Like many people, I first saw quarantine as an opportunity to do all of the creative projects I’ve put on the back burner. I’d finally write that screenplay.  I’d create soon-to-be viral comedy videos, and write a ton of standup material I could perform once restrictions were lifted.

I’d capitalize on my time spent social distancing, and come out of this experience a more productive and successful person.

But I haven’t written the next Netflix hit or viral parody. Instead, I’ve spent my days eating and drinking, and torturing succulents I got off of Amazon. The most creative thing I’ve done is find new and horrifying ways to style my quarantine hair.

At first, I felt guilty for not making good on my promise. Why couldn’t I tap into my creative brain? Why couldn’t I capitalize on my endless free time and just create content? Why couldn’t I make the best of this situation? 

Now before I get any further, I know a ton of articles have been written about how we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be productive or creative in quarantine. So, I won’t be writing about that. Instead, I want to talk about how I came to terms with isolation, and how I learned to write again.

Writing has always served a dual purpose for me. It’s both my way of processing the world around me and finding my place in it. But it’s always been more than just a survival mechanism, it’s also my job and primary form of expression. And because writing is so many things to me, it can be hard for me to separate the personal side of writing from the more performative one.

When quarantine started, I hoped I could capitalize on my free time and boredom and create work for others to consume. I hoped I could be the hilarious content creator people needed at this time.  And, truthfully, I hoped I could immediately tap into the attention and praise writing gave me, so I could feel better about myself. 

But I couldn’t bring myself to write. The idea of writing exhausted me. 

And it’s because writing, in this moment, needed to serve a personal purpose not a performative one. I couldn’t write witty commentary about what was going on until I actually processed it. I couldn’t give to others until I gave to myself.

So, instead of writing jokes, I wrote journal entries. I wrote down every thought and feeling I had—without scrutiny or judgment. I wrote until I had articulated exactly how quarantine made me feel: lonely, bored, sad, hopeless, directionless. Perpetually anxious (and hungry).

Once I processed how I felt, I turned my thoughts and feelings into jokes. Every dark thought became a punchline. Writing helped me find the humor and absurdity in everything going on. It gave me a sense of control over my environment and how I was responding to it. It was like I was a performer onstage and isolation was my audience; initially scary, but less scary once I imagined it as some random dude in his underwear.

My jokes were dark at first. The kind of dark that makes you worry about the wellbeing of the person who wrote them. But they needed to be dark so they could be distilled into something lighter. So I wrote morbid jokes, and then rewrote them with cheekiness and levity in mind. And slowly, those dark jokes turned into comedic sentiments rooted in truth and solidarity. They were dark but semi translucent. 

After the joke writing, I decided to plan a virtual standup show to showcase them. I knew planning a show would give me something to look forward to, which I desperately needed at a time like this. 

2 weeks ago, I performed my virtual standup show for an audience of 75+ people. All of my anxiety and negativity was channeled into 15-minutes worth of absurd jokes. I spoke to my own experiences and feelings about everything going on with the hope that it would help people feel less alone. And while it was weird to perform to a silent audience, I felt connected to people in a way I hadn’t felt for months. It was the first time in a while that I didn’t feel lonely. 

I didn’t share this story just to plug my standup material or highlight the ways in which I “overcame” my writer’s block. I did it to remind people to take care of themselves first. Don’t beat yourself up for not being productive or creative. Don’t conflate your self worth with the art you create. Instead of using art as a performance, use it as a connection. Let it be the bridge that brings people together. 

Now that I’ve wrapped my show, I’m not sure what my next creative project will be. It’s possible I’ll end up with writer’s block yet again. But I know now that I don’t need to be funny or creative for the sake of others. I don’t have to game quarantine and come out of this ahead of others. I just need to continue processing what’s around me and stay connected to the people I care about.