Writing and hustling in a pandemic
I recently resigned from my office job to work full-time as an SEO content writer who writes about bathroom renovations and roller shutters. After weeks of contemplating, I finally decided it was the right time.
My new job involves writing an average of three to four 500-word content writing projects about local businesses on home improvements. The topics I write about for work are, honestly, not the topics I love writing about. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself writing within the limits of specific keywords for SEO content projects.
Despite being able to write these content projects daily, there have been sleepless nights when I held on to certain ideas that I desperately wanted to write about: our virtual incarnations, the looming shadow of the pandemic on our identity, our emotional connections in cyberspace. I’d been able to write drafts about such ideas, in between my content writing projects for work. But I felt no sense of accomplishment. Finishing each writing task just added to what I had constantly felt since the start of the pandemic: exhaustion. Exhaustion of what, really? I actually did not know, and so I ended up writing more.
I began scouring for ideas. I took a book off my shelf: Michel Foucault’s “Madness and Civilization.” In this book, Foucault introduced the notion of “Stultifera Navis,” which roughly translates to “ship of fools.” According to Foucault, the madman confined on the ship is delivered to “a great uncertainty external to everything.” The madman, in other words, is a prisoner “in the midst of what is the freest, most open of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads.” The pandemic is the ship we are currently in. We think we are at our freest to be productive at something, when in fact, the truth we hold is limited only to the expanse between long periods of frantic work and feeling unproductive at the same time. Suddenly, it felt like an epiphany: This could be a great idea for writing a pitch, right? But—I don’t think so. I eventually scrapped the idea.
Next, I sifted through the internet, and stumbled across the term “quarantine fatigue.” An article by TeenVogue simply explained it as an “existential feeling of exhaustion.” It hit me: The reason I have this sustained feeling of meager accomplishments is that I am experiencing quarantine fatigue as a writer. I keep writing and writing to try to feel a sense of accomplishment, but only end up exhausting myself instead.
Sheltering myself in writing during this once-in-a-century global pandemic has revealed more parts of me that I desperately try to fill in. Each day feels like a new chance to have my writing validated, for reasons I do not know. Most times, I feel discouraged, furious even. Why am I writing about bathroom renovations and roller shutters when we’re dealing with a global health crisis? Shouldn’t I be writing something more relevant in times like this? Then every realization turns inward, as if in continuous mockery: I am a content writer who is paid to write about bathroom renovations and roller shutters. If I stop, how do I sustain myself?
I believe this mentality is the pinnacle of our hustle culture — the idea that every second of our lives must be commodified to make ends meet. And in this perpetual process of working for profit amid the pandemic, we lose ourselves. We lose the feeling of appreciating small wins. We detach ourselves from the things we love producing. May it be something of artistic value or scientific importance, we lose every essence of it entirely. We are currently living in a pandemic ship that is stuck in the expanse of having to work hard, and yet not getting any fulfillment from it.
I want to feel something out of writing. I crave losing myself in the sense of having produced something that excites me. Believe me, I keep trying. In addition to having written several unpublished drafts, I also decided to start a book bank for my birthday. Sitting here, I’ve realized I have the capacity to just write through the pandemic. I do not have to carry the moral weight of having to come up with something that would necessarily save the lives of COVID-19 patients. I just need to write for myself.
Perhaps the takeaway I can offer is this: Be kind to yourself by doing what excites you. Do something that can help you get through this global crisis. We may be in a state of exhaustion, but make sure to be more forgiving of yourself, and to rest from time to time. Not just physical rest, but rest that can provide an avenue to appreciate newfound passions, anything that can help us make our way through this “great uncertainty external to everything.”
Believe it or not, I think I’m also beginning to love writing about bathroom renovations and roller shutters.
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Rachel Lois Gella, 22, is a content writer by day and a law student by night.
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