The last twelve (or so) months have made for a hell of a year and, for many, a year of hell. In this post I’m going to discuss what writing has done for and meant to me during these months of concern and uncertainty.
First off, I will say this is not a piece of writing to which much planning or forethought has been dedicated. I have been considering writing something like this for a little while now, but lots of things have come and gone, some have come and stayed, and so this is the first chance I’ve had to give any real time to the concept.
I’ll start in January. January 2021, that is, because that was the moment at which I began to write in earnest.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dabbled for a long while. I novelised my favourite video-game when I was fourteen, I wrote song lyrics when I was seventeen, even doing some paid work for a photography exhibition that one of my university lecturers was involved in. Through all of this, I always loved to write about football. I wrote for a few websites, my own and a couple of others but, just pre-pandemic, I began to fall out of love with football.
The distance I felt from the sport after Covid-19 struck and forced the grounds to close their doors to fans was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and, while I still enjoy football, the passion had gone for me. Certainly, the passion needed to write about it on a regular basis.
In what I’m sure is in no way a dissimilar situation to many people, Covid-19 affected my professional and private life in multiple ways. The nature of my work and the timing of my qualification to do said work (the qualification was finalised last summer, at the height of the pandemic), meant financial uncertainty for numerous reasons too facile to bother going into. The stress of this affected my personal life in that I would spend a majority of my time worried about my career, and so had neither the time nor the energy for some things I cared about, writing being one of them.
Then, we come to January 2021. Call it a New Years Resolution. I’ve never been one for that sort of thing, but there is certainly that sense of resurgence that comes with the turning over of a calendar. I decided to start writing again. I had this website, which had existed for a while, and it sat unused and unloved with just my university dissertation and a couple of pieces I’d knocked out the year after I graduated.
As has been the case with most things this year, what finally spurred me into action was a pile of unpleasantness. Namely, the insurrection at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on January 6th. That event, and the fallout from it, drew a couple of direct, written responses from myself and began a short burst of creativity that led to me writing some sort of article or opinion piece almost every day. I only ended up publishing the ones I particularly liked, but still. The wheels of writing had been set in motion.
I then stopped writing articles. Well, before this one, of course. This wasn’t a case of burnout or apathy, but rather me bringing my attention back to a novel I had begun working on in the summer. While I hadn’t quite ‘abandoned’ that novel, so to speak, I was certainly only working on it in drips and drabs in the months between summer and the new year. Again, this was due largely to a focus on work and other, more pressing worries.
The second (or was it third?) lockdown that forced schools to close their doors again from January until March was just the jolt my writing needed. Being a teacher that qualified in the uncertainty of the summer before, uncertainty that swept the world in general and had a huge impact on the number of teaching positions that would usually open up between the spring and summer, I’ve found myself doing supply teaching this year. Supply teaching is by no means a job without its challenges, but for all its challenges it certainly has its perks and I’m enjoying it immensely. The closure of schools in the late winter months, while unwelcome for my bank account, was the perfect chance for me to write.
Obviously, I can only speak from personal experience, but one of the very few positive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the opportunity to throw ourselves into projects. I know people who have lost an incredible amount of weight (I’m not sure how they managed it, but they did), people who found time for new interests or other forms of self-improvement and, as in my case, people who have had the chance to pursue and practice passions for which they otherwise were not getting a great deal of opportunity.
Writing has always been a form of remote work by its very nature, and so the pandemic has possibly affected it much less than it has had the chance to for a majority of our other hobbies, interests or careers. It therefore stands to reason that it has been something of a constant in my life and, I’m sure, the lives of many people who might be reading this who also do writing, whether that be as a hobby or indeed as a career. The writing community on social media is wonderful, and was alive and kicking long before the pandemic, but it has been during the pandemic that I joined that community and saw my drive and creative output increase ten-fold because of the positive effect that the connection that comes with being part of such a community had on me.
The increased importance of connection during these trying times has been huge for my approach to writing, to say the least. Without isolation, be that physical, distancing-based isolation or the more widespread feeling of being apart from large parts of society and the world that we previously took for granted, I don’t think I would have rebuilt my social media presence around writing.
My social media rebuild isn’t something that happened by accident. Before I decided to focus my energy on writing and becoming a part of that community on social media, I was wasting my energy on frivolous and toxic things like endlessly scrolling down my news feed and getting increasingly mad at the world. I decided to rebuild to not only help myself step away from that sort of toxicity (see the piece I wrote in February about how Twitter can be a nightmare), but to give myself the chance to form the sort of meaningful connections that have been both threatened and, in many incredible ways, strengthened by the impact of this pandemic.
We’ve all found the last year or so stressful. Some more than others, but we’ve all felt it. Writing, for me, has been a form of stress relief almost as much as it was a pre-existing passion. That stress relief came out in the first month of 2021 in the form of political pieces which, to all intents and purposes, were rants as much if not more than they were analytical commentary. I even ranted about football for the first time in a while, brought on by misgivings I had (and to a large extent, still have) about the football team that I support. That piece was called “How Do I Stop Supporting a Football Team?” and, considering the response to it and the fact that it is still, more than five months later, responsible for around 75% of the total clicks on my website, I’m actually planning to write something of a follow-up to it in the not-too-distant future.
Most of all, though, writing has grounded me in a year full of doubt, worry and anger. I had hoped, in the early days of the pandemic, that it would at least be something of a unifying force; a common enemy for the human race to rally against as one. Of course, with the world being the way it is and has been for, depressingly, knocking on a decade now, that was not the case. Covid-19 has become the latest in a line of things that have caused a considerable amount of division and, like everything, that division has been drawn down political lines. One group of people, as is the wont of that group, have taken the stance that the pandemic doesn’t exist and that masks and vaccines are tools suppression and control. I’ll stop myself before I get too off-topic.
Writing, getting back to that, is a large part of what has kept me out of those arguments and animosity. Anybody who has known me for a while, knows that jumping into those sorts of discussions and really getting into it with people was something I did a lot. That energy is much better channelled in my writing. It’s productive and cathartic in a healthy way, which is the crux of the benefit that I’ve seen from being a writer during the Covid-19 pandemic. Again, I’m speaking from personal experience, but I can imagine that while peoples’ circumstances might differ to mine, writing has been cathartic for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Hell, writing has always been a way to scrawl away concerns, angst and anger; that’s why diaries became a thing.