Struggling With Creative Productivity During The Pandemic? You’re Not Alone.
Last week, I had two separate conversations with fellow kidlit friends during which they commented how I managed to stay so productive during the pandemic. This took me by surprise, since in my own head I’ve been feeling like most of the past two years have been a fog that is just beginning to lift. I’ve also been envious of some of my creator friends who say that they’ve been MORE productive during the pandemic than before.
For me, it’s mainly been a low-grade (sometimes high-grade) stress that runs through everything, all the time, mainly focused on worrying about loved ones and also about the world in general, what the future might bring. Because of this, I’ve found myself less patient with issues and certain events that would have gotten more of my attention before the pandemic. This especially applied to some of the negativity I was seeing, with industry politics and kidlit friends attacking other kidlit friends. I knew that the underlying issues were important, but I found that all the negativity pulled me further down an already unhealthy negative spiral.
Just one example: My husband and I were trying to get ready to leave for a small family memorial for my father-in-law, who had died earlier in the pandemic. We weren’t able to have a funeral because of COVID restrictions, which added to our heartbreak. At the same time, one of my favourite kidlit community groups was being torn apart, and I was being pressured to take sides, and do so publicly. While the issues involved were important, I lacked the time and focus to investigate everything properly. I barely had enough emotional energy to deal with what I was going through personally.
Like many others, I have had to prioritize my mental health. In order to properly support loved ones and also to be able to enjoy creating again, I realized I knew I needed to be more proactive. As you’ll see in the list below (and again, THANK YOU to all the creators who shared), every person needs to find their own way of coping. For me, this included doing more creating away from the computer (where I was too tempted to doomscroll), creating in VR, trying new cooking techniques and recipes, learning more tech nittygritty (software, new video editing skills etc), saying no more often, limiting my contact with negativity re: people, situations, media, etc.
I was motivated to create a short survey to find out how other creators were feeling. 150 people responded to my survey – thank you to all who responded! Some of your answers were heartbreaking. Some made me laugh out loud. Not surprisingly, some of you have struggled to be creative while others have not. Feel free to scroll to later in this post for the aggregate results, the stats and (this is the part I was mainly interested in) the comments.
No matter what other people are doing (or at least what they’re posting about), remember that only YOU know what’s best for you and your mental health, your own personal situation.
Especially during the pandemic, it’s important to remember that every person has much more going on behind the scenes than you know. Be kind. Be flexible.
Try very hard to focus on putting GOOD karma out into the world instead of negative. Before publicly attacking or publicly criticizing, think about what the impact of what you say might have on individuals and their families. Ask yourself if there might be a better way of improving the situation. Be honest with yourself about why and how you have chosen a public venue to say what you want to say.
Even if you don’t read past this paragraph, please know that however you’ve been feeling or are feeling: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
In case it helps anyone else, here are some of the ways that kidlit creators have used to cope. Thanks to all who submitted responses! Feel free to add your own tips and experiences below – I will leave comments open for a few weeks.
SOME COPING MECHANISMS USED BY FELLOW KIDLIT CREATORS:
Allow yourself to focus on keeping your family happy and safe as the priority.
Set a schedule.
Write every day with a timer to keep on track.
Switch up what you’re working on, whether it’s something you’re writing or drawing.
“…Forging deeper connections with a few friends (virtually) where we can lean on each other has really helped.” – Joanne Levy
Accept that some days will be bad. Allow yourself space to “feel it out, and try again the next day.”
Learn new things via online courses and videos. (““The ability to take online workshops has helped me feel connected to other writers while continuing to work on my writing skills.”)
Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes just take the time to not create anything at all. – Catarina Oliveira
Keep a journal. (“Journalling has become a new and vital part of my creative life.”)
Running. Biking. Golf.
Embrace your art as therapy.
Be ready to pivot toward new milestones when your expected path changes. – Joni L. Nemeth
Walk outside. (“Getting outside and walking is the best thing I’ve done for my well-being.”)
Sharing in-moment photos taken during walks. (“Sometimes I’ve shared them on social media and people have responded with profound gratitude which was unexpected. It has allowed moments of connection.” – Rebecca Upjohn)
Turn off the news. Focus on fun projects. If you can, don’t worry about the pressure of deadlines. – Leanne Dyck
Meditation and mindfulness. Yoga.
Find an accountability partner or accountability group online.
Have specific goals and projects to complete. “Those really help me to focus on something positive.”
Change your creating style: genre, language, “writing an escapist, adventurous story far away from the present life and place.”
Form or find a support group online.
“Being more socially active on spaces that shared my interests; engaging and working with peers that helped with accountability was incredibly beneficial.” – Erica Lee
““Good music, good coffee and good food has helped everything.” – Jan Dolby
Q. During the first half of the pandemic, how would you describe your creative productivity, compared to before the pandemic?
Approximately 44% said that during the first half of the pandemic, they felt their creative productivity was LESS compared to before the pandemic. 39% said there were MORE productive. 17% said their creative productivity was about the same.
Q. How would you describe your creative productivity in the past six (6) months, compared to earlier in the pandemic?
Approximately 38% said their creative productivity has been WORSE during the past six months, compared to earlier in the pandemic. 46% said was GETTING BETTER. 16% said their creative productive stayed about the same.
Q. How have your READING habits been affected during the pandemic?
38 % said they’ve been reading MORE books.
34% said they read FEWER books.
25% said they read about the SAME number of books.
The remainder chose “Other” with comments that they tended read books in bursts (“my habit definitely changed from daily reading to random shots of enjoyment”), started listening to audiobooks while paintings (“To my surprise, I’ve listened to TONS of books. So grateful to SFPL!”) and one person said they haven’t read at all.
Q. Any other comments? What has helped you during the pandemic, in terms of creativity, mental health and finding more focus? etc.
“Nothing has helped. It is very overwhelming as someone coming into the pandemic with mental health diagnoses. It has amplified how deeply fragile the world feels, and how fragile it feels to try and create beautiful things. Thank you for your support though. It’s meant a lot.”
“It was the need to ‘express a stress’ that propelled me into writing, 20 years ago. Pandemic creativity was different – in that I rarely wrote about the pandemic. But I escaped it. The cancellations and clipped wings were gift of time and headspace… to write! That productivity translated to books, which is a wonderful thing. Kathryn Apel / @KatApel / katswhiskers.wordpress.com”
“When I knew we were in it for the long haul, I just dug in and made a schedule that fit and everything flowed. But now things are a lot more uncertain due to various factors, and it’s just throwing me off.”
“Allowing myself to focus on keeping my family happy and safe as the priority.”
“Being an introvert has helped.”
“Mindset exercises and not have to commute.”
“Found online videos and courses, and learned! Kept me curious and interested.”
“Skyping with my critique group has made a world of difference! We found a way to draw together on collaborative canvases and have even seen an entire picture book written, critiqued, and sketched during the pandemic. Keeping our creative spirits up together and supporting one another through our struggles has been the one constant thing we could count on as our creative energy and mental health ebbed and flowed during the past two years. I don’t know what I’d do without them!”
“We have high risk in our family so my 3 kids have been home every minute of the last 2 years. I am a husk and my creative brain is 100% applesauce.”
“Book contracts and deadlines helped me write and online writing groups on Zoom helped me meet those deadlines”
“Diving into my art as therapy and not strictly creation and saying yes to all sorts of weird things! @elizabitcrusher”
“I finally went to therapy, and it’s helped me a lot!”
“Focus has been hard. My mind wanders, my anxiety is higher, and I have more trouble getting into “the zone”. I think it’s mostly due to the changes in my schedule – kids home more, doing my “day job” remotely means I have fewer boundaries, and I used to write in libraries or coffee shops which I don’t do anymore. Also, the state of the industry is terrifying, and I’m having a harder time seeing a path forward. I gave myself a lot of grace for awhile, but in the last 2 months I realized that at some point “grace” became “excuses” and it was time to get back to work. I set limits on my day job, and now I have an accountability partner, a schedule, I write every day with a timer to keep me on track, and it’s been enormously productive!”
“Walking in the woods has helped. It has become my moving meditation. I have also enjoyed the virtual book launches and webinars.”
“I signed with my agent a year ago, so that was a huge boost to help me push through the stress of the continuing lockdowns and isolation of the pandemic.”
“Leanne Dyck “lustfulgraces”: For the sake of my mental health, I’ve been turning off the news. For the sake of my creativity, I’ve been focusing on fun projects and not worrying about the pressure of deadlines.”
“As I am a poet and children’s book writer I found it easier to write poems which reflected how I was feeling about what we were going through. I am only now putting real effort into finishing a book I began ages ago. Hope I remain motivate! Pam Newham”
“I love escaping to the worlds I create so writing has been really important for my stress management during the pandemic.”
“Hi Debbie, it’s Barbara (@barbaralimstudio) ? I’ve realized that I am an introvert and really love being alone! I love to paint while listening to audiobooks. Especially MG/YA fantasy. Kind and generous souls like yourself and some other creatives on Twitter who share tips and encourage newbies like myself. Meditation has helped me through these surreal times + I’m thankful for my daughter and husband who are keeping me grounded with our daily routines. Thank you, Debbie!”
“Getting outside and walking is the best thing I’ve done for my well-being.”
“Having specific goals and projects to complete. Those really help me to focus on something positive.”
“Mindfulness and yoga.”
“I play classical music in the background.~The Legends Of Weesakayjak~FB”
“Time outdoors/in nature has helped the most. Getting outdoors daily, to walk, even in the city, where I can connect to the natural world. I’ve been taking a lot of in-the-moment photos on my walks. Sometimes I’ve shared them on social media and people have responded with profound gratitude which was unexpected. It has allowed moments of connection. The process of walking, looking, paying attention with all senses to the world outside my own head dials back the anxiety and despair and fear and overwhelm. On a basic level I’m creating something and, sometimes, putting it into the world. It doesn’t require acceptance or revision or reviews. That in turn allows me to take a deep breath and focus on other work like writing. I’m continually letting go of old ideas of productivity. What is productivity? If how you define it comes from comparison or other people’s expectations, you will always feel at the risk of failing. I care a lot less about what anyone else thinks. The pandemic has brought the uncertainty of being alive into sharp focus. It can be immobilizing. Some days I can’t do anything other than feel scared. Moments when I can create keep me grounded because I am immersed in the present. Nature helps me pay attention to what is happening now and then the fight or flight urges and thought distortions recede. It allows oxygen into my lungs and brain and mitigates the grief and scale of suffering we’re seeing across our planet. I don’t know anyone untouched by the pandemic. If I can create something even for a moment, then I am okay for that moment and that feels positive because then I can pass that on to someone who is not okay in that moment. And maybe that will help us both. I’ve been writing a lot of poems. I can make a complete poem with only a few words. It doesn’t take long…or it may…but I’m doing it for grounding and the consequence is that it’s a reframing of what it means to be a creator for me. I try to leave judgement about productivity aside. If I can create something with an open-hearted focus, it gives me the strength to try to do it for another moment. Who knows where one word or picture or note or movement following another may lead? Rebecca Upjohn @RebeccaUpjohn”
“Self care and therapy.”
“It’s been very cyclical and I’ve been taken in unexpected directions. I guess one thing I’ve learned in the past two years is to be ready to “pivot” towards new milestones when your expected path changes. Thanks for doing this, Debbie! @JoniLNemeth”
“I’m trying to do things differently to sort of shake me out of my slump. I just left my illustration agency and signed with a literary agent. This has taken me out of my comfort zone and I hope will sort of revive my creativity.”
“Stepping away from was helpful in resetting. I’m returning to it refreshed and excited about it again.”
“The ability to take online workshops has helped me feel connected to other writers while continuing to work on my writing skills. Journalling has become a new and vital part of my creative life.”
“Keeping connected with my writing group. Taking online courses. Volunteering. Listening to audio books.”
“My creative writing (ie, no specific deadline) has suffered a lot. My work for clients has skyrocketed—deadlines, accountability, profit. Otoh, I do NOT feel like filling out grant proposals—that just seems exhausting rn. I’m relying on my kidlit friends ❤️”
“I’m home more than usual so I think that makes a difference. Also, Nokia and few distractions except BREAKING NEWS every hour!”
“I find spending time in nature incredibly helpful! It lowers my stress and boosts my energy and creativity. A walk or run in the woods is excellent therapy! @KarynCurtis21”
“I have needed lots of therapy, I have tried at least 5 dif medications thru psych care, and found no success. The pandemic hit right after a most trying time too, which made it worse. I have drawn two things. Literally. I haven’t had my library visits, with stacks of books, I left my crit group bc they never checked on me when I was all of a sudden absent. I haven’t had energy to do regular human stuff, creative stuff was left for last last last:(“
“What helped me was to be more gentle to myself and to just take time to not create anything at all. Catarina catarinaoliveirastudio.com”
“Being more socially active on spaces that shared my interests; engaging and working with peers that helped with accountability was incredibly beneficial. These simple things were fun to look forward to! Taking classes again was also beneficial as it made pursuing my projects more streamlined with defined schedules that had the added bonus of peer reviews and critiques. Erica Lee@EricaLeeArt”
“It’s been really hard. The funny thing is I was already home a lot, since I’ve worked from home for decades. Somehow the weight of imposed isolation along with fears of what was going on (and is still going on) in US has restricted my output. I am reading more again, but 1st six months all I could do was doom scroll on Twitter.”
“I’ve kept in touch with writer’s group via Zoom, which is better than nothing, and is helping me to do what writing I can. They’ve been a lifeline through this difficult time of job loss, the death of family and friends, and creative fatigue. I also take walks, which renews me and keeps that tiny creative spark from going out.”
“Viewing my work as something positive that I can do and put out into the world has really helped me focus on my writing. It’s something that I can control when everything else feels out of control. (Carmella Van Vleet / @carvanvleet / carmellavanvleet.com)”
“I have found that turning myself away from anything publishing industry related is what I need to keep my focus on me and improve my mental health. I’ve unsubscribed from or unfollowed newsletters, news alerts, podcasts, deal announcements — anything that informs me about publishing or new books. This means I might be missing friends announcing deals or book birthdays and I feel lousy about that but also? I just feel lousy in general and I need to get myself straight before I can reengage at the level I once did. The rejections have also really ground me down in a way they never did before, so I’m actually forcing myself not to write anything new or even attempt to generate ideas until I can take deeper breaths and stop caring so much about getting books published. -Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic/@grubreport/www.stephanielucianovic.com”
“It seems like I should be more productive, but everything feels liminal and abstract. @cmdrsue”
“I read the entire Bible.”
“Just staying creative (drawing/painting/etc.), doing stretches, reading M.R. James, Robert Aickman and other authors of the weird plus books drawn by fave illustrators. Visiting the AGO and the BMV bookstores.”
“When I have deadlines, I still meet them as I always have; however, the creating of new ideas/pieces/dummies has really taken a nose-dive.”
“I’ve been focusing on giving myself as much grace as possible in regards to my writing.”
“Changing my genre, language, writing an escapist, adventurous story far away from the present life and place, finding a live accountability group.”
“I feel that my creativity in the beginning of the pandemic absolutely crashed. I’ve had had a lot of losses, so with the constant grieving and tragedy, creating was near impossible. However, because I was in art school, I was forced to continue despite it all. I feel that this was the only thing that kept me decently motivated, albeit a bit forced. Now, I am doing a little better. Creating while grieving (on my own terms) has helped me cope and vent my frustrations.”
“I already worked from home before the closures started, so it only affected me a little (less hours for a few months). I’m not sure if my reading or writing habits were influenced much overall by any of that. I definitely went through about a month of higher stress, though, around April 2020, but what helped me pull out of it was the reminder that none of this is a surprise to God, that He has it all in control, and that death is not the worst thing that can happen to me.”
“Being home everyday for a year helped me to focus, and that gave me what I just needed to make some important changes, necessary changes in my life. Angel T. Writer and illustrator”
“It also doesn’t help raising a toddler. I love being a Stay-at-home-parent, but he was only 1 when the pandemic started; now he’s 3 and this is the only normal he’s ever known. Trying to balance illustration during isolation for my family makes it so much harder.”
“I am proud that I was able to hold steady.”
“For 8 months everything seemed to be falling apart but undoing the expectations that I previously held for myself has been freeing. So many real, terrible things happened (deaths, job loss, illness) and we got through it. I now know my parameters – what is feasible and can see more clearly what actually matters in my life. I say no to more. I try to live more in the moment with my children and work comes second. It makes me focus more when I am working. And so many ideas are burbling to the surface. We will be okay.”
“The one thing that has helped my creative production the most is fear that time is running out! If I don’t put words on paper now, when? Also, I have a lot to say about the world right now… Andi Diehn, @lostinthree”
“I’m lucky in that I have a variety of types of books, and I draw as well as write. So I can switch to what I’m excited about… then get back to the “slog” when my mood improves. Also… cycling and walks. Kevin Sylvester @kevinarts”
“The first year I was creative and read more, the second year I lost 5 people so everything pretty much stopped. The last 3 months my writing is back on track and definitely reading more.”
“Actually, I enjoyed the lack of social responsibilities, and would have increased my productivity had I not decided to grab a non-creative day job, just in case freelance dwindled too much. So it balanced out to more creative energy with less creative time! @AbrianCArt”
“My creativity has taken a huge hit. Part of that is covid-related stress, so, pretty situational. I did manage to write a short book this year, but the project I’ve been working on since before the pandemic has suffered. I’m only just getting back to it. That said, turning OFF the news and avoiding Twitter has been my saving grace. Also, forging deeper connections with a few friends (virtually) where we can lean on each other has really helped. You’re welcome to quote me, Debbie. 🙂 – Joanne Levy”
“Walking, biking, drawing, reading and baking. Getting outside has been key. Connecting with my kids like this as teens has been a gift, having time with them at this stage in their lives has actually been awesome. Not having to drive or be anywhere is so wonderful for my productivity, I’ve realized how much energy I use stressing about upcoming things. Without those my productivity has gotten better.”
“Accepting that some days will be bad, unproductive and allowing myself space to rest, feel it out, and try again the next day.”
“Running, biking, and golf have helped. @duanewrites”
“Working less and getting outside has helped, even if it makes me stressed that I’m not getting enough work done…”mental/physical health & productivity” is a rule I try to abide by. @mariswicks”
“I still haven’t been back to the library – 2 years now after being there almost every weekend for 4 years before the epidemic began : (“
“Good music, good coffee and good food has helped everything. – Jan Dolby @jandolby jandolby.com”
“I’ve read more books because reading became an escape from daily life/stress. As for writing, I was already in a dry spell before the pandemic. 2020 was supposed to be my big comeback year with lots of plans, and then I wound up writing pretty much nothing in 2020 and 2021. Taking small steps forward now so I can complete something this year.”
“Several months into the pandemic I thought I would never find the time and head space to write again. I asked a writer friend if she’d be interested in helping me with accountability. She said yes and also invited me to join her early morning writing sessions. We’ve been doing a couple mornings a week ever since, and it’s been so helpful to get me back on track.- Katie L. Carroll @katielcarroll https://katielcarroll.com/”
“Getting laid off (twice from the same job) was actually freeing & let me set a new course.”
“Working with children online. It kept me focused, happy, playful.”
“I felt really guilty about not “using my time” to create in the first part of the pandemic, especially because I had writer friends who were RAVING about how much they were getting done.”
What has helped YOU? Feel free to post below. I’ll leave comments open for a few weeks.