RESILIENCE The Covid-19 edition

SCBWI author Kate Mallinder considers how to write when it’s impossible.

It was two weeks ago when it all hit me. I’m guessing it was the same for others. We were three days into school at home, my husband was on wall-to-wall business calls and my head was bursting: food plans, helping to get three children online for school and consoling my fourth over the shock of GCSE cancellation. It seemed insurmountable. All the rules we were living by – school attendance is important, exams are vital, if there’s a demand in business then you’d be a fool not to supply – all seemed irrelevant. As a society we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us. We’re now re-evaluating what’s really important: health, enough to eat, somewhere safe to live, supporting others, gratitude. Mental health is now even more front and centre.

This was the moment it felt overwhelming. The enormity of it while drowning in the multitudinous mundanities. My brain was full and writing was not on the list of vital things. And spoiler – I’m still not sure I’ve figured out a way to write through this. I am a work in progress.

But you’re writing now, Kate, surely? Yes, I am, but I’m writing to discover my thoughts on this situation, rather than solve my WIP’s soggy second act or start my big MA hand-in. However, this actually might be the key. Writing about where you find yourself.

Lots of people are talking about writing diaries – in fact there’s a team of children's writers led by SCBWI's own Kathryn Evans encouraging people to do just that (find it here) and this is a brilliant idea.

I’ve found that all I’m thinking about is where I am at the moment. It’s the biggest writer’s block I’ve ever faced. Writing about it has helped pour some of these thoughts onto a page, so I no longer need to churn them around. Given my mess of feelings a physical order.

I haven’t yet started to write creatively, however there have been glimmers. A minute or two daydreaming about my story, a worry about my antagonist and a reread of the chapters I wrote a month ago.

For now, that’s enough.

Whether you can write or not, read or not, create or not, there is no right or wrong here. The events we’re experiencing are huge. They are big societal shifts and as creators, we try to make sense of them and that takes time. Reassuringly there is a school of thought that says take time to truly experience what’s happening (not overload on news or social media – that does no one any good) but sit, think, be still with your thoughts. Process your feelings. Make the things that help you through the most important things in your day, and while that may be writing, it doesn’t have to be. Let your mind do what it needs to do.

Ignore the people who say this is the perfect time to create huge literary works. That’s total bunkum. Focus on making your life manageable and as stress-free as you can and maybe, just maybe, a story will bloom. I, for one, am hoping this is the way.

So while not writing over the last couple of weeks, I have been prioritising mental health, for me and for my family. Whether that’s saying to my kids that not all homework is essential if they’re feeling overwhelmed, or that sleep is important, or putting different rhythms in place through the day, it’s all helping to find our calm. So while I could technically get up at 6am and write, I’m not. While I could in theory stay up to midnight writing, I don’t. What I have done is limit the children’s screen time, so that at 4pm when they’re allowed on before tea, I have a guaranteed hour of peace to gather thoughts, answer emails and when I’m ready, write.

The phrase that’s being used a lot is ‘be kind’ – be kind to others but be kind to yourself too. Look for the positives, listen to the stories of kindness, feed your mind with the good things in life, because while this isn’t a fantastic thing for the world to be experiencing, you can still control how you view it. Do what you can and let go of the rest.

 Kate Mallinder is author of Summer of No Regrets and soon-to-be published Asking for a Friend. She spends her time (for the moment, at least) avoiding the news and washing her hands. Under normal circumstances there’s a lot more reading and writing, with plenty of procrastinating on twitter. Tea drinking has however remained a constant. Kate’s website is Or find her on Twitter  and Instagram

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Kate. I've been finding this period tough too, with a full-time job in publishing that has suddenly become a lot more than full-time, and a family also struggling to adjust. While I've been able to do some creative stuff at weekends, it's been a challenge to sit at exactly the same desk I use all week, with no opportunity to pop out to a cafe for a few hours! The mist has started to clear for me over the last few weeks, and I'm beginning to feel creatively productive in a positive way again. I hope your muse returns with a vengeance!



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