On Not Writing in 2020

“Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic,” say the various productivity gurus. “Why can’t you?”

Aside from the utter silliness of each of us having a Lear in our heads just waiting for a once-a-century plague to break out, I have been shocked to find so many people believing that the COVID year of 2020 should have been more productive for them.

This is the first time I’ve opened this writing program (iA Writer) since June. I’ve been utterly incapable of putting anything together since then.

And it’s OK.

I was surprised the writing stopped. It made sense, though, given my brain had so much else to ruminate about.

Massive quarantines and isolation. Fear. Loneliness. A need to escape. A totally inadequate response to the pandemic in America. Death at numbers that made us numb to the loss. In the middle of it all, fundamental questions about how white supremacy has warped our ability to see what an equitable society should look like.

Why would anyone expect we’d operate normally in this nightmare time?

As designers we need to remember that creativity comes from empathy and understanding, and both require us to be mentally present in the creative process. When you can’t be fully present, you can’t expect fully perfect results. And again, it’s OK. We can be great at only half capacity. And sometimes we just shouldn’t do it because we’re too busy carrying for sick family and friends, or marching in the streets in support of Black lives.

2021 holds no promise of a better year. We have a long, long way to climb out of this mess we’ve found ourselves in. And new problems may arise. So, we’ll get up most days, do our work, and deal with this dark cloud over us. Some days we’ll get up and go to the streets. Some days, we may just stay in bed.

But what 2021 offers us is hope.

In 2020, in all this, I needed something that gave me hope. I didn’t write, but I did become a gardener, growing kilos of tomatoes and planting a winter garden to harvest come spring. And there’s no more hopeful thing you can do than plant seeds.

Maybe my Lear is the tomato sauce and relish sitting in my fridge and freezer right now.

Cut yourself some slack, sow some hope, and be happy you survived one of the worst collective years in living memory.

As the emo-punk band Carb On Carb put it, “You’re still here. It’s been rough year.”

Author: Dylan Wilbanks

Dylan Wilbanks is a web roustabout, raconteur, and curmudgeon currently practicing as a user experience designer in Seattle. He’s spent nearly 20 years designing, building, and perfecting online experiences, and every once in a while does a good job. Occasionally, he speaks at conferences like SXSW and Webvisions. He created one of the first Twitter accounts used in higher education, but that was an accident, and he's really sorry about it. With Kyle Weems, he co-hosts Squirrel And Moose, a podcast about designing and building the web, when they remember to talk about it. He likes nectarines. You can read his tweets at @dylanw and learn more at dylanwilbanks.com.