By Ryan Amato
Staying home all day, avoiding contact with others, having less obligations than usual: This is the writer’s dream.
Or, at least, it should be.
For some reason, the idea of sitting down to write something just hasn’t crossed my mind, despite having nothing but free time to write. Instead of finishing that series on Hulu, I could write a paragraph or two. Instead of playing another two hours of Animal Crossing, I could start that next chapter. But being home indefinitely has not changed my eagerness to get behind a keyboard, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, explain why.
Truth be told, I’ve spent the past few weeks completely struggling to come up with a topic to write about for this very blog post. I couldn’t commit to anything because I wanted to write about a few things, but I couldn’t get my thoughts together to put a cohesive draft together on time.
A week went by, then another one, and eventually I couldn’t keep putting it off. I had to write something.
So I decided to write about what I’ve been struggling with this whole time: NOT writing.
And this is much different than your standard writer’s block. No, this is not just being unsure about what to write; it’s about not having any desire to pick up that pencil or boot up your computer. It’s something you want to do but for some reason the thought of doing it mentally exhausts you. I know I can’t be the only one whom this is happening to. … Right?
I started noticing this shortly after the announcement that all classes would be moving to an online format once our “spring break” was over. I, along with hundreds of thousands of people across the country, was told to stay home, away from the public as much as possible, for an indefinite amount of time. At first, I was, at the very least, excited to use this as an excuse to write more than I ever had before. It’s now a month later, and I can tell you that I’ve written the same as — if not less than — I normally do.
So, why is that?
The answer is likely different for everybody, but for me it came from a place of anxiety. For those who aren’t familiar with anxiety, it is a disorder that can manifest in many ways, dependent on the person dealing with it.
The most common symptoms of anxiety are lack of concentration, being easily exhausted, and trouble sleeping, among others. This is a disorder that can completely distract you at random times and cause you to become overwhelmed.
Anxiety is also sometimes coupled with depression, which is a very different disorder and has several types, but it is equally mentally draining and can lead to a decreased drive to be creative (or be anything, for that matter).
The fact that we are in the middle of a global pandemic did not help, and although I tried my best to act like it didn’t affect me in the slightest, it did. My college graduation was cancelled (even though it was technically postponed, it is just cancelled to me), my internship shut down temporarily, I have more work to do now that my classes are online, and, of course, the Long River Review’s release is greatly impacted (detailed here in an article by our interviews editor, Lili Fishman). I was affected much more that I thought, and it didn’t hit me until the whole reality of the quarantine finally set in.
My anxiety pushes through the cracks every so often because of the situation — and it took me a little while to realize that it was my anxiety, because it showed up in ways that I wasn’t used to. I would sit down to take my online classes and be filled with a sense of emptiness. I would think about finally kickstarting that novel I’ve been wanting to write, but then I mentally hit a wall, and I decide I want to watch TV instead or go see what my family is up to.
And then it sets in: the guilt.
This is the worst part about not writing, because I take it out on myself harder than I probably should. But I feel as if I am letting somebody down by not taking advantage of the free time I have. Every day that goes by that I haven’t written, I am filled with guilt for not writing when for months I’ve complained about not having time, and now that’s all I have.
I don’t write because of my anxiety, then I feel guilty for not writing, then I get anxious, then the cycle repeats. Again and again.
I hope this feels familiar to someone, because it’s a very real reality for me.
Just know that whatever you’re feeling (or not feeling) right now is a completely okay feeling to have. What I thought was going to be a really productive experience turned out to be hindered by my inability to fight against my bodily reactions to being in quarantine — and that’s okay. No matter how long we are quarantining for, you are not obligated to write just because you have the time. It creates unnecessary stress in an already stressful time, and writing should not be forced. You’ll find that the best writing you’re capable of will happen when you aren’t distracted.
I will still have anxiety about not writing, but hopefully now someone knows that they aren’t alone, but #AloneTogether.
Ryan Amato is the Long River Review managing editor and a translations panel reader. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.