It's Perfectly Okay Not To Be Shakespeare


Here's one of my occasional writing tips. I hope those of you who aren't writers will find it helpful too.

As more and more people are required to stay at home, for the sake of our own health and others', we're increasingly being exhorted to take this time to be creative. "Write a diary!", people say; or "here's your chance to start that novel"; or "why not take up a new hobby?; or "Shakespeare used downtime during the plague to write King Lear, you know!"

Well, yes, that was what Shakespeare did, but a/ he was a brilliant, professional playwright and b/ he and his contemporaries were accustomed to the frequent, localised, bouts of plague that disrupted their lives and work and closed London's theatres. Most of us are neither of those things so, personally, I'd forget about using Shakespeare as a role model.

Instead, I'd suggest this. In these unprecedented times, many of us may be helped by writing down thoughts or recording experiences, but noone should feel any pressure to do so. Not everyone is creative, assuming "creative" means designing or making things. And even naturally "creative" people may find that, right now, setting ourselves tasks and projects isn't helpful. 

Every single one of us is feeling scared an apprehensive. If turning to writing - or painting, or embroidery - helps us feel better, that's a good thing. But it won't make you feel better if it becomes a new source of stress.

In circumstances beyond our control, we tend to focus on anything that gives us a sense of empowerment. Structuring your day with projects can mitigate feelings of helplessness. But, sometimes, self-imposed tasks can make matters worse, especially if we find ourselves "failing" at them. Please believe me when I say that failure doesn't come into it. It's fine to write if and when you want to. It's equally fine not to write (or paint, or sew, or declutter your house, or catalogue all your photographs) if that's not what you feel like doing. And it's important to remain flexible and to know that your feelings may change - even from hour to hour - and that that's okay too. 

Incidentally, for writers like me, still working to deadlines, the same tip applies. I haven't been getting my full day's quota of words written lately, which is absolutely fine because I know I need to adapt to my new circumstances. And - here's the thing - in adapting, I've remembered something that stress might well have led me to forget ...

... stillness and awareness are important elements of the creative process, and I know they'll get me back on track with the day job. They're also healing and empowering. Try sitting still and watching the patterns made by sunlight falling through wind-blown branches. Look at a flower or an object and take delight in counting its colours. Close your eyes and be aware of simply breathing in and out. Make no demands on yourself and be kind to others. 

Kindness itself is a form of creativity, and it flourishes best when it's alowed to flow gently into our lives.

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