How COVID-19 has influenced my writing

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When we were free, my life as a writer was not in the least smooth. I have used this column to share what my challenges have been and the interventions I have put in place to deal with those challenges. Since the start of this column three-plus years ago, I have touted the mantra, “It can only get better. We can only get better”. I have always done my best to keep a positive or hopeful outlook in everything I do. The problem with such a perspective is that you may never prepare for bad days. But bad days are inevitable. Even so, they creep up on you and it takes a lot of strength to face such days, push through and come out solid.

Just like many people, and not necessarily because they share the same worldview with me, I never saw COVID-19 coming. Even when it became apparent, I hoped that it would pass within the shortest possible time. Unfortunately, hope is no vaccine against a virus or a cure for it. Hence, it never quite occurred to me to take stock of how this could influence my writing. When the disease finally got close to my doorsteps, with the benefit of hindsight, I find my reaction and its progression with time interesting.

The first two cases of COVID-19 in Ghana were confirmed on March 12, 2020. About a fortnight later, the number of people affected by the disease had increased to 137 so the president declared a partial lockdown of Greater Accra, Greater Kumasi, and their contiguous areas for fourteen days. This was to take effect from Monday, March 30.

By this time, social media was agog with one challenge or the other. Other parts of the world where lockdowns and other measures had been put in place to ensure people stay at home and stop the spread of the disease were ahead of us in coming up with interesting things people could do to keep busy and sane in such trying times. I discovered Tik Tok around this time and it turned out to be quite the app to engage people.

Ghanaians hate to be left out in the fun things of the world so we started our own challenges and trends to keep with the times. That’s how my friend, Dr. Michael Agyapong, came up with the #LockdownCreativityChallenge. He thought it would be great to come out of the 14-day lockdown with something beautiful to show for it. I thought it was a fantastic idea so I jumped on it.

I fished for and created writing prompts, ready to write fourteen short stories (one a day) for all the days the city I live in would be under lockdown. And write I did. But only for four out of the fourteen days.

I was disappointed with my streak. People texted me to find out why I was not sharing stories with them anymore. I explained. I had quite good reasons. Though I was working from home, my work had become quite harder. On some days, I was too exhausted to get off from work and jump on Microsoft Word to type my next story. They understood. But I did not. It felt like I let my readers down. They needed me and my stories to get through the times and I failed to provide that for them – to be their hero though nobody considers writing a frontline job.

After battling with these defeatist thoughts for a couple of days, I convinced myself that it was OK that I could not get through the fourteen days. I decided that I would lift the pressure to deliver off myself. I understood that beyond my work schedule, I had a lot of things to deal with in addition to this desire to help people through providing uplifting content for them to read.

I was anxious about the number of cases being confirmed by the day. The least unusual feeling I had in my body, which interestingly became common in these days, sent my thoughts over the roof with the possibility that I could have the virus. There were questions about the future boggling my mind; job security, relationship, personal development and ministry were on the top of the list. Coming to terms with the fact that all these battled with my good intentions to be helpful in times like this, I cut myself some slack for not being able to turn this pandemic into something fun or productive.

The partial lockdown in Accra and Kumasi has been lifted but we are not out of this corona haze yet. My thoughts are still foggy and I still have a lot of other commitments in addition to work and writing. Thankfully, my creative juices have not stopped flowing. I get a lot of ideas and I jot them down. I have written a few more since I stopped after my fourth short story. I will pace myself when it comes to writing. I do not put too much pressure on myself to deliver.

I have three new objectives for this period till when we are completely out of this mist. First, to come out alive – meaning I have to follow all the set-out instructions and protocols to ensure I do not contract this disease. Then, I’m committed to coming out healthy – knowing that I have a sedentary job, ensure that I am keeping fit during this period. Finally, come out prepared – being in the best of minds for what life brings at the end of all of this.

Completing this article brings me so much joy because it has become one of the good things to come out of this pandemic for me. I am excited to share it with you. I hope reading it brings you some good too. Even if you are not a writer, I hope it sheds some light on the path you should be on in these times. Are you a writer? What do you do? How are you coping with COVID-19? Let’s talk. Send me an email on [email protected].

I believe the coronavirus will pass, hopefully soon. And definitely, we can only get better, it can only get better.

Elikem M. Aflakpui

[email protected]

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