’s the pandemic treating your writing life? I asked this question to the Barnstorm editorial staff—a collection of folks in the final stages of their MFA program at the University of New Hampshire—and found much of the same ennui, as well as acceptance, that I’ve come to in my own life.  

Lately, I’ve been thinking that this particular season is one of being, and less of doing. In a culture that swings hard toward yang, we’re having to sit tight in yin. The collective moment calls for looking around, surveying the scene, and noticing the ways in which we are connected.

Writers, I hope you find some comfort and solidarity from our staff’s perspectives. I know I have.

—Lily Greenberg, Editor-in-Chief

Johnna St Cyr, Poetry Editor: Quarantine has certainly left me with more time to write, but it's also been harder to follow a writing routine. Before I had a set time where I had to write in the morning before leaving for campus. There was no other time in the day so I had to get it done. But now with longer days, I find it's easier to say oh I can write later.  I've been trying to at least free-write everyday. Even if I don't write a poem at least I wrote a page of something. Some days it's easier than others, but I've been setting small page limit goals and celebrating the little things. 

Abbi Sleeper, Nonfiction Editor: When I left campus for spring break, I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn't be coming back. Still, nothing can fully prepare you for the reality of your in-person semester coming to a swift end and the remainder of your MFA experience going virtual, and I certainly never imagined that I would be attending my last ever workshop via Zoom while sitting in the guest room of my parent's house! On the bright side, my cat got to attend. 
Honestly, writing has been really hard, especially in the first few weeks when I wanted little more than to take a nap and stare into the abyss. As we settled in to the "new normal," however, I found myself really inspired by my classmates and professors, all of whom were persevering and continuing to deliver beautiful writing and thought-provoking conversation in our virtual classes. While this wasn't the way I thought I'd finish out my MFA classes, I've found that you can be surrounded by a supportive and inspiring community of writers, even at a distance, and it's a lesson I won't soon forget. 

Charlotte Gross, Fiction Editor: It's difficult to measure how the pandemic is affecting me, and all of the structures that we're used to. I feel lucky that I mostly just face emotional strain and changes to my environment that don't threaten my health and safety. Small details from before the pandemic—biking to campus, strolling between the library and English department building with classmates, popping into professors' offices to talk about a story or skiing or a grant application—feel like they're from a different life. I miss the collaboration and spontaneity sharing space with others offers. But, as a writer, I'm used to being a solitary creature. I'm hopeful the turning inward this current moment encourages will allow me to better share stories that resonate with others.

Wesley Hood, Managing Editor: I find that I am constantly reminding myself that it’s okay to not feel creative; it’s okay to not write anything some days; it’s okay because all of this is happening in the world and we are in new territory and we as students, writers, people, are just trying to figure things out. It’s been difficult being upended from my final months of coursework, jobs, life, etc. I’ve transitioned back to my childhood home states away, but I’ve still managed to read some, write some, and maintain relationships with my MFA cohort. Some days I write pages, others I write none and that’s okay. I’m still being productive even if that productivity doesn’t look like what it once did, even if it’s in a place hundreds of miles away from campus and faculty and classmates. And that’s totally okay.

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