by Swasti Uprety, Writing Fellow
A few months ago I was plodding knee-deep in socially isolated living with never-ending Netflix movie marathons and long stretches of zoning out, when a realization dawned on me. What used to tickle my brain – the act of transporting myself away from the dystopia we are currently living in – had now somehow turned into humdrum watching, episode after episode. Making up my mind that I needed to get out of this blue funk and start working on my research project, I got out my colored pens and wrote down a detailed daily routine to follow. Even stuck it on my wall for added emphasis. Nothing a good routine can’t fix, I told myself.
Early the next morning, I woke up to Camille’s Suis-Moi playing in the background. I made myself a cup of coffee, sat down at my desk and typed away as my thoughts unloaded themselves onto the word document. The song played for a fraction of a minute, by the end of which it was dark outside and I had successfully managed to turn my life around – from certified couch potato to inspired budding writer. Hah! If only. If only the difficult things in life could be condensed into a delightful montage.
It actually took a couple more soulless binge-watching sessions for me to slowly inch towards getting back on track with my writing. Don’t get me wrong, my writing struggles haven’t disappeared into thin air; there are still days I go through severe symptoms of writer’s block, followed by a raging lack of motivation (special thanks to COVID!). However, despite the mildly unsettling thought of impending doom racing around the corner, I have found ways to get myself out of the rut and keep writing. The remainder of this piece will discuss personally tried and tested methods of a certified couch-potato-cum-novice-researcher amidst a pandemic.
Build a community:
To be part of a community where I can share my drafts with peers who provide constructive feedback is an invaluable part of my writing process. The OI family has biweekly Zoom meetings where we all meet up to check in with one another, discuss short literary writings and workshop self-written pieces within the group. This has made my individual writing process a little less daunting, because although the mere act of writing is a lonely one, writing alone together – with fellow writers experiencing similar struggles – has cultivated an open and supportive space.
Although allowing anyone to get a glimpse of your unrefined thoughts can be a vulnerable place to be in, doing it with the right people can prove to be very rewarding – be it a friend, family member, peer or a teacher who is willing to give honest feedback. With the privilege of having my pieces read and discussed in an interactive group, I have not only learned immensely about my writing style but have also begun to chip away at myself on an intrapersonal level. I have realized that my tendency to use a conversational tone in my writing might have something to do with the internal dialogues I have with myself, which I am now trying to pay more attention to. I have noticed that my habit of using dry humor as a coping mechanism sometimes translates into my writing, which probably means that I am in dire need of therapy (but to be fair, I think we all are). Having a writing community is also teaching me to be kinder to the writer in me, who can at times be overly critical and restraining of herself. I cherish my writing group all the more so today, when COVID has greatly cut off our usual supply of motivation and inspiration from the social world.
Establish a writing routine:
My OI fellows and I have recently begun a joint effort to carve out some time in our days solely for writing, and my 7am-8am slot is reserved exclusively for this very purpose. A peer and myself meet up every morning on Zoom, turn on our webcams, and work alone, together. No texting, no social media – just plain old writing. Some days I write a few hundred words, other days I struggle to wring out even a few sentences. Some days we spend a fraction of the hour chatting about our processes, other days we end up writing for an additional hour. But we write nonetheless. It was a struggle for me to instill this practice into my otherwise irregular schedule. I started off by sticking a routine on my wall; looking at it everyday drilled a sense of urgency in me. I set around 5 alarms in the morning to make sure I didn’t miss a writing session. And having a friend to write with made me hold myself accountable – I did not want to be the reason someone else lost their motivation. This new habit has introduced a daily constant in my life. Like brushing my teeth or making my bed, I write.
Switch it up:
I switch back and forth between what I write as an attempt to break away from signs of writer’s block. Recreational writing, research writing, reflection notes, affirmations, free writing, and most recently, blog writing; when one gets monotonous, I hop on to another for a different taste. This system, when used in other aspects of my daily life, sprinkles some life onto the mundane that I was getting dangerously comfortable with. I switch up my study music; some days I’ll play Lofi-concentration beats, some days mellow jazz, other days just several hour-long audio clips of nature sounds. I switch up my hair from topknots to Dutch braids depending on my mood. Granted, I’m just braiding my hair and picking a new song playlist, but nonetheless, this is me refusing to let COVID dictate everything in my life. I may have had to involuntarily cancel all my plans for the year and stay locked up at home – with absolutely no idea of when things will get better – but I draw the line at succumbing to a uniform daily routine.
Short-lived moments of daily decision-making have led me to become more mindful of the little nuances in life, while also giving me a sense of control during a time of uncertainty all around. This seemingly insignificant act of continuous change has made me seek out different genres of music and explore different kinds of writing that I previously had not tapped into. Small sparks of new ideas jump at me when I am least expecting it. COVID has forced me to get crafty from within the four walls of my bedroom.
Call me melodramatic, but the stifling signs of self-habitation from each day’s activities linger in the air when you spend a big chunk of your day in your room. And messy working space = messy thoughts! The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is make my bed. 2 minutes to fluff my pillows and smooth out the creases on my bed sheets, and I start the day with a crisper state of mind. I may fail at the other daily goals I set for myself, but knowing that I started out fresh is a strangely calming sensation that sets the tone for whatever follows next. A bit of light dusting, watering my plants, organizing the work desk, and I’m good to go – with more room for my thoughts and ideas to thrive. I’ve also recently gotten acquainted to research and note-taking apps like Obsidian and Zotero to help me organize word documents and journal articles on my laptop once in a while. When I don’t feel like doing anything, I clean out my phone’s camera roll or sort out old pictures into albums. De-cluttering helps me think and therefore, write better.
If COVID has taught us anything since the past year, it is that overall wellbeing and mental health upkeep is non-negotiable – even more so during such times of chaos. Spending too much time thinking about past decisions and future possibilities can lead to a downward spiral of existential crises, but at the same time, the current situation of the world brings into perspective everything I have to be thankful for. Not just major things like having a roof over my head and not having to worry about expenses like rent or food, but also the little things – sunshine after days of raining, my khasto, a friend to do daily writing sessions with, free Duolingo lessons, my work desk; the list is never ending. I like to practice gratitude through handwritten lists; it somehow solidifies fleeting thoughts while also serving as a nice reminder to flip back to on glum days.
In order for me to keep writing, and to keep showing up for myself, my emotional and mental wellbeing need to be in good shape. I try to reflect during evening walks with my family on the terrace, where we walk together in silence. This me-time is when I engage with myself in an internal dialogue – look back on the events of the day, what task I succeeded at and what I fell short of, set goals for tomorrow, give myself a pep talk to do better, but to also not be so hard on myself. Some days are good and others, not so great, which I have learned, is perfectly okay. Self-care looks different for everyone and I am still figuring out what works for me.
On a more serious note, please remember to take care of yourself in whatever little ways you can, no matter how swamped you are. These are dark times, and we all need to stash a little happiness quick fix in our back pockets for the bad days – anything that helps us stay sane.