Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is The Lost Girl author and Color Outside the Lines editor Sangu Mandanna! If you’ve been following this site, you’ve probably seen me gush about her fantastic Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy, which begins with a secret princess besting her twin brother in a contest for a god-forged sentient warship—despite a war goddess advising her against taking that path. A Spark of White Fire, the first book in this young adult mythic space opera series, kept me riveted with superb pacing and plenty of family drama. The next installment, A House of Rage and Sorrow has one of the best ending sequences I’ve read and left me eagerly anticipating the conclusion, A War of Swallowed Stars—coming this October!

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna Book Cover A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna Book Cover A War of Swallowed Stars by Sangu Mandanna Book Cover

Creativity in the Time of Corona

This is a worrying, stressful and frightening time for almost all of us across the world, which is in itself almost unprecedented, so I don’t think I’m alone when I say that it’s been incredibly difficult to hold on to my creativity over the past several weeks. Some days, all I can do is keep my children alive and get them to bed before I, too, fall asleep; other days, I can read a book, maybe, or play some Animal Crossing, or even doodle a little before my energy burns itself out.

Honestly, neither of these kinds of days is wrong. It’s okay to only be able to achieve the bare minimum right now, it’s okay to find that you haven’t got the energy or time or space to care about anything other than basic survival, and it’s okay if you haven’t been able to fill your days with activities and projects and Instagram tutorials. Let your mind and body rest, however that rest manifests itself, and try not to feel guilty about it (easier said than done, I know!)

That said, maybe you’re in a position where creativity is essential. Maybe, like me, you find yourself feeling anxious and depressed if you don’t have something creative to focus on. Maybe you have deadlines that require you to be creative, maybe you have a creative job that you can’t risk losing at an uncertain time like this, or maybe you have a hobby you love that you’re having a hard time getting stuck into because you can’t quite switch off from the outside world.

So how, then, do you find ways to be creative even when there’s a global pandemic and you’re more anxious than you’ve ever been in your life?

There’s no easy answer that will work for everyone, but here are a few things that have worked for me over the past few weeks. Maybe some of them will work for you!

1. Exorcise those demons through your art
This is an obvious one, and one that has worked for authors and artists for centuries. Sometimes, the only way to make sense of huge, terrifying things is to immerse yourself in them. For example, you could write a survival story, give your characters all the conflicts you’ve already faced or are afraid you may yet have to face, and then give them a happy ending. Putting those demons down on paper (or in any other creative form that works for you) is sometimes the best way to exorcise them.

2. Play ostrich
Alternatively, you could go the opposite way and try to avoid reality altogether! Yes, it is important to stay informed about what’s happening, especially in terms of what rules, laws and procedures your city or country is putting into place to tackle the virus, but there’s nothing wrong with taking in the essential information, acting on it where possible, and then quietly retreating from it. One of the things that’s helped me most over the past few weeks is reading romance (I love romance at the best of times, but the escapism has been especially wonderful lately!) and playing gentle, fluffy videogames. After an hour or two of playing Animal Crossing, I find I’m in a much better frame of mind to write a few hundred words of my manuscript.

3. Work on something else
This is something that works for me in pretty much any other circumstance too. Often, if you’re stuck or struggling with a particular project or can’t quite stop worrying long enough to work on the thing you’re supposed to work on, the best thing to do is to take a break and work on something else. I do this quite often and I’m always amazed by how quickly my creativity is unlocked, which makes it that much easier to then go back to the project I was meant to be working on in the first place!

4. Go outside
This is difficult when we’re all in isolation, but if you have a garden, or even just a balcony, try to spend some time outdoors. A bit of sunshine and fresh air is always good for us, of course, but sometimes I find that the act of being physically out in the open can also make my mind feel less tight and confined too.

5. Get cosy
The flip side of #4! There are times when I barely have the energy to get myself out of bed, let alone get out into the garden. At times like this, what I try to do where possible is make myself a warm, snuggly nest somewhere in the house; sometimes it’s on the sofa with blankets and a toddler draped over my arm, sometimes it’s in bed with music on, and sometimes it’s a sunny spot by a window. Getting snug like this is a great way to feel safer and more secure, which is a much needed feeling at a time like this, and that sense of safety may be just what you need to get your creativity flowing again.

What works for me may not work for you, but I hope that something here helps you even a little bit. Above all, though, I want to stress that the most important thing right now is not to put more pressure on yourself. We’re all already worried about our families, our friends, our health, our income, toilet paper, and so much more. If being creative helps you cope with that, then by all means, pour your heart and soul into it if you can.

But if creativity feels like just one more thing you’re demanding of yourself, one more pressure, then it can wait. I promise you, it can wait.

Sangu Mandanna Photo Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. Sangu now lives in Norwich, a city in the east of England, with her husband and kids.