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Writing in difficult times

What to do when you feel like you can't write

Is it possible to write in difficult times?

I’ve heard this question discussed in a couple of different ways recently, which prompted me to write down my take on it. This post is my answer to that question.

What does ‘writing’ mean anyway?

By writing I really mean 1) showing up to write and 2) taking time out to pause and look around. When you struggle to write because of what’s going on in the world, it’s ok to let go of the idea that our writing needs to be ‘good’, whatever that means. Later we might come back to something we’ve written during these times and say ‘I’m so glad I wrote that because -‘ and there will be myriad ways to finish that sentence.

I learnt a lesson yesterday

I learnt an important lesson yesterday that I want to share with you. I’m part of a coaching programme for writers that involves a weekly coaching call. Yesterday the coach told us that writing, reading and books are more important than ever. Far from being a periphery or something trivial, reading, books – and therefore writing – are part of what’s giving people hope right now. Not simply entertainment, also much needed, but hope. I had a bookmark when I was a kid that said ‘do what you can, where you are, with what you have’ and both reading and writing feature in my ‘do what you can’ toolkit.

Observers of the world

Do you know why else I think writing is so important always, but especially at the moment? Susan Sontag summed it up when she said (and I’m paraphrasing) writers are called to be observers of the world. We notice things, we record things and make them real and poignant for other people, if we choose to share what we’ve written.

A Simple Noting Exercise

Even looking around you exactly where you are right now and noting down a list of ten things you can see is an act of writing, an act of observation, because your part of the world deserves to be recorded too.

One of my students recently did my ‘look out of the window and write what you see’ exercise, and wrote about two birds of prey standing side-by-side next to a puddle. Because of where she lives in the world, this was an ordinary event for her, and she used no flowery language at all to dress up the experience. The detail she included made the view from her window wonderfully evocative for me.

Use the senses

By the way, when you write your list, try noting down two ‘experiences’ for each of the senses: two sounds, two tastes, two colours, two textures, two scents. For me right now: door closing, laughter, lavender, rosemary, dark blue, white wavy lines, wool, hessian, lemon water, tea.

So is it possible to write in difficult times?

My answer to whether it’s possible to write during difficult times? It might not be. That’s ok. But I think it is possible to be mindful, to take time to pause, and to take refuge in your writing, even if it’s only for ten minutes at the start of your day. Equally, don’t feel bad if you’re turning up to write more than ever – what you’re doing is vital. Remember how in a whole variety of ways, writing, reading, books are more important than ever.

More soon, until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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