In the pandemic, my inspiration ground to a halt. Here’s how I found it again.
– HANNAH BAE
I am a writer — but since last May, I haven’t been able to complete a single piece. Not a one. And I’m not ok with it.
As a trained journalist who has published personal essays, I am like so many other professionals who tie our identity to what we do, what we produce, what we accomplish — and the pandemic has upended all of that. When I feel like I’m producing nothing, my worst inner voice threatens to tell me that I am nothing.
In normal times, when my present feels safe and stable, I write about trauma: the abuse I suffered in my youth, the pain of separating from my parents, the history that Koreans of previous generations survived. But 2020, for me, brought intense fear, grief, and anger over injustices laid bare in the pandemic. When the present felt like a whole new trauma, I found myself unable and unwilling to delve back into such dark material.
Thank goodness, then, that I’ve chosen to silence that part of my inner voice. Instead, I’ve tuned in to the kinder, wiser, quieter part of my soul; the one that tells me I am grieving right now, and that I need to take time to rest.
Healing, I’ve always found, comes with acknowledging my inner pain, and then turning my energies outward. And so, instead of wallowing alone in my stasis, I’ve looked out toward my writing community and felt my “proud auntie” energy switch on.
Anyone who follows me on social media knows I’m a sharer – I love to see other creatives succeed, and when I’m moved, I work hard to be genuine and generous with my praise.
As I’ve grappled through my darkest, heaviest times, I’ve found that choosing to lift others up has renewed my sense of joy and purpose.
Diversity in storytelling is a cornerstone of my career and my volunteer work. In the summer of 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests spread the call for racial justice, I spent time thinking about what more I could do to help more Black writers get published.
For years, I’d seen brilliant authors – Danez Smith, Julian Randall, K-Ming Chang and many others – offer to cover submission fees to literary journals and contests for writers who needed financial help. I know firsthand that one key publication or one big win could mark the turning point of a writer’s career. For me, that was a fellowship at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, an opportunity that I only felt ready to aim for after I got to know the organization through a class.
Following these authors’ lead, I decided to put forward some of my own money and tweeted that I could cover a few Black writers’ contest submissions to Pigeon Pages, the literary journal where I volunteer. Immediately, friends and strangers alike offered to match my donation. Within days, my initial $50 pot grew to $700. By the end of that contest, I’d used crowd-raised funds to cover 60 submissions.
But the effort didn’t stop there: I knew the drive to publish more Black writers needed to extend well beyond June of 2020. In the months since, I’ve kept the fund going for all Pigeon Pages contests, sponsoring more than 100 entries to date. The best part: I’ve been thrilled to see some of these writers notch well-deserved wins.
As I type, I’m looking at a sticker bearing the message, “If you read something, say something” tacked to my wall.
A few years ago, I picked up said sticker at a book fair on the steps of my public library, and this small freebie has guided the way I show my appreciation for the written word.
Beyond spending your money, there are many other ways to support creative communities. When I haven’t felt productive, I’ve admired other artists’ fortitude. Some marked the culmination of years of hard work by publishing a book, which, in this pandemic, can be a painful, anticlimactic experience. Others put forth herculean efforts to produce stunning poetry, short stories, essays, and news articles to illuminate our understanding of current events. To those artists, I want to say: I see you. I applaud you.
When I read something that connects with me, I make sure to trumpet my love for it on social media, in conversations with friends, and in my book club. These days, when in-person positive reinforcement and affirmation is scarce for creators, I hope that even these small bits of praise provide comfort to those I admire. It’s my way of saying, Keep going. I’m rooting for you.
To me, community means nothing if it’s not intersectional. With that in mind, I intentionally follow creators, organizations, and groups that are either from or for communities outside of my own identity.
It follows that on any given day, my email inbox, Twitter feed, or Instagram scroll will include many opportunities – grants, fellowships, mentorship, calls for pitches – that aren’t for me. But I’ll take the few extra minutes to pass them on, whether it’s a retweet or a personal email to someone who would be a perfect fit. It costs me nothing but a short blip of time, but one forward or one share to my Instagram Stories could make all the difference in reaching the right person.
As time passes, I can feel the effects of giving voice to the positivity that’s bubbling up inside. Slowly, I’m finding inspiration in all the beautiful words I’m absorbing – and in the joy of using my voice, in some small way, for good.
When I felt weakest, I found my way back to the page by directing my energies toward other writers. Community, in turn, became a form of protection, the scaffolding that helped build my inner storyteller back up. Now, as we lean on each other, we are making our stories that much stronger.
When are you able to dig deep and pass it on? And if you’re not there, what do you need? Share your thoughts in the comments.