• Jolene Roehlkepartain

3 Ways the Pandemic Destroys Creativity

Shakespeare wrote King Lear during an epidemic. Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus during the bubonic plague.

Experts say a pandemic should be ripe for creativity and invention.

Not so fast.

As a creative person and author of many books, I’ve been in contact with many other creative people during the pandemic. Are we inspired? No. Are we creating lots of great work? No. Are we thriving? No.

Why not?

  1. Too much uncertainty. A pandemic filled with anxiety and threats don’t inspire creativity, says Margaret Wehrenberg, the author of Pandemic Anxiety: Fear, Stress, and Loss in Traumatic Times. Creative types thrive in predictable environments where they can play with the uncertainty of creativity, not try to survive the uncertainty of a pandemic.

  2. Too much chronic stress. Many have talked about having insomnia, nightmares, too much isolation, and feeling helpless and trapped. Prolonged stress zaps creativity.

  3. Too much loss. Creative people have active imaginations. It doesn’t take much to overstimulate our imaginations from more people dying from the pandemic in the United States than all the deaths from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. All this kills creativity. Author Susan Orlean told The New York Times she rewrites the same sentence over and over because she’s so exhausted.

"Studies have shown that creativity is enhanced when we're exposed to new and novel experiences," write the authors in the Harvard Business Review, "but in our current era of social distancing, many of our routines have become mundane and predictable."

Sir Isaac Newton may have been productive during the Great Plague, but he could work in isolation, without the Internet and social media, and on a beautiful estate where all his needs were met. Once the Great Plague diminished, Sir Isaac Newton did something important: he took the learnings from that time about protecting his time and continued to focus on his work and create, create, create.

I hope this will be something we can also do once the uncertainty and threat lift so that we can live more creative lives. Until then, we need to take care of ourselves in the midst of all the uncertainty, stress, and loss.

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