I’ve had asthma since my teens, nearly forty years now. It lurks, ready at the lack of a coat to remind me of how it’s compromised my respiratory system. A mild cold in December mutated into a chest infection that hung around like an oblivious, unwelcome guest for nearly a month. Needless to say, I’m limiting my contact with people; fortunately, the company I work for has just announced that all upcoming meetings will be via Skype, so I won’t have to brave the mainline train into London and the intimate body horrors of the Northern line.
I don’t do well in crowds, so my leisure time is usually taken up seeking out spaces that are people-free, but I do like to get out. Facing an uncertain period of time mainly limited to home, I made a list of things I can do and divided it into writing and non-writing activities. In seeking inspiration, I googled the hobbies of famous writers, to see if any aligned with mine. I concluded that drinkin, huntin, boxing Ernest Hemingway and I are two circles with no overlap whatsoever!
Pandemic-Friendly Activities (Non-Writing)
- My knitting stash threatens to take over the cupboard under the stairs; there are hundreds of free patterns online (check out Ravelry). I can have another go at mastering crochet while I’m at it, and by “mastering”, I mean creating a single chain stitch. Crochet and knitting – two completely different things; don’t let the wool fool you.
- I’ve got several outstanding projects to complete on my sewing machine. My normal skill level is hemming trousers, but I made some Christmas drawstring bags last year, and they were a great success, so I bought up lots of reduced fat-quarters of festive material to make some more. Pattern here.
Writers who enjoyed knitting and sewing as a hobby – The Bronte sisters enjoyed knitting together, evidenced by the knitting accessories displayed at the Bronte Parsonage Museum.
- In 2017 I paid for an online drawing course; I loved art at school but couldn’t study it at A level as it clashed with my other options. I’ve wanted to revisit art for several years now, but like everything, it’s hard to commit regular time to a non-essential pastime, especially when your unfinished drafts cry out from Dropbox.
Writers who were also hobbyist artists – lots, including J.B Priestly, Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and Mervyn Peake.
- With loo rolls limited to five per customer in some supermarkets, we may see food shortages. I have an electric breadmaker, a nice selection of flours in the fridge and a fair few packets of instant yeast, so I can bring home the bread for the family. My son especially enjoys my version of the Irish soda bread, which is a great beginner’s bread, needing no yeast or risings., and baking up in just 40 minutes or so.
Writers who baked bread….I couldn’t find any, let me know if you can supply any names?
- Catch up with physical media, particularly books and DVDs. I’ve already made a New Year’s commitment to cut down on my use of electronics for reading and watching films; social media is a mere click away, and I find my finger longing to swipe during any boring passages. But I have some beautiful hard copies of books, including special editions, some graphic novels, and some Christmas present DVDs I’ve yet to watch. Now’s the time to exercise my puny attention span.
- Talking of physical media, I’ve long sought a slack time to organise our drawer fulls of photographs into the albums we already have languishing in the same drawers, and then to scan the ones with special meaning, then organise them into Dropbox folders…
- I love board games, card games, home-made pub quizzes and the like, but it’s increasingly hard to strong-arm my loved ones into playing. I bought a couple of new-fangled board games at Christmas; Codenames and Catan, hoping to tempt them with new challenges, but they’re still in their wrappers. If I can’t convince friends and family to play, maybe I can arrange a Skype or facetime tournament?
- Unlike board games, my family enjoys jigsaws; to be more precise, they enjoy it when I do the grunt work of gleaning the straight-edge pieces and building the flimsy frame. When all the same-y pieces of sky and grass are in place they swoop to plug in the final few shapes with an absurd sense of achievement. We have had heated words about this. With us all held captive, we can share the labour of a fifteen hundred piece jigsaw with quite a lot of sky and sea and only a few small boats in the distance. That’ll teach them.
Writers who enjoyed jigsaw puzzles…Orwell mentions them and I like to think of him poring over a jigsaw as he wrote 1984 in solitude on the remote island of Jura.
- This one’s quite prosaic but it’s something I don’t do enough; have a good old clear out of my emails, unsubscribe from all the faff which guilted me into ticking “yes”, and organise what’s left into some sort of retrievable system. Future me approves.
- This one’s a double-whammy – to avoid complete cabin fever (it’s a bit early to do much in the garden) we’ll still go for walks, but at quieter periods; we’ve recently started to walk down to the local shops in the evening, leaving the car behind and taking our reusable bags. I feel obnoxiously smug just typing it out. I’ll also use the treadmill in the garage and catch up on some true-crime and literature podcasts. Shoutout to two of my faves in their respective genres: HP Podcraft and Casefile True Crime
Writing Stuff To Do While Isolated
Not all my writing stuff involves actual writing, and I promise that isn’t more procrastination. Here’s some ideas for fellow writers to use their social distancing time wisely:
- The first one is long overdue; issue my first proper newsletter. I’ve got subscribers, I’ve got Mailchimp, I’ve got ideas, I’ve got a book to sell; they all just need to meet in the same space and time. In fact, I’ve already been working on this, so watch this space for my first grown-up newsletter, with details of an imminent Amazon Kindle promotion (get my book free!) very soon.
- Catch up with my correspondence! I keep in touch with a fair few people I’ve met through my writing and associated research, and I try to communicate regularly, but it does slip. Luckily my number of correspondents is nowhere near that of HP Lovecraft, a prodigious correspondent whose lifetime output was estimated by Sprague de Camp at nearly 100,000 letters! And all without spellcheck.
- I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet to record my published short stories and flash fiction, and to keep a running list of publications accepting my kind of fiction. Now I just need to hunt through my Chrome bookmarks, subscriptions and emails and capture them all.
- I’ve got a backlog of books on my Kindle app, and I want to leave reviews to help other writers who have written a good story but are struggling for visibility. My own novella is doing quite well, royalty wise; getting reviews is the real slog. Seriously, if you read a book, please leave a review for the author, whether you love it, hate it, or thought it was meh!
- I’ve had quite a few good ideas for short stories recently, but they’re all one page Word documents with bullet points and disjointed ideas. If I sort out my publications spreadsheet, I’ll have no excuse but to crack on.
What I’m NOT Doing While Waiting Out the Pandemic
- Panic buying loo roll, or fighting fellow customers for loo roll. Why loo roll?
- Reading The Road, On the Beach, Z for Zachariah, The Chrysalids or The Stand.
Reading back the list above, I’m struck by how many hobbies and interests I have, and how little time I allow myself to indulge them. In his essay England Your England, Orwell writes that a key characteristic of the English is their “addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations…we are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans.” Orwell sees in the English love of hobbies a celebration of the individual, the “liberty to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above. ”
World wars, famine, and pestilence haven’t quenched the human need for pastimes and hobbies, maybe because they do symbolise that ultimate liberty to choose for ourselves. And maybe, for a short while, and in these unusual times, we can use the opportunity to indulge them, and maybe even discover some new ones.