Writing in the Time of Covid




Question:

I  know I can’t be the only one struggling with my writing during this pandemic. Any ideas on how I can be more productive?

Answer:

First let me say that I will answer this not only as a fellow writer, but also as a trained clinical social worker. Although most of us are nestled in the familiarity of our homes, the distractions seem bigger than ever. There is a lot of noise, making it hard to focus our thoughts, ignore the suffering, and repress the underlying fear gripping our hearts. My suggestion is to acknowledge this reality. And take the word ‘should’ out of your self talk. We are focused on what we need to be: surviving this virus.

I too have struggled. Here is how I finally returned to writing.

In mid March, a fellow writer and dear friend, Joe O’Connor, contracted the virus. He was being super careful, social distancing, staying home. He was the second person in Kent County to test positive, and the first to die.

Joe had been a member of my local critique group for the past two years. When he first showed up on the scene, we became instant friends. We began meeting for coffee almost every week to discuss writing and life in general. Late last fall his first poetry book, Why Poetry?, was published. I hosted a reading at my home that December. You could hear a pin drop when Joe read his poems about life, truth, the events unfolding outside his office window, and his tour in Vietnam.

After his death, our critique group met via Zoom. The first meeting consisted of nine blank stares, all of us unable to process that Joe was no longer with us. So we read Joe’s poems and shared stories. We laughed and cried. No one spoke of writing.

Feeling the need for community, we decided to Zoom every week. On the second week, there was some discussion of writing, but for the most part we talked about our struggles, and the days we did nothing but stare out the window. It helped.

We are still meeting every week. I look forward to those two hours very much.

And all of us are writing again.

When Joe was asked if he wanted to be put on a ventilator, he said, “Yes. I want to fight.” Joe was a tough kid raised on the streets of Brooklyn. He wasn’t about to give up. But the virus ravaged his body and he died from a stroke not long after. That drive to fight stuck with us.

As writers, we started to ask ourselves, what would Joe do?

I dipped my toe into writing by reading. I began with Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic — Creative Living Beyond Fear. Not long after, I read Barbara Kyle’s, Page Turner — Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy.

After finishing Kyle’s book, I realized the need to write had begun to smolder again.

Kyle has some great ideas and her concept of storylining resonated with me. A storyline is about 20 - 30 pages and lays out what happens in your book, an outline of sorts. It involves determining your story’s essentials: characters, plot, story arc, and writing the beginning, middle, and end, giving you the backbone of the story. Creating this document makes writing that first draft much easier and far less painful.

I have always been a pantser — writing by the seat of my pants. Deadlines can do that to you. But with this unfilled time on my hands, I have begun to storyline the third book in my mystery series. And it’s working beautifully. A storyline is like a writing GPS. Rerouting will inevitably be involved, but at least I know my destination.

So what can you do? First and foremost, you stay safe and keep others safe. And then read a book you’ve been thinking about reading. I highly recommend the two I have mentioned. And you can never go wrong going back, and back again, to Stephen King’s, On Writing. And when you feel that tug, that pull back to your craft, the burn to create, sit down and write the story you’ve always wanted to write.

Good luck!

Be smart. Be safe. We can do this.



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