I don’t know what to write about.
When I volunteered back in the first week of March to write an article for the next alumni newsletter, I was banking on a lightning bolt of inspiration to strike me between then and now—or, failing that, on passing off an old creative piece as new and inspired.
Then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, all kinds of changes were coming hard and fast and drastic: transitions at work, intensive safety protocols and sanitation procedures, a new normal, and all this subject to change at the drop of a hat. Case in point: On Tuesday, I was furloughed as a nonessential worker at my daytime job; and on Wednesday, I was called back to work as an essential employee.
Before I say anything else: I fully recognize how privileged I am during this time, which hasn’t been without its challenges, but those challenges have nothing to do with my physical or material well-being.
The creative struggle in particular has been all too real. Anxiety overwhelms, migraines abound, and motivation desists. I haven’t written anything other than my daily journal entries since I scratched out my convention submission last October—so it’s fair to say that I’ve been staring down this monolith of a writer’s block for quite a while now, well before the pandemic was making headlines or even on anyone’s radar.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel frustrated at the creativity I see bursting from some corners. Oh, there are plenty of articles, plenty of reassurances, plenty of people telling us not to worry about our dips (or nosedives) in productivity right now, because this is a strange and tough and scary and uncertain time, the likes of which we’ve never seen before in our lifetimes and may never seen again. But these consolations do little to quiet the perfectionistic, Puritanical voice inside my head that tells me I need to keep going, keep working, keep producing with my usual efficiency.
In addition to two part-time positions, I take on the odd freelance copyediting job. My current commission is a headache and a half, and one I will probably be working on for the next year or two. It was difficult enough to sit down with it before COVID-19, never mind after. But a couple weeks ago I made myself work on it for just ten minutes one night—ten minutes only. And the next night, I did another ten minutes—which inadvertently turned into fifteen when I realized I had only a couple paragraphs left in the current section. Once I got deep in the weeds (er, footnotes) for that section, I was working on it five footnotes at a time, ten footnotes a day—around half an hour. It wasn’t much, but it was something, I kept reminding myself. And I keep reminding myself: I may not be “being productive,” but I am producing.
My problems with writing, however, go beyond a simple lack of motivation—there is a lack of ideation, a lack of inspiration, a lack of the desperation that can force ideation and inspiration. I keep trying to remind myself that as writers, we don’t always have to be inspired by our experiences—sometimes it’s enough just to survive them.
In any case, I am hoping I can apply the same methodology from my freelance work to my creative writing. Writing this article is a good start, as I have alternated between writing a few minutes of it here and watching a few minutes of Schitt’s Creek there. It may not be the best or most productive way to work, but for now, it’s getting the job done. After all, we must learn to walk before we can run—and right now, I’m content just to crawl.
Mary Paplham graduated from St. Norbert College with a BA in English (creative writing emphasis) and minors in communications and classical studies. She keeps herself busy working as a clerk at her local public library, as a library services associate at her alma mater, and as a freelance editor.
This Coronavirus pandemic has me feeling like I got caught sneaking back from Hogsmeade by Professor McGonagall. Only instead of Butterbeer and Chocolate Frogs, we’ve got dry coughs and a lack of toilet paper. So, with the dementors keeping us inside all day, I came up with a few recommendations based on your Hogwarts house, because let’s face it…even the owl post is a bit delayed with everything going on.
“You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart. Their daring nerve and chivalry set Gryffindor apart.”
The first book I’d suggest for those brave at heart would be Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, as it is full of not only bravery and justice, but also magic. If those three things do not scream Harry James Potter, I am not sure what else can. Oh, how about the fact that those who-must-not-be-named, also known as reviewers, call this series the Nigerian Harry Potter?
Maybe you would like to go more classic and dig a bit deeper into the Hogwarts archives for something like The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Born in 1796, Edmond Dantes was such a Gryffindor that it actually pains me. Dante’s tenacity is such a Gryffindor trait that it’s borderline annoying. Plus, he comes back for revenge in a cape. How much more Gryffindor can you get than coming back to fight a battle with a random object that may or may not hold some significance later on?
“You might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal, those patient Hufflepuffs are true, and unafraid of toil.”
Sorting novels into the to “must read” pile for Hufflepuff was a bit easier than I imagined, probably because my best friend is a Hufflepuff, and I kept seeing her personality a little bit in each of the books I chose. Classically speaking, although my best friend’s favorite author is Dickens, I went with Jennifer Lee Carrol and Anne of Green Gables, because Anne is the freaking poster child of Hufflepuff. If you have read the book, you will see exactly what I mean.
Stereotypically, since A Very Potter Musical, Hufflepuffs have been seen as great finders, which leads me to a more recent suggestion: Caraval by Stephanie Garber. Caraval is all about finding people and finding things, which is what drew me to the story in the first place.
Here’s one more bonus book to check out: Things I am Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni. It is all about the hidden Hufflepuff deep within your soul and seeing as I found my Hufflepuff while I was in a dark place, it seemed to be the perfect book for me to read.
“Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw, if you’ve a ready mind, where those of wit and learning, will always find their kind.”
Ravenclaw was a bit difficult for me to narrow down the choices, as I continually kept adding to my mental list of suggestions before I decided that the smart house of Hogwarts needed to be different. A fiction suggestion for those studious Ravenclaws is Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. This novel came out in 2015 and is the first of the series, and it has won a few awards for Young Adult literature. You know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” right? Yeah, I totally judged this book by its cover. It was part of the reason I picked it up to read as a possible Ravenclaw suggestion. It is a bloody tiara, and to me, that screamed the lost diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw, which goes well with the war in the Harry Potter series and the fact that the Red Queen is all about war.
Continuing with the war theme, my second suggestion for all you brilliant eagles is Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which was published in 2016 and is historical fiction. Based in World War II, it centers around the travels of four center people, as well as poking into the disappearance of the Amber Room. Maybe it is just another name of the Room of Requirement and it only appears to those who know what they need to see?
“Or perhaps in Slytherin, you’ll make your real friends, these cunning folks use any means, to achieve their ends.”
I saved the best house for last; although, I may be a bit biased. I spent more time than I’m willing to actually admit reading for the proper suggestions for this house, as I refuse to promote anything that I don’t fully believe has a little snake in it. Therefore, the first book for my favorite house is Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. It is Dao’s debut novel and tells the story of the Evil Queen with an East Asian inspiration. Disney will always be close to my heart, and the Evil Queen is my second favorite villain, so I had to give this novel a chance, and I was not disappointed at all. An anti-heroine story filled with magic and the main character having to embrace the darkness within to succeed . . . hello Draco Malfoy. I could not put this one down.
My other suggestion for those of cunning intellect is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which I will admit that I have not read . . . yet. It’s on my list, and it’ll be here whenever Amazon decides I can have all the books I just bought shipped over. The book is literally “how to take your enemy down 101;” maybe the Dark Lord should have read it and he could’ve beat Harry.
Now, for those of you who are muggles and are just dying to go to a magical school full of—well, magic, I did not forget about you. Continuing with the Young Adult theme of my suggestions, Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins is a great coming of age story where the main character, Harper, wants nothing more than to be homecoming queen, until something happens at the dance and Harper becomes a magical guardian to the last person she wants to guard. This story is the first part of the trilogy and is full of twists and turns.
If, like Hogwarts, you want to attend a school outside of the United States, give Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins a try. Much like Hawkins’ book, the main character is a southern girl, only Perkins sends Anna to a boarding school in Paris. Ooh la la. Dreaming of attending a place like Hogwarts, Anna wants nothing more than cute boys and magical moments, only at first she believes she can only get that in Atlanta with her best friends, one of which she has a crush on. But soon, Anna discovers that her school is much more like Hogwarts than she previously thought . . . even if there aren’t any Skiving Snackboxes to help her get away with skipping class to explore all that Paris has to offer.
I know that everyone has different tastes in what they read, but I hope my Hogwarts house-based suggestions give you that push to try something new if you haven’t already accioed these books from a shelf previously. Happy reading!
Oklahoma native Nikolle Dixon is a published poet who spends more time than necessary watching horror movies. She is the youngest of three siblings at 27, and a dog mom to a teacup Chihuahua named Menina. Nikolle is the current Vice President of the Alumni Epsilon Chapter.