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Ho Lin on Staying Creative in an Unprecedented Time

Stay Home’s very first guest post! Here’s a local author’s take:

San Francisco author Ho Lin with copies of his book China Girl

Writers are a finicky bunch; we all have our own methods for ideating and composing and editing. But once those creative juices flow, we retreat from reality, fixating on text or spacing ourselves out with our own thoughts. To hang out with a writer who’s in the midst of writing (or thinking about writing) is no fun — just ask my fiancée.


If the actual act of writing is the destination, the route to get there is a matter of personal preference. Cuddle up in a cozy chair with a good book, or set aside a designated time for meditation, or stick to a regulated writing schedule, hell or high water. Some occupy the front of their minds with random tasks while imagination percolates underneath. (Colm Meaney’s gangster in the movie Layer Cake occupies the front of his noggin by disassembling a gun blindfolded.) My kickstarter is to be in motion: a walk down the street, a day-long hike, or a three-week trip to a far-flung destination. In the act of physically wandering, my mind starts wandering, and boom, inspiration arrives, notes are frantically jotted down in my phone, and precious ideas are ready to deploy.


You’d think that life during virus-time would be manna for most writers (setting aside the obvious tragedies of COVID). Stay at home, write when you feel like it, no outside activities to distract? Brilliant. If you fall into that category of writer, more power to you. For me, it’s not so much fun.

In the midst of a pandemic, where travel options are limited, we can still walk down the block, but it’s a bit difficult to let the mind wander when you’re conscious of every labored breath inside your mask. Each passing stranger diverts our thoughts to the hard truth of the moment: Are these people safe? Am I safe? Is anything safe? Not the perfect breeding ground for reflection. And being stuck at home tends to dull my senses: the same walls, the same puttering movements in the morning and evening, the same shows on Netflix on repeat. I was born in the Year of the Dog, and maybe I’m truly a dog at heart, happiest when wrestling with something new and bouncy and bewildering. As thankful as I am for the creature comforts of home, it’s challenging for me to bust into new head spaces when confronted with the same-old day after day, month after month.


On the other hand, nothing inspires as much as distress. Who was it that said that the arts are at their best when civilization is at a crossroads? When even the act of touching another human has become a daydream, suddenly imagination seems not only helpful, but vital. The current state of everything forces us to entertain possibilities, some horrifying, some hopeful. With these possibilities, the wheels in the noggin begin to churn.


And for me, being forced to actually write in lieu of being unable to do anything else is a valuable lesson. I can be a top-level procrastinator who generates ideas up the wazoo, but sometimes gets sidetracked by life. But when life and all its distractions are whittled down, when all that’s left is you, the keyboard, and the blaring white of the computer screen, then one has little choice but type. Type until something happens, and that something begets another something, and away we go.


I’m currently on track to finish two books within the next year — an unusual achievement for someone who took a couple of decades to work himself up to his first book. My fiancée is still a bit nonplussed by this writing thing — let’s just say certain chores aren’t getting done in a timely manner — and I can empathize with her exasperation. But this is what happens when your surroundings — those over-familiar walls, the same books on the same shelves in front of you — just fall away, when all the distractions and excuses disappear, and you’re left with screen, keyboard, and words that form, morph, and slowly but surely get arranged in front of you into a pattern that tells you where to go. As much as we all have our different methods of arriving at writing, once we’re writing, we’re all the same, time making way for us in our solitude. 2020 in a nutshell.

Ho Lin is a writer, musician, sidelined traveler and sometime filmmaker who lives in San Francisco. His first collection of short stories, China Girl, was a finalist in the “Fiction: Short Story” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards, and earned Silver in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards’ Multicultural Fiction Category. China Girl is available at Amazon.

Find Ho Lin’s work at www.holinauthor.com.