Ramble Your Way Through the Pandemic

Cathy Pickens

Cathy Pickens

Recently, writer friends tell me they’re stuck, they can’t focus, can’t seem to write. One said she feels as if she’s withering.

What are we to do?

My pandemic solutions don’t vary much from my everyday solutions to living a joyfully creative life. The pandemic has just convinced me that they can work.

1. Turn off screens. No one needs a steady diet of the things we’re fed as “news.” And you’ve already binge-watched everything. If you can’t do a cold-turkey detox, at least limit your time with TV, social media, even newspapers. Be the adult over your own “child control” settings.

2. If you can’t write, now is the perfect time for what I call a ramble. “But I’m on lockdown!” you announce, indignant. All the better for stretching your creative muscles. (Not all rambles require leaving your house.) I offer suggestions but only to get you started on your own list:

Deep reading. An involved book with rich characters and an intriguing plot may seem too demanding right now. But give it a try. Research shows we’re losing our ability to concentrate, but deep reading helps—and lets us step outside ourselves for a while. My favorites: Dickens’ Bleak House (he’s surprisingly witty, not bleak) or Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (the first “sensation” novel and still a page-turner).

A new skill. What have you always wanted to try but just haven’t had the time…or the nerve? For me, it’s sketching. Of course it won’t be good. But it could get better. And I’ve got pencils and paper aplenty. My sister just designed and (single-handedly) built a deck behind her house. I’ll choose something inside, out of the heat. What have you wanted to try? Maybe you’ll bake. Or collage. Play with sidewalk chalk. Write poetry. [Not a poet? Find George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem online and use it as a template to write your own list poem.] Stretch those creative muscles.

Reaching out. Life goes on for our friends and family and we can’t always be there. My husband’s close friend is dying. For him, it’s not a sad story. I can hear both sides of the phone conversation when he calls from Oklahoma. He’s as exuberant and fun-loving (and food-loving) as he’s always been. Something prompted me to write him a note, to tell him how his wide-open arms and big laugh always made me feel so welcome when I visited that close-knit group of old high-school friends. (They’re all pushing 80 now.) Just a little note. He says he’s showed it to everyone he knows, that it’s getting a bit tattered but he plans on putting it in his casket since they can’t fit his Sooner football memorabilia in there. Just a little note.

Even introverts like me need human interaction. So what if it looks different now? My mother-in-law (who lived through the 1918 flu pandemic and the Dust Bowl) and her siblings exchanged round-robin letters—so much more newsy and tactile than Facebook. Who needs to hear from you? In what creative ways can you reach out?

Exercising our creative muscles offers us certain delights for the effort: contentment, joy, pleasant fatigue.

And it’s just fun. So, what’s your ramble?

Cathy Pickens’ first mystery, Southern Fried, won the coveted St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Award for Best Traditional Mystery. She’s written five books in the series, as well as Charlotte True Crime Stories and Charleston Mysteries (both for History Press), an essay on historic crime cases in 27 Views of Charlotte, a regular column for Mystery Readers Journal, and articles on writing craft and on business. Her most recent book is CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process (2020, ICSC Press). She served as national president of Sisters in Crime and on the national board for Mystery Writers of America. As a long-time professor in the McColl School of Business at Queens, she won numerous teaching awards.

Study creativity with Cathy. Cathy Pickens leads a four-week exploration into your personal creative process, at Charlotte Lit beginning September 14. Four live-by-Zoom sessions plus a half-hour private creativity consultation. Members $150, non-members $195. More info.