Writing During COVID and Chaos: How Authors Keep Going

It’s a new year! Yay! And the vaccine is rolling out! Finally, you can exhale and concentrate on your novel. Not so fast, Hemingway. The end might be in sight, but as much as we we’d all like to move on, many of the stresses and concerns of 2020 are still with is. And will continue to dog us for a while yet. Not to rain on your New Year’s parade, but medical experts say it could be a year or more until we get back to anything resembling “normal.” And even though a presidential inauguration is days away, our country is far from experiencing anything resembling a kumbaya moment. So now what? As winter drags on, how do we keep going? Where do we find the energy and inspiration to be creative? How do we find the motivation and focus to write? Dead Darlings asked eight authors to share their tips and tricks and words of wisdom. Here’s what they had to say.

Stephanie Gayle, Idyll Fears, Idyll Threats, Idyll Fears, and Idyll Hands (Seventh Street Books)

I did NaNoWriMo last year and it jump started my writing habit, because you cannot slack off and write 50K words in one month! 

Rachel Barenbaum, A Bend in the Stars (Grand Central)

How I keep going: When you look at a published book it is polished and beautiful—a work of art. It’s easy to think the author is brilliant and talented and that they pulled it out in no time. The truth is the author probably is brilliant and talented but it took blood sweat and tears to produce. It’s hard to remember that when I write, but interviewing debut authors really helps me remember the trenches. When I hear them telling me about all the years it took to get to that finished book, all their setbacks and hardships it inspires me. No one writes a pretty first draft – and so I listen to them, put my butt in the chair and get to work knowing I can polish and craft my terrible first drafts—later.

Rishi Reddi, Passage West, Karma and Other Stories (Ecco)

Every early morning when I wake, lying in bed in winter darkness, my mind is flooded with the stuff of the day: wake up the teenager, find clothes for the 8 year olds, let the dog out, email my boss, make breakfast, put out the dinner stuff, clean up the dog vomit, call the plumber before the  next lock-down, start that work memo, call my mom — have gratitude for….. so much. Then, I try to push it all away, and I remind myself: That essay/ story/ novel is waiting for you…the one your subconscious was kneading all night. APPLY DERRIERE TO CHAIR and get it on paper. So I try to do that, even if only for 30 minutes before all that other stuff takes over.

Juliette Faye, City of Flickering Light, The Tumbling Turner Sisters (Gallery Books)

For the first several months of the pandemic I couldn’t write a word. I was too busy perseverating on how to keep everyone around me safe without driving them batty, and obsessively fixing and updating my entire house. (Did I replace all the dinged-up doorknobs I never even noticed before? Why, yes, I did.) In August, a story idea really grabbed me, and I convinced myself it was worth pursuing. So now I get up early when my family is asleep (and thus not actively being infected) and my overworked cordless drill would wake everyone. The only thing left to do is write.

Susan Bernhard, Winter Loon (Little A)

Writing was super tedious for me this year, not gonna lie. I had a tough time generating fiction when, in truth, I was overwhelmed by reality. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and watch Schitt’s Creek (which I did). When I finally stopped beating myself up over word count and for not devoting every waking hour to writing, I ended up finding inspiration in other creative work, especially listening to music, learning guitar, and reading poetry. For instance, I stumbled on a poem that captured my protagonist so well, I changed the working title of my novel-in-progress, which sent me off in an exciting and productive direction. I’m trying to be courageous and trust myself.

Julie Dalton, Waiting for the Night Song (Forge)

Time has felt so unwieldy and loose during the pandemic. The days go by slowly, but the weeks and months seem to fly by. I started inventing writing deadlines for myself and telling other people so they would hold me accountable. I formed an accountability/support group with Nancy Johnson (The Kindest Lie, Feb. 2021, William Morrow) and Sarah Penner (The Lost Apothecary, March, 2021, Park Row), two other 2021 debut authors also working on their second novels. We check in via email almost every day and meet up on Zoom every Sunday to hold each other accountable for our week goals. Knowing that Nancy and Sarah are waiting for my updates is a huge motivator. We also talk a lot about being kind to ourselves during this unimaginable year. Sometimes things are just hard and I can’t write. I’ve failed to meet some of my imaginary deadlines. But thanks to Sarah and Nancy, I keep going.

Emily Ross, Half in Love with Death (Simon Pulse)

I feel guilty saying this but I’ve been so obsessed with finishing my novel in progress I’ve had trouble doing anything but writing during this pandemic. One thing that helped was establishing a routine. Sitting down every day and losing myself in the dark world of my novel is comforting compared to the crazy anxiety ridden world out there and I write with no expectations. Working on the same paragraph for three hours is a win. Also, and this is weird, there’s this moody poster of Bob Marley smoking a joint in my son’s room where I write and I decided that’s my protagonist (even though my MC is a woman). Every day I’d look at him, feel the connection, and say, “Let’s do this.”  I got pretty tight with my other characters too, so tight I never want to let them go. When this all ends, someone may need to stage an intervention.

Desmond Hall, Your Corner Dark (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

Every time I don’t feel like writing I remind myself of something a bookstore owner told me. She’d read several books written by algorithms, and one was pretty good. For me, this means I might become as obsolete as Blockbuster, so I better get at it now.

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