Coming Out of Lockdown: Some Reflections

admndaretwrtWriters Helping Writers

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Nick is writing a series of blogs for Paper Nations, looking at how the writing landscape is changing, and reporting back from the front line of writing support: what is ‘out there’ and how is it helping him develop as a writer and member of the writing community?

With some caution, and no little sense of relief, we are moving out of lockdown. The last four months have seen some remarkable transformations in the way we work, interact and go about our daily lives. It has provided time for reflection and reconsideration as we have faced the implications and consequences of this global pandemic.

        Lockdown for me has been a period of personal transformation and readjustment, an opportunity to refocus and redefine what I do. By the time that social isolation was introduced I had already undergone a major change in my life. In July 2019 I stopped working full time at Bath Spa University and had begun to create what I called a ‘phased retirement’. My ‘portfolio’, a fashionable name for the rag bag of ideas that I played around with, included more time to play music, facilitating workshops for teachers and school leaders, and continuing with my academic writing. I also felt inspired to develop my creative writing and had booked a place on a week-long residential writing course organised by the Arvon Foundation at Totleigh Barton.

        Then lockdown happened. The course at Totleigh Barton was cancelled, there were no gigs for musicians and demand for consultancy work fell away. Instead there was time to reflect, to reconsider what my priorities were and to focus on the things that I really wanted to do. This came down to three things: playing music, writing and walking.

        By April I had two commissions to write chapters for books on teaching and I was collaborating on a paper about the salience of silence in music. I was frustrated that I was unable to go on the writing course and was determined to keep working on my creative writing. Whilst lockdown gave me the time to do this I needed guidance, inspiration, support and encouragement. Here are four things that have really helped me to develop my writing during lockdown.

1. I initiated a postcard haiku relay with a friend of mine. He sends me a postcard, I compose a haiku based on the picture, write it on the back of another postcard that I send to him, he writes his haiku on another postcard … and so on.

2. The internet is a rich resource for supporting and encouraging creative writing; you are actually spoilt for choice. I personally find it difficult to engage with those ‘write a poem every day for a month’ challenges, they just don’t work for me and my interest wanes by about day 10. I did however enjoy the five-day short story writing challenge, offered free of charge, by the Arvon Foundation. I had never written a short story before but the structured approach and the daily task (which could be completed in about half an hour) really worked for me. The story that emerged was surprising and different to anything I had written before.

3. By chance I discovered an online masterclass led by Jay Griffiths, a writer that I had not come across before. The description of the event caught my attention: ‘In a world of crisis, writing is more important than it has ever been. Writing that is significant and true … This workshop is about writing creative non-fiction with precision and passion, deepened by research and delivered with courage.’ I signed up for the workshop and downloaded a copy of her book Wild onto my Kobo. The two-hour workshop yet again took me out of my comfort zone and provided me with practical and imaginative ways to write that I otherwise would not have considered.

4. Having prevaricated for some time, I summoned my courage to send five poems and two short stories to a poet, Josephine Corcoran, who had offered to mentor me. The feedback that I received was invaluable, being both positive and encouraging and yet offering very precise criticism of the parts of my writing that ‘spoke’ to her and those parts that needed redrafting.

What have I learned during lockdown?

Most importantly I have learned how to create a writing routine. I spend two or three hours every weekday morning doing some kind of writing, not necessarily creative writing, and I find that this works well for me. I have several pieces of writing ‘on the go’ at any one time which means that if I don’t have an idea for something new then there is always something I can edit or redraft. This routine has provided a structure for my lockdown weeks.

        The internet is certainly a rich source of resources for creative writers but choosing the best ones can be baffling. I have learnt to be selective in my choices and feel more confident in choosing courses that are going to introduce me to new forms of writing. My preference is for week-long challenges or short workshops (1-2 hours) with an author that interests me.

        My understanding of the craft of writing chimes with the recent findings of the Writer’s Cycle.

The five key lessons for me have been:

1. Take a notebook everywhere and record things as they happen, get into the practice of capturing things directly into words.

2. Use reference books more in order to get what Jay Griffiths calls ‘the sharp edges of fact and truthfulness’ into my writing.

3. Read widely, it’s food for the mind. Find stuff I haven’t read before and ask friends what they are reading.

4. Get the pencil onto the paper and just write and not worry about whether it is good or not. I try to be kind to the words that end up on the page, everything can be changed later.

5. Enjoy editing, use it as a sieving process to bring forward what’s good.

And finally I have learnt that it is so important to have interaction with other writers, to write with them or to have them comment and respond to your writing. Finding someone who will agree to provide honest feedback on your writing as it develops has been so important. Through this process I have been able to get a sense of when my writing is ‘working’ and where it requires further effort.

        One of the gifts of lockdown has been the opportunity to walk. I have spent more time out of doors and have discovered a number of beautiful and delightful places that are hardly a mile or two away from where I live. Walking gives me time to think and I have begun to understand the relationship between walking and writing, that walking is also a vital part of the craft of writing. There is a connection between the tracks my pencil makes as it crosses the page and the tracks I leave as I walk. As Robert Macfarlane writes in The Old Ways ‘the compact between writing and waking is almost as old as literature – a walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.’

        In my next blog I am going to explore the idea of the walk being the work in greater detail.


Dr Nick Sorensen is a member of Paper Nations’ advisory group for Writing for All. As Assistant Dean in the School of Education at Bath Spa University he contributed to the original Paper Nations bid in 2015. He is now a Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa undertaking research into improvisation as a mode of creativity in artistic and social contexts. A member of the Trowbridge Poetry Stanza group, Nick is passionate about creating an inclusive writing ecology.

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