Writers at Home is a series that explores how writers’ creative work and writing practice has been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. Spread the Word has commissioned five writers from the London Writers Awards scheme to share their personal stories with emphasis on their writing practice. Here, Jamie Hale shares their experience…
Before this hit, I had been promising that I’d write about myself and tragedy less, write about the world more, and then the world was tragedy. At first, I only wrote health journalism, trying frantically to influence policy, motivated by my terror that as a disabled person my social care will be cut or my medical treatment deprioritised. Writing about my desire and right to survive this on equal terms subsumed my creative self.
Though, it hadn’t completely left me – I had arty hobbies, I was not writing creatively (which occupies a strange middle space between work and pleasure). I looked mournfully at myself and was asking “will I ever write creatively again?”
Enter social media: in my work team’s newly formed Whatsapp group, we post our goals and cheer when we achieve them, however big or small. Everything is routine, necessary, or treat. Using this for accountability, I carved out time each day to work on creative writing. Sometimes that gets blurred into writing about writing as I am doing now, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Having the time was one thing, having the idea was another, but I needed the time in order to birth the idea. I had realised creativity was unlikely to strike me as a lightning bolt, and that instead I needed to coax ideas out of myself gently.
I chose short, easy forms at first. A broken sonnet. The idea of a zine. Creative pieces that were simultanteously a long way from work, and a long way towards pleasure. Creating for its own sake. Once I started writing the sonnets, they all started to come, and I realised I’d unlocked something I’d been missing in my creative process for a couple of months. Writing amid the epidemic I’m finding it impossible to write outside it and produce something different, so instead I lean in, and am writing through it. Plays, sonnets, essays, I’m writing about the epidemic and it’s society-changing impact.
In order to differentiate time and sense it passing, I keep a diary. I usually write this once a week as a catch-up, slightly resentful, but now I start each day by doing this from the previous. It lets me recall and keep the highlights of my day, and will be an aide-memoire for these endless, repetitive days.
Writing this feels like an achievement, as does ticking my goals off from the daily list. It’s these achievements that keep me stable day to day. Nobody should be obliged to take up a productive hobby, but for me, being able to say “I wrote this, and I learned that” at the end of a long day makes me look forward to the next one. I think learning is important, even, or especially, when it’s hard.
I want to look back on this time and say I struggled, and lived, and survived. Further, that learning and being creative are vital tools that are giving me the hope that one day it will all be over and we will still be here. The work we are doing now will be the work we need to endure, as people and as creatives.
Jamie Hale is a poet and essayist whose creative work narrates the agency and urgency of living as a disabled person in the world. Part-human part-cyborg, their dependence on tubes and machines leads their work to explore the intimate connections between the body, nature, and mortality and universality. They have been published by the Guardian, the Rialto, Poetry Quarterly, the New Statesmen & the Wellcome Collection, and curated CRIPtic (a night of D/deaf and disabled arts including their solo show NOT DYING) at the Barbican Centre in 2019. They have performed in venues including the Lyric (Hammersmith), the Barbican Centre, the Tate Modern, the Southbank Centre, Trans Creative Arts Festival, and the Saboteur Awards. They were one of the winners of the London Writers’ Awards for Poetry in 2018, and in 2019 they were shortlisted for the Jerwood Fellowships.
Photo credit: Becky Bailey
Published 15 April 2020