In three writing workshops so far this week, before plunging into anyone's pages, I tried to take the temperature of the room, post-election. Since we all hadn't seen one another since BEFORE, I had set aside 10-15 minutes to chat and maybe vent—longer than we typically spend on small talk.
I wasn't surprised to find the range of emotion included sadness, rage, confusion, frustration, fear, resignation. (And while I knew I had to be prepared to hear and make space for those with the opposite view, as I'd predicted, that wasn't necessary. We live in a deep blue part of New Jersey).
Then I moved on. Or, tried to.
But when I asked my usual opening question, always some variation of, "So, how did the writing go this week?" I was unprepared for the strong responses, most at one or the other end of the productivity / concentration spectrum. Either no words had appeared on the page because writers were too paralyzed, distracted, or emotionally wrung out to write…or, writing was all that had gotten done, in an almost nonstop stream.
I was in the latter camp myself. Since November 9, my fingers had barely left the keyboard. While I wasn't writing political opinion pieces or essays about what the election meant for America, I found that staying busy at what I love to do and do best, was my own private way of avoiding a total emotional meltdown. That—and making batches of soup and other comfort food, alongside my elder son.
Maybe I needed to remind myself that I would survive. For me, the act of writing alone means there are stories yet to tell, that we're not at the end of our own story yet, that the creative well inside exists apart from, and often in spite of, outside vagaries.
The writers around the workshop table told similar tales. Putting their heads down and plowing on with plots and drafts and (solvable) prose problems provided much-needed focus. Writing was available too, in the worried hours of the night, the frightening mornings before (or instead of) turning on the news. Like me, those writers were glad to have something to work on that felt do-able, whether unraveling a fictional character's troubles or describing a narrator's dilemma.
Others had the opposite response: the election outcome shut down their writing drive, pushed the writing impulse over a cliff. Either writing felt meaningless in the face of the gloomy bigger picture, or the bad news had completely robbed them of concentration and focus. Sitting still at a writing desk was not possible, given the upheaval in their minds and heart.
A few reported that while they had been writing, none of it was probably going to be salvageable; but the act of writing had felt comforting and familiar, and let them feel in control of something. Others said they were glad not to have brought all their negative emotion to the keyboard, so that when they are ready to return to their works-in-progress, and when they read that work in the future, it won't have the taint of "I remember writing this the day after…"
Finally, in each workshop, as the talk waned, I noticed a kind of unspoken hunger to get down to what we were there to do: talk about writing, read and share writing, listen to and give feedback on writing. It seemed to me that the act of gathering as writers—no matter what kind of week we'd all individually had—was important, or at least useful. That it was reassuring to be together, doing something familiar, something that at its core, promises things can improve, that we have change at our fingertips.
Revision, after all.