One Dutch Editor, One Nomad Writer

How to Regain Your Creativity While in Isolation

An image of a concrete skyscraper, taken by Mikita Yo, representing how isolated one can feel. It can be difficult to spark one's creativity while in this isolation.
Image Courtesy of Mikita Yo, @mikitayo

We’ve all had enough of the virus, but it’s still here. And now with almost a fifth of the world’s population on lockdown, many of us have lost our will to be creative in isolation. The thinnest silver lining is that as more of us experience this self-isolation, fewer of us naively say we’ll be more productive while locked up. I needn’t tell you that people are stressed, whether they live alone or are trying to homeschool their children. What I can share with you is how to eek out some creativity while in isolation without pressuring yourself.

The very basics to spurring your creativity while in isolation starts with being kind to yourself.

A few of us have experienced something like COVID-19 before— not in terms of the virus, but in terms of the anxiety and stress it brings. Many people who’ve dealt with anxiety, depression, or PTSD have both self-isolated and used art as an outlet. However, when creativity becomes an expectation, it stops being an outlet. So my first tip for you is let go of your expectations. I understand this may cause a feeling of “I can’t!” or “But I need to get it done!” And I understand that some of you have deadlines you simply can’t move, but if possible, let these creative deadlines go at least for a while.

This doesn’t mean let go of your dreams or goals. Accept that you will finish your book, your short story, your poem… but let the deadlines and expectations float free. If you need to, tell inquiring minds not to ask about your deadlines. They’ve been deadline’s postponed. Do anything you need to do to get an expectation off your shoulders.

Take the stress out of art

Next comes meditation. Not the breathing, yoga-style meditation, though you can do that too if you’d like. Art meditation is something that is designed to relax you. You sit in front of a blank canvas or page and draw/write whatever comes to mind. You don’t take it too seriously, you don’t worry about what word sounds right or drawing perfect proportions. And it’s perfect for being creative while in isolation because you don’t need other’s critiques.

You just let your hand create what it wants to, switching subjects whenever you’d like. Don’t think, just make. These creations won’t be keepers, though they might be an interesting examination of your brain in times of stress. They’re simply to get you moving, to relax, and to activate your creativity without the requirement that what you create has to be great.

A fluid doodle by Kimberly Sterling, consisting of black marker on white paper in various abstract shapes. This is an example of the art tip meditation tip Madeline Pine suggested to help jump-start your creativity while in isolation
Let your brain write or draw fluidly, about whatever it would like, as demonstrated here by Kimberly Sterling @ksterling

Make use of your feelings

Third, we move up into studies. These also will not be final works, but they’ll be great references later on. I want you to write down how all this is making you feel. Be vivid. Be raw. You’re experiencing deep, particular emotions right now that many people can only imagine or estimate while writing characters. If you’re lonely, frustrated, anxious, or even feeling happy for the time to yourself, write that down, and write down why. Write things like:

  • what you spend the day doing
  • the particular amount of time you spend completing large or small tasks
  • the tasks you’re avoiding or suddenly passionate about and why
  • the physical ways your emotions manifest

A personal example

Years ago when I was dealing with depression, I didn’t want to write. I had effectively barricaded myself from the world, and it seemed as if I could never spark my creativity while in isolation. So instead of writing stories, I’d write emotion studies to use for some later characters. These studies aren’t publishable by any means, but they give me insight that I later put to work describing depressed characters. I dug up an old one:

         Spent all day yesterday washing the bedding. All of today that laundry’s laid on the floor. I walked by it eight times, stared at it, and walked away again. Yeah, I’ll probably sleep on a bare mattress tonight. It doesn’t seem so strange, even though it should. I know it should. But no one else is around to point it out.
         God I’m heavy. Not everywhere. Just my eyes feel so damn heavy, like they’re slowly sinking back into their sockets. And someone’s pressing down on my shoulders. And there’s a particular ache in the midst of my spine that won’t go away…

Those physical sensations were golden reference material when one of my characters’ experienced depression. And writing them helped me relax and warm up. It jump-started my creativity while in isolation. So I highly encourage you to take notes of your emotions – however light or strong – and build your reference library.

Bribe your creativity if you have to

Finally: try to write something you’ll publish one day. Even if you aren’t firing on all cylinders, try to summon your creativity while in isolation, even just to write a scene or two. Some days, it’ll feel impossible to summon your creativity while in isolation. Plenty of times, you won’t feel like writing at all. That’s a valid feeling. But I promise, it gets easier once you’ve been going for a few minutes.

You may need thirty minutes of writing to get into the swing of things, you might need an hour. Sure, there will be some days where you can try every trick in the book and your creativity just won’t flow. But it’s important to try. Because from self-care (in the form of artistic meditation) to creating emotional reference journals for yourself to document the isolation, there are many creative ways to prevent artistic atrophy. So don’t tell yourself you have to write a certain number of words or create a beautiful finished draft by the end of self-isolation. Just write when you can.

Keep in touch

Best of luck getting through this, and in being creative while in isolate. We’ll make it through this health scare. There is an end to this isolation, and there is a sunny day on the horizon. If you find yourself still feeling discouraged in regards to creativity, you may want to check out our blog on mental health reasons you aren’t writing.

You can also experience human interaction— at least through the safe distance provided by the internet— by talking to Saskia and me on Twitter. If you have any tricks to rekindle your creativity when the world feels upside-down, we’d love to hear about them and try them out. Goodness knows the days get a tad monotonous in isolation. In the meantime, if you want to take your emotional reference journals and write even more complex character emotions, we’ve got a blog on that. We also have another blog on keeping your mental health in a good place. Stay safe everyone, wash your hands, and we’ll see you next week. 

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