In the before-times, we had many luxuries we took for granted. There was the sense that you could meet a person (in person) without thinking about the bugs that might live inside them–until they gave us reason to worry. Or even if you did catch something, it was treatable and would most likely be inconvenient at worst. In those days, I had plenty of avenues of procrastination away from my writing–whether that involved visiting friends, poking around a bookstore, or just generally going on adventures.
There is a myriad of approaches to the “new normal”–each valid in their own way. We could rail against it, trying to force things to be as they were before. We could throw ourselves at our work, determined to distract ourselves as much as possible in the grind. Or we could forget everything and focus on self-care with all our free time. We could allow a miasma of helplessness to seep into our bones, preventing us from doing anything. I’m choosing acceptance, and adaptation. I’m choosing to view this not as a lost year, but as a chrysalis year.
I wrote in my October newsletter that I spend some time every year on my birthday in contemplating mortality, and that this year I’ve started a little earlier than usual. With so many lives ending earlier than they ever expected, I want to make sure I’m making the most of what I still have for as long as I have it. I realize that I want to be healthier physically, but that I also want a healthier relationship with my writing.
Just knowing that I want these things doesn’t make them magically manifest, however–I have to practice at them. The key is to invest not in the ultimate goals, but in the process. This means not focusing on a goal weight, but focusing on the value inherent to eating well and working out–the way it makes me feel competent and confident.
The same goes for my writing. If I’m too distracted by a looming deadline or self-imposed standard, my work will come across as stilted–taking even more effort and time to clean up. Instead of thinking about my wordcount, I can immerse myself into the scene that I happen to be working on and, counter-intuitively, finish my work faster and ultimately with more depth. Lots of writers already have a practice adjacent to this when they shove their inner-editor in a closet before sitting down to write. NaNoWriMo is good for this kind of practice, for instance. But it’s not enough to shove the editor in a closet, you have to shove in your inner agent, inner publisher, and overbearing inner hustler.
I’m no longer jumping for any short-term solutions and ways out of the mess we find ourselves in. Every miracle cure and rushed opening has the potential to offer a false sense of conclusion. We tend to think of crises in the short term, by a three-act structure. But this isn’t a movie, this is real life. The reality is that it will likely be many months–if not another full year–until we have a way through the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m choosing to accept this now and settle into my chrysalis. If things change and I can emerge early, that’s great.
But if not? I’m ready to take all the time in the world to emerge as the most beautiful butterfly I’m capable of transforming into.