Writing in the time of Coronavirus

Written on April 12, 2020

Last night, I dreamt that a campsite I stayed at during a cycle tour was barren, as if there had been a terrible drought. I touched the wall of a house and rubble cascaded down. Then I was walking up a narrow staircase with a man who was escorting me to a job interview with his boss. The staircase wound up and up, getting tighter, until I couldn’t go any further.

A few weeks ago, saturated with anxiety, I could hardly concentrate, and repeatedly broke my rule of not looking at the Internet while writing, to obsessively read the news. After a while, I banned myself from reading news in the mornings until I’d done some writing.

At first, I did feel that writing was unimportant, in view of what’s going on. Then I thought: you were always going to die and so if writing is meaningless now, it always was. Or wasn’t.

Writing is for me a comfort and an affirmation of living, like playing sport or painting or making music, or doing just about anything you enjoy. You’ve got to love it to do it. Or, you do it because you love it. That doesn’t change.

I’ve just finished the final edits for my short story collection and I’ve written a number of stories about ecological collapse. I’m now starting work on a cli-fi novel, which inevitably involves some form of apocalypse, whether slow or sudden.

All of my recent writing has ended up being about what’s happening to us now. The only difference to my previous writing is that I now have the additional immediate perspective of how I feel — I am, like everybody, directly involved. I’ll have to wait and see if this changes how I write.

Writing and being published creates a connection, a communication, with the reader, a telling of your story and everyone’s stories. Stories are about understanding life: about suffering, struggle and new possibilities, and simply about what it’s like to be alive.

In recent weeks, my love for and anger at my fellow humans has grown. Anger as people break social-distancing rules. Rage at the government response. And love for people as I read their particular stories of suffering, or losing somebody they love, or the unfairness of unequal exposure to risk caused by economic inequality.

But also, I’ve had a new feeling that judgements won’t work. I don’t mean not holding power to account, but rather not blaming people on an individual level for not doing everything they can. Ranting at each other seems less important than trying to listen to each other and think about what really matters. It means changing our doomed consumerist cry from: I deserve it, to: what can I do to fight for everybody?

Good writing is always complicated. Already we are listening more than usual to other people’s stories. I just hope there’ll always be ways to keep writing and people who will want to keep reading.

This article first appeared in ‘Creativity and Coronavirus’, a series of creative reactions to the pandemic from Reckoning contributors and staff.

Read the Creativity and Coronavirus Series here.