As we celebrated the arrival of 2020 on January 1st, no one could have imagined that we would soon be facing a pandemic of global proportions. COVID-19 stormed into the our lives like a rampaging herd of elephants. The rapidly rising infection and death rates alarmed the world, and scientists, doctors, and other medical professionals became the frontline soldiers in a war against the virus. As lockdowns left millions unemployed and shuttered thousands of businesses temporarily, and some even for good, it became hard to imagine any element of life that wasn't impacted by COVID-19.
I recently participated as a panelist in a virtual session for the Digital Author and Indie Publishing Writers Conference. The topic of how the pandemic had impacted my life as a writer came up as a question for the panelists. It might be easy to assume that writers have had it easy over the past several months. After all, writers already tend to work alone in a home office, right? They're used to being anti-social as they form their plots and prose. How could stay-at-home orders impact the world of a writer?
Like everyone else, writers have been struggling to come to grips with the new "normal," with many finding their creative process stifled by a lack of time, loss of mental energy, and the introduction of new household distractions that come from a family stuck together in lockdown. Lucy Banks, the UK author of the Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural book series, felt the impact almost immediately. Between homeschooling her kids for five months and working a full-time job from home, she quickly realized that "writing time was incredibly limited," and she knew "pretty early on that I just didn't have the mental energy to write anything new."
I know, for myself, COVID-19 hit early and hit hard. For several years, I'd developed a routine that included writing with a small group of writers in a nearby café, as well as spending weekends writing in the local library. These sessions, as well as the regular interaction with other writers, was pivotal to my efforts to stay on track with writing my fourth novel. But lockdowns in Delaware and Pennsylvania back in late March threw my writing into a tailspin. My weekly word count plummeted and I fell behind with my self-imposed deadline for my latest book.
And I'm not alone. Thriller writer J. L. Delozier also works as a physician and has become overwhelmed with "doom-scrolling social media and having to keep up with a constant stream of new scientific information." Delozier admits that she found "that I just don't have much left in the tank when I finally sit down to write." Ironically, her first book, TYPE & CROSS, dealt with a global pandemic caused by a man-made virus.
Writers can be creatures of habit, and often crave solitude when writing. They seek an atmosphere devoid of conversation and distraction. A place where they can ignore all that is around them and focus their creative energies on the process of putting words to paper. That solitude doesn't always mean being locked away from all human life. It sometimes comes in the form of being alone in a crowded room. Perhaps at a library, a coffee shop, or a café. When COVID-19 shut everything down, it left a crater-sized hole in the life of many writers.
August Norman, author of the new book, SINS OF THE MOTHER, can relate. Used to writing in the coffee shop down the street from his home or in the local library, Norman is now "working a full-time job at home, often in the same room as our seven-month-old baby, while my wife does similar with her own full-time obligations." His writing time "has been relegated to a table and chair set on our back porch, where I try to recreate the coffee shop experience with a large mug and a pair of noise cancelling headphones."
New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee found herself doing everything but writing. "I stocked the pantry and cooked and played Pokémon Go with my boys and did online promotional stuff, and beat myself up about not writing." The pandemic did, however, put Tosca in high demand because of the topic of her two latest books, THE LINE BETWEEN and A SINGLE LIGHT. "I did still have quite a few interviews as my two 2019 releases were a pandemic duology." When Tosca finally returned to her writing routine, she equated it to being "a lot like trying to get back into exercising after spending the better part of the year as a couch potato."
Not everyone, however, is feeling bewildered by the curve ball that COVID-19 has thrown. Writer Matty Dalrymple, author of the Ann Kinnear suspense novels, found a unique solution to the need for social distancing. Not one who often wrote in coffee shops or cafes, Dalrymple found a novel approach to her writing by tricking out a Ford Transit Connect van as a tiny RV. "I can take the Connect to scenic locations near my home . . . for focused writing time," she said. "No distractions except for a lovely view ... and no internet!"
David Albertyn, the Canadian author of UNDERCARD, was not phased much by the pandemic either. Although he did frequent the occasional coffee shop, much of Albertyn's writing "took place at home at my desk. Sometimes I would write in parks as well, or just in my car in the parking lot of parks, before or after going for a walk." For Albertyn, the pandemic isn't "too bad but it does get tedious."
The act of placing words on paper is not the only aspect of writing that has been impacted by the pandemic. Some writers, like myself, use real locations as the backdrop for our novels. When describing real-life settings, it is important to get the details right. But lockdowns and travel restrictions have made scouting locations difficult. Seattle-based crime fiction author Glen Erik Hamilton would "normally travel to Seattle at least a couple of times during the writing process--once during the first draft and once more during rewrites--to visit restaurants and walk around neighborhoods." Hamilton, who has been working on the next novel in his Van Shaw crime fiction series, went on to say, "Like many authors, I would bet, most of the locations in my latest book had to come from memory or making up places wholesale."
The "squashing" of creative energy is not the only issue that writers have faced during this pandemic. Being a published author isn't just about sitting in front of a keyboard, writing novel after novel. Writers are facing other challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Primarily that of generating interest in their latest novel and connecting with readers. I'll talk more about that in part two, coming in January.
To learn more about the authors featured in this blog post, please visit their websites.
Lucy Banks - lucy-banks.co.uk
J. L. Delozier - jldelozier.com
August Norman - augustnorman.com
Tosca Lee - toscalee.com
Matty Dalrymple - mattydalrymple.com
David Albertyn - davidalbertyn.com
Glen Erik Hamilton - glenerikhamilton.com