Obvious point: it’s hard to write a blog when there’s a plague on. Especially a personal blog which relies on telling stories. At the moment the world is mostly flooded with two types of story: the boring and the horrible. There are rare, lovely, sexy moments of joy, and I try to capture those when my brain is functioning, splatter them onto the page and hit ‘publish’ quickly before I have too long to second guess whether they’re good enough. But I’m mostly here for honesty so I’m just going to say it plainly: it’s hard to write a blog when there’s a plague on.
We writers are pretty lucky, in that we can do our work from home. We can close the doors like an airlock, shut out the danger of outside, and swerve a lot of the horror that others are having to confront physically on a daily basis. So this post is absolutely not designed to be a ‘woe is me’: I’m lucky enough that I physically can still work without needing to catch Covid, and I remind myself every day to be grateful for that.
But still. Reminding myself of that doesn’t make it any easier to work, so I thought I’d smash out this post for those who are also struggling. It is a combination of two things: a howl into the abyss, and a list of things I do which might or might not be helpful to those of you who are struggling as well. Feel free to howl into your own abyss if they aren’t.
Ideas need inspiration
In the Before Times, I used to get ideas for blog posts from three places: my muse, my interactions and my internet.
My muse no longer lives here, because we broke up during summer. And while I’d love to wallow miserably in all the draft blog posts I’ve written then rethought over the last six months, I’m not sure that pouring my heartbreak out here is always all that healthy. It definitely makes for some pretty challenging wanks.
My interactions no longer really happen. As a good pal of mine told me yesterday, there is just no chat happening because we have nothing to talk about. The most exciting news we get these days is of negative Covid tests, and there’s only so much you can milk out of that. I can’t date or go to gigs or overhear conversations in pubs or peoplewatch outside cafés, so those potential ideas lie undiscovered too.
My internet is a depressing place to hang out. Not through any fault of the people on it, because they’re people and they’re worried and sad. But you can’t exactly write funny blog posts about the worst online dating strategy if nobody is dating, or talking about dating, and besides – in the After Times things might look so different that anything I write now will feel bizarre and archaic. Meanwhile, I occasionally hurl porn onto the timeline like some weird hornbag from a happier dimension, and it drops like a stone because understandably, people just aren’t in the mood right now: shut the fuck up GOTN.
How not to write a blog when there’s a plague on
I cannot tell you what will work to make those ideas come. I can tell you what does not work: sitting at your laptop with the creepy tingles in your right arm that whisper ‘RSI lol’ and yell at yourself ‘HAVE AN IDEA, YOU FUCKKNUCKLE! THIS IS MEANT TO BE YOUR JOB!’
Nor does standing at the back door to your kitchen, having ‘just one more’ cigarette because if you stand there for long enough an idea will magically land in your brain like a stray pigeon. You haven’t got the bait to catch the pigeon, because for bait you need interactions and life. So you’ll just stand and smoke, and stand and smoke, and occasionally make another coffee, until it’s that time of the evening when you can stop staring at screens and relax into a glass of wine and another and another and another and another until it’s time for sleeping pills and bed.
Sorry. This might be getting a bit too personal. I’m only mentioning it because I know there are other bloggers out there who are probably struggling too. I’m not here to tell you it’s OK, because it might not be. I want to be kind to myself, and remember that this is hard, but I also still need to pay the mortgage, so ideas need to come somehow.
If you’re struggling too, I can’t tell you what will work, but I can tell you what I do.
What I try to do
First thing’s first: do something physical. At the start of the first lockdown, I watched this CGP Grey video:
You might hate it. It definitely has a whiff of ‘just go for a run’ about it, which could easily cause those of you who struggle with physical stuff to immediately hurl your laptop out of a window. But I find it useful in its simplicity, as I’ve also found 7 Ways To Maximise Misery to be a neat and practical help during difficult mental health times.
If you don’t watch the whole video, here’s the gist: you’re trapped in a spaceship on your own and in order to keep that spaceship going you need to keep the core spinning by boosting both your physical and mental health. In the beginning, and when things are hard, prime the physical side first. It’s really hard to think yourself better when your brain is fucked. Brains are complex, weird, and uncooperative (read my lovely mate Dean’s books The Idiot Brain and The Happy Brain, which are excellent overviews of why this organ is such a massive and complex dickbag sometimes). Bodies, on the other hand, are pretty simple. You do a thing with your body, and your body responds to that thing.
So: I do something physical. I go out, once a day, in the daylight, for a walk or a bike ride. No running, I’m not a fucking masochist. I just pick an activity I like, slam on some good songs to listen to while I do it, and then do it. It’s horrible when it’s wet and cold and inside there are radiators, but the hardest bit is stepping out the door, and I find it gets much easier from there. Later in the evening, when it’s too dark to go out, I hula hoop in my knickers in front of a mirror or run through some core strength exercises – again, with banging tunes. Banging tunes are non-optional, for me. Without the tunes I wouldn’t do the stuff. With the tunes I find I enjoy moving my body. I can still enjoy my body, even if I am miserable about every other fucking thing.
God, I sound like one of those ‘just go for a run’ cunts, and I’m sorry. There are infinite reasons why this may not be possible for you, so I’m not telling you to ‘just’ do anything. But I found it helpful to have it hammered home that priming the ‘mental’ side of your health is way harder than priming the physical side. The latter is easier to start with, because bodies are simpler than brains. You don’t need to run a marathon, just pick a physical thing you enjoy, and start with that.
Next: speak to someone.
I hate Zoom calls. And I find most video calls tricky unless I can do them on Portal (which is owned by Facebook, and therefore evil, but also made it possible for me to eat Christmas dinner with my family so I’ll give Zuck a bit of credit for that even though he is also obviously The Worst). Anyway. While I adore seeing my amazing friends’ beautiful faces, sometimes it feels stilted and tricky to sit very still in front of a screen for a chat. Personally, I’m a fan of audio calls. I can pop my headphones in, wander around the house, and chat shit for hours and hours without getting a sore neck or that creeping sadness which occurs when you can reach out and touch someone’s screen but not actually envelop them in a hug. Your mileage may vary, of course, but if you hate video calls have a crack at the phone. The important thing is to speak to people you like.
I try to make sure I speak to someone every evening, and I’ve now mastered the art of texting pals to say ‘do you fancy a chat? It’s not urgent, but if you’re around and bored let’s catch up.’ There is usually someone who wants a chat, and if not people tend to reply saying ‘busy tonight but are you around tomorrow/this weekend/next week on Wednesday?’ – boom. You have something to look forward to tomorrow/at the weekend/next Wednesday.
Finally: congratulate yourself.
If you have done anything today – and I mean that: anything – that has moved your life forward even a tiny little bit, give yourself some kudos. I think the reason I’m a little nervous about that CGP Grey video is that the stated mission is to ‘return better than you left’ and that feels genuinely impossible. When the good ship GOTN set sail on the seas of lockdown I was feeling pretty centred and happy. Then I realised that all that was an illusion and actually things were terrifying and hideous, and my life flipped entirely inside-out and loads of horrible other shit fell out that I realised I’d been burying for a long time and… yeah. OK so I actually sucked. I suck a lot more now, though, just in new and intriguing ways. What I’m saying is that I’m a clusterfuck mess, and I don’t expect you to be any different. The only way we can drag our clusterfuck arses through this shitshow and towards the other side is by congratulating ourselves on the good things we did within the tiny sphere of life that we can control.
Made a nice dinner? Go you. Did a sit-up? Fuck yeah. Had a lovely wank that made the horror briefly fade into the background? You rock. If you have a blackboard or whiteboard in your house, write something on it every day that you’re proud of. Or use post-its on the fridge, or do what I do and keep a diary where you literally just write something small that made you happy each day. My entry for yesterday reads:
- Did not call [PERSON I SHOULD DEFINITELY NOT CALL, WELL DONE ME]
- Bonded with [FRIEND I LOVE]
- Got blog live [this one about dreams]
If you’re a blogger and you managed to tear yourself away from a blank screen for ten minutes, stop beating yourself up about not having ideas and recognise that it’s hard to write a blog when there’s a plague on? Good for you. Stick that on your list.
Does any of this shit help you to write a blog?
Oh my God, no please don’t go thinking that. I’m not making these suggestions under the illusion that if you’re struggling for ideas, you’ll suddenly and magically be completely fine and able to work/live/love/laugh/fuck the way you would if life were normal. As I say, I have no ideas at the moment. I am having a very wobbly time, and the only things that are getting me through are physical activity and chats with people I love. None of these things are helping me to have ideas, or write blogs, or write… all the other shit I’m supposed to be writing. But they are helping me get through the day to the point where I have things I can congratulate myself for.
I wrote this entire post in an hour, refusing to let myself revise or rethink or double-guess it, or switch to any other app until I’d finished writing the words. It’s probably not great, but it exists. It may be useless and/or self-congratulating and/or completely boring and/or annoying. But fuck it: it’s hard to write a blog while there’s a plague on, so today’s mini-mission was just to write something.
Here is that something. Well done me.