Creativity in Lockdown

I’ve started baking again.

It began with a cake at Christmas, in that weird bit between Christmas Day and New Year where no one knows what day it is.

But now, as many countries around the world are in lockdown and everything is quiet and our regular routines are interrupted, beating eggs and sugar together until they become light and fluffy has become a vital part of my weekly routine.

More than anything I want to be able to make something. Creating something, anything, feels good. If I can create, I feel like I’m in control.

It doesn’t matter if it’s painting, or finally writing a short story that’s been mulling about in your head for as long as you can remember, with so much up in the air, the one thing people can control is their own creativity. It makes us feel alive, like we’re part of something bigger than the rat race. And when our lives are so restricted – as they are at the moment – the very act of creativity feels like a personal rally against what we’ve lost. We can’t go outside, but we can build an entire world on the blank screen in front of us. We can’t see our friends, but we can paint them a picture. We can still use our art to connect.

This article was originally going to be about the importance of hobbies and how side hustles have taken up so much of our free time. I was going to talk about how it’s vital for freelancers to have something they love outside of work, away from a screen.

Then my ballet classes got cancelled. My local art supply shop is shut so my life drawing is postponed for the foreseeable and my sketches of hands are destined to stay looking like bananas. The library where I do my Victorian history classes won’t be able to open again until it’s safe to. Those regular activities I took so much joy in, that kept my head out of work in the evenings and gave me some much-needed downtime, have gone.

So I’m finding myself with two urges that just won’t quit. The first is to complete every Zelda game. The second is to make something. Anything. Even if it’s crap. Baking is one thing that you can do quickly with a (delicious) finished product at the end. We don’t know how long this crisis will last, so I’m all for projects that are long-term, too.

And I understand a little more, now, why we instinctively turn to creative projects and side hustles. Every time I’ve started something new has been when work is unsteady, or when I’ve just lost a freelance gig. My survival instinct kicks in. And yes, sometimes, my own boredom. Until something new comes along, it feels like I’m taking the reins. I began my newsletter Freelance Writing Jobs after a horrible six months of freelancing. Building something of my own accord helped me to feel more secure. hosts portfolios for thousands of freelance creatives, and we already know that so much of our income is uncertain. We’re used to it, we roll with the punches, and we’re resilient. But this is an unprecedented change that will have a long term impact on our careers.

Continuing to be creative won’t bring back the lost work or the contracts that vanished overnight, but it will help us carry on and perhaps that’s just as important. We can harness our talents to take care of our mental health.

But just because it feels like everyone else is penning their magnum opus, if we don’t feel like it, we don’t have to. We can start small. Perhaps after a nap. I’m baking because need to finish something even though my focus is in shreds. We need to be kind to ourselves and let the creativity flow from there.

So when the mood takes us, when the time feels right, let’s do what we have always done. Make something we like. Hope other people like it. Try to make some money from it.

Let’s not forget, however, that sometimes what we make is just for us and that’s how it should be. Not everything we create has to be for consumption. We don’t always have to upload to Instagram. One of my favourite things about my weekly ballet class was that it was just for me. It wasn’t something I shared for likes, my progress wasn’t measured by a social media barometer, just by me showing up at the barre. But boy, did I ever love showing up.

When the world isn’t watching us, we are free to fail. And perhaps in a world of digital perfection that’s something all of us need a little more of. Our first draft doesn’t ever have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be half right. It’s OK if our hands look like bananas, and no one needs to know that it took 37 tries to get the second line of your poem right. It’s alright, we’ve got time to try it again. Maybe even for a 38th and 39th time.

So if it makes you feel better, more positive, more enthusiastic, start that new creative project.

Ignore the naysayers and get going on podcasts, newsletters, novels, experimental rap music, or massive collage that takes up your entire living room. Try whatever it is that you’ve been putting off (because starting anything new is still daunting) and see what happens.

If it’s not coming to you, there’s always the next day. Take a break, play Zelda, eat some cake. Focus on the projects that help you feel less anxious and scared. Hone in on what makes you feel more in control of the current situation, and after this passes (it will pass), whenever you need to.

Do the things that make you feel personally content and at ease because in times like this, there’s nothing more important.

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash