My hesitance with being creative started with a set of simple words on my screen: “Now is the perfect time to write your book!” I encountered variations of these words on Twitter, against the scenic backdrop of a forest in an inspiration post on Instagram. They seemed to follow me everywhere I clicked. These words became a trickling of an inner voice in my head that demanded one thing: write a book. Write the book. 

At the time, we were all in our first few weeks of the world-wide lockdown. There was a wave of posts that encouraged people to look at the bright side of staying home. After all, we had the many privileges that came with being able to have our own spaces during this time. We didn’t have to share a common eating space with colleagues and we could work in our pajamas. It wasn’t all bad, right?

Not to mention, while we self-isolated and stayed inside, our schedules had significantly cleared up. These reminders and gentle pushes served as an incentive for us to sit down and do the things we said we’d do if we had more time. My current circumstance, if I would have let it, could have been inspirational. This was the time I had been waiting for, so why wasn’t I typing away? 


I imagined myself as an artist who was finally in their own element with nothing but time and energy to create. Cocooned away in blankets, frantically typing away at her next screenplay, she uses the time she would have spent commuting to work to instead perfect her craft. Or perhaps I’d relate more to a woman whose hands dance in the warm light streaming through the window. There are paint streaks on her cheeks and the coffee in her mug has gone cold.

Then, there is also the image of a struggling artist who perseveres against all odds. Their hand is shaking, but resolute, as they photograph minute details of their surrounding, working with what they have. This artist scrapes the barrel for their inspiration, regardless of the clamor outside. Fair. But we need to remind ourselves these are heavily romanticized ways of approaching creativity. 

Reading the pandemic was the perfect time to ‘write my book‘ made me feel discouraged. I felt bogged down. I was in mourning for the perfect end to my senior year that now would never be. Trapped in my room, I felt the need to escape. Writing allows me to delve deep into myself – something I could not have been bothered with before the pandemic hit. However, as any writer can tell you, it is an incredible feeling to share your work, but writing can be a terribly lonely and internal process.  

I wasn’t partaking in much leisure creativity in those early days. Even writing my college senior project, a creative fictional piece, felt like a chore. All my energy went into listening to the voices that streamed out of my laptop during the last of my online courses.

All I wanted to do was scoop out my mind and leave it in a warm tub to rest. I watched movies, listened to music, and chatted with my roommates, using up the energy I had left on reserve. I didn’t feel inspired to produce some great masterpiece. But I had all the time in the world to do it. Since I wasn’t going anywhere, why wasn’t I writing my book?



Weren’t the arts meant to be those places where we could escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?

Over time, I felt myself spiraling. I didn’t have an idea of what I would write. I just felt like I had to make something productive out of my time. I genuinely felt I was going to disappoint myself either way, whether I chose to pick up my pen or not.

This is all sounding gloomy, but actually, there were times when I wanted to be creative. When I felt that sudden urge to set off and start working on a new piece of writing or pick up painting as a hobby. I knew when I started working I would feel good about it, but the benchmark had been set so high that I felt discouraged.

When I was packing up to move back home, I stumbled upon a product of my literary past. I had written up a small outline of a short story sometime in January. Immediately, I wanted to drop everything, move aside the boxes from my desk, and bring the story to life.

I had an epiphany- this mindset of creating perfect art was (and is) toxic. Creativity doesn’t have to be productive. Weren’t the arts meant to be an escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?

I am not wasting my time even if nothing comes of the writing– I am perfecting a craft.

Art didn’t need to be performative either. It didn’t have to wear the fancy label of a ‘novel’ or perform for an audience. I didn’t need to parade around and place a glossy cover over the pages. Instead, I needed to give myself permission to not even have to finish whatever project was in my drafts. Ultimately, I must accept no creative pursuit is ever wasted. I am not wasting my time if nothing comes of the writing. Rather, I am perfecting a craft. As for talent, there is no wasting that unless I don’t use it. 

The sooner I realized I could follow my creative instincts without oppressive expectations, the sooner I felt creatively liberated. Whether it be through sporadically writing a scene of a story or picking up (and putting down) a paintbrush when I feel inclined, I shouldn’t have felt pressured to fully pursue my creative urges if I didn’t want to. I should be allowed to surrender to that flurry of excitement and passion to simply express myself. Then, when the passion was over, to let it go. Truly, I didn’t even have to show my creative work to anyone or look at it ever again. 

I am teaching myself creativity isn’t meant to always be translated into something productive. The funny thing is I often did return to those pieces and paintings and continued to work on them. But that was only possible when I didn’t feel the heavy benchmark of producing a bestseller or a museum-worthy mural on my shoulders.

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  • Amal Als

    Amal Al Shamsi is a writer with a BA in Literature from New York University Abu Dhabi, interested in the study of marginality in modern and contemporary fiction. She is passionate about integrating other mediums into her writing, such as film, visual art, and music as she engages with the cultural dialogue around the world.


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