Between writer's block and creativity during pandemic

Angst due to the virus could be hampering output, but silence is art in itself

In Summary

• Human beings are at their most creative when faced with a unique life experience

• But angst due to the virus and news of body counts could be leading to writer's block

Woman stares at computer in frustration
Woman stares at computer in frustration

The American novelist and screenwriter F Scott Fitzgerald, famous for his two books, Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby, once said that one has to touch life in order to spring from it.

Perhaps the same is true about the birth of new ideas and concepts. In the birth of an idea, many things come to the fore, but it is experience that provides a firmer firmament for all of them.

The recent reopening of the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa after several months of controlled lockdown brought euphoria to many families. These are the families whose members had been separated for a litany of reasons.


Some had found themselves in Mombasa and Nairobi whereas their family members are in other parts of the country. The speed with which the lockdown happened robbed many of a chance to reunite quickly and live out the lockdown in union.

To others, the reopening was a cause of angst and anxiety because of the potential hike in the corona infections. Yet to others this was a golden opportunity for the reunion of separated spouses or families. Indeed, we live in a time like no other in our recent memory and the duality of reactions signifies the enduring ambivalence and dilemma to both leaders and the led.

To live in these times has inspired many to come up with new concepts and terms to name the unprecedented. I am thinking of names such as ‘Rona’ that did not exist at this time last year. Of course it is the preferred name for corona or Covid-19 by the youth in Nairobi.

‘Kutoa lock’ is a phrase that existed in Sheng and meant to overcome a hangover, especially after binge drinking. The phrase has now been expanded to mean being set free by the government from lockdown. What are you doing? This is a question whose answer today is: Chillaxing. Nothing. Zero. And so on.

Terms and phrases that emerge out of lived experiences carry important gravity to scholars of languages and the literary arts. They reflect the novelty of the times in which they emerged. I find such words handy because they underscore the obvious. Human beings are at their most creative when faced with a life experience like no other before.

Such moments can be an occasion for experimental writing. One can decide to take the experience of neologism beyond just coinage of terms or words or phrases. We can coin new forms for articulating the new experiences. For example, this could be the season for adopting digitised forms of communication. And let us all remember that literature is part of human communication.

Rona genres or Kutoa-lock narratives call upon the creatives of today to imagine novel modes that capture this extraordinary language of a centenary pandemic. Perhaps here is a rare moment for us to think on theorising the arts not of action or reaction but inaction. You have been under lock and key as well as present while away from work. You have been visible but invisible as you did official works away from official locations of being.


Imagine the idea of theorising our narratives of the past three months on the basis of nothingness, inertia and immobility. The blank page of a blog or the hiatus of activity of a literary blog could be evidence of a writer’s block. Perhaps the writer is so full of angst and anxiety thanks to the new virus and harrowing news of the pandemic and its body counts across the world.

Or perhaps such a blank space is the artistic articulation of silence. Imagine the blank page or blank theatre stages or black cinema halls as the eloquence of silence.

Silence is a kind of speech whose beauty is visualised by the blank page. The inability to produce speech is as important as the quest for the forms of communication where silence in envoiced. Forms of speech that highlight the non-existent can perhaps be equated by the idea of working at home.

Perhaps, writing words from the mind without committing them to a page is a novelty we may have to learn or understand. So that in the fullness of time, we may begin to appreciate the idea of nullity as one whose beauty exists too albeit differently.