Writing in the days of Corona

March 29, 2020

In these times of self-isolation, we must remember that there have always existed a bunch of humans quite used to this unnerving lifestyle. They are called writers

So, I’m sitting in a corner, in isolation from the society and close to those always nearest me. I have no plans to go anywhere and meet anyone; no compulsion to dress up and to look good. I still have a house to tend to, but I have cut off from the outer world. The world has reciprocated. Sounds familiar? In the days of coronavirus, this is the norm for most of us. But even when the streets are bustling with people, there is always a bunch of people that crave solitude, a world where no trespassers are allowed. They are called writers.

Writing, whether poetry or narrative, fiction or non-fiction, history or romance, is an art, which like many of its contemporaries, requires patience, focus, and an unperturbed environment. When thoughts and ideas flood the mind of a writer, the best of company, food or occasion can become the worst deterrent. At that moment, time stops; the heart flutters, the hands quiver. It’s an ecstasy the writer does not wish to share, at least not for the moment, but wants to experience to the fullest and then express it in words.

The most obvious place to look for solitude at one’s terms is at home. This is the ‘luxury’ everyone – even the non-writers - have today. Everybody can work from home. The pandemic and the subsequent shut-downs have forced unprecedented numbers of people to stay at home. But it’s not a vacation. Business, although dampened, continues. Services are still being offered and rendered. Governments are tending to the public. Given the technological advancements, this should not have been much of an issue. Still many complain of not being focused or facilitated or even motivated to work from home. What about the writers?

Writers, who have to, sometimes grudgingly, socialise as well, may have found the ideal opportunity to give it all up. Now they can be locked down at their homes, possibly in their rooms and write their hearts out. As Bollywood celebrity-turned-writer Twinkle Khanna has recently tweeted:

‘Err..there are people who have adequately prepared for this pandemic for years and it’s not the folks at WHO but writers! Our lives have not changed drastically. It was always about sitting alone with a laptop and only talking to the people who live inside your head.’

Virginia Woolf, the novelist and essayist once wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

LM Montgomery, best known for the Anne of Green Gables series, wrote as a young working girl in her journal, “I have had a hard time trying to arrange for enough spare minutes to do some writing.” She tried doing so in the evenings, alone in her room after a day of writing copy in a newsroom. She woke up at six in the morning to try to write before going to work, but “could not do good work in a chilly room on an empty stomach.” She would eventually come to conclude: “Now it used to be at home that I thought undisturbed solitude was necessary that the fire of genius might burn.”

Why, despite being at home, Montgomery was unable to light the “fire of genius” is not known, but today, homebound writers may relate to this incapacity, due to a different reason. Simply because being home may not necessarily mean being alone. There are others locked down with him or her. Especially women who have husbands and kids to look after, may find themselves in a peculiar situation. Where on most days, they would kiss their family members goodbye in the morning and get some private time to write, they may find none now. Where earlier, a day’s hard work at school and work would send kids and adults off to sleep, with no early mornings and a relaxed routine, the bedtimes may be coming late.

Then there’s another factor: motivation. Writers need stimulation. They may crave solitude but they are also keen observers. They may like to read faces, gaze at nature, sway to the music and appreciate art. The colours, the sounds, the expressions around them bring alive their characters and ideologies. For column writers like myself, browsing through newspapers and surfing on the internet sometimes unexpectedly brings across a brilliant idea. But with gloom, fear, and uncertainty dripping everywhere, this may go missing.

For me, it’s the biggest challenge. I have the chance to enjoy social distancing and I can manage my stay-at-home family. I can find my time and my solitude, but the depth with which I can feel an abstract topic is nowhere to be found. I want to write, but how can one write about other than coronavirus? How to think of sunny days and rainbows when the world around us is devoid of all warmth and colour? How to find inspiration in the media, when all the news is about corona?

As a writer, I have an answer. Writers have an uncanny ability to conjure magic from nowhere; to create from non-existence; and to think the unthinkable. So I shall write. The moments of solitude, the absence of vibes and the darkness of pandemic shall become my protagonists for hope.

I can imagine the unimaginable, I can close my eyes and think of a world different from today. Words can rush to me from everywhere. Until the time my surroundings give me ideas, I’ll create my own. My solitude awaits, my writing begins.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore

Writing in the days of Corona