If Shakespeare and Boccaccio did it, then why can’t I?

Among my writer friends, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on new anxieties, but also a lot more time than we used have–time we could dedicate to writing.

The first few week, many of my anglophone connections were posting encouraging accounts about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear, one of his finest works, while sitting in hiding away from the city to avoid the plague.
Boccaccio, two centuries earlier, took it even further, he escaped the plague, and managed to write about it as well.
We’re at the and of our third week of self-isolation and, alas, no new King Lear or second Decamerone has started flowing out of my keyboard. A few poems, an essay about something unrelated to the coronavirus, some editing of older pieces.

Instead, I’ve been spending more time than usual baking, experimenting with sourdough, and checking up with friends I haven’t talked to for years. It’s almost as if I’m finding new excuses not to write.
I’m not alone. My Twitter feed tells me many writers feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Living through a unique historic period may give you more to write about, but there is no guarantee you’re able to actually do it.

Some of us are even at the best of times “meanderers.” We don’t see the connections right away, and the line between two events or emotions is rarely straight for us.

When asked about the process behind the essay, Holding my Tongue, I described it in the following way:
I don’t see connections or an arc for a long time. In the meantime, I gather scraps of memories, bits of dialogue and half-baked ideas in notebooks —and in files with random names. But at times, this meandering way into a narrative structure also gives room for unexpected epiphanies while I write. Metaphorically, my writing process looks like this: I’m hiding under a table with my eyes closed, trying to capture the emotion and intensity of what’s going in the room.

I don’t know if Shakespeare or Boccaccio ever hid under the table with their eyes closed or if they spent a long time frozen up before they could write anything. But I do know, that whatever it is I am feeling, it will come out in writing sooner or later. Maybe between one batch of bread and the next.

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