By Lisa Alber
Last year around this time, Italy locked itself down during a Covid surge. I remember being startled by the news; the gravity of the situation hit home, but even then I didn’t get it. I was still in the this-is-quite-the-serious-flu stage. Hah, har-dee-har-har. Flu — that’s a good one. The U.S. wasn’t doing much (not that it ever did until now); the previous administration refused to quarantine Americans evacuated from an infected cruise ship. Meanwhile, I’d gotten laid off a few weeks previously, so I was mired in my own thing, barely paying attention. Covid was background static.
A year later, I read this article from The Guardian: Writers blockdown: after a year inside, writers are struggling to write.
“Stultified is the word,” says Orange prize-winning novelist Linda Grant. “The problem with writing is it’s just another screen, and that’s all there is … I can’t connect with my imagination. I can’t connect with any creativity. My whole brain is tied up with processing, processing, processing what’s going on in the world.”
Later in the article Grant says, “It’s just a sort of sea of greyness, of timelessness.”
So true. Introvert that I am, I still need to get out of the house — sit around in coffeehouses and pubs, not to mention actually feel some skin-on-skin hugs from friends and let loose a little now and then. I’d never realized how crucial outside life was to my creativity. Zoom get-togethers are a BandAid, and they help, but they’re not the same.
I’ve been writing, but I’m all over the place. Here’s what I’ve done in the past year:
- Struggle with revising a novel called “Shadow Maiden.” Completely re-wrote the secondary storyline, then changed it back but with a different voice. Also, switched from first to third person. This went on for months last spring. All I wanted to do was get to the end of the first draft.
- Decide to write something completely different — a contemporary romance. Why? I needed something lighter and easier. I wanted to have some fun with my writing. Developed an idea, which promptly expanded itself into a trilogy in a genre a friend called “romantic suspense-adventure.” (Oh boy …)
- Sigh. Huge sighs. Sighs all over the place. Because WTeverlastingF am I doing complicating what was supposed to be a fun, light, and easy-ish experiment of a side project?
- Summer brought me the first draft of the first romance — almost. My excuse? I needed to complete the first drafts of the second and third romances to know how the first should truly end. But I struggled for a month with this decision, trying to end the draft, getting nowhere.
- Fallow, then in November into December, draft of second romance completed — almost. Same struggle to end the darned thing and failing.
- In the new year, I returned to Shadow Maiden to figure out where I was. Brainstorming. Finally had a revelation — which I’ve forgotten now — but I assume I wrote it down in my novel journal … Been switching back and forth between this and the second romance. A whole lotta nowhere.
In the past year I’ve written close to 200,000 words when you include the revision writing. Nothing to sneeze at, yet it all feels half-assed and way too slow. I’m stuck in the dreaded middle of three projects. If I were writing an essay about what I did during my pandemic lockdown, I’d called it “Failure in the Middle,” which is the name of an essay I read just last night, which brings me to the reason for writing this post: I’ve decided to lean into my slowness, since this is where I’m at right now. I recommend a book called The Art of Slow Writing; Reflection on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo. What a comfort!
DeSalvo says, “I’ve learned that often the toughest stage comes just before the biggest breakthroughs.” In fact, she calls the feel-like-a-failure middle moment, the “insight stage.” Talk about putting a positive spin on it! But I’ll take it. I’m owed some major breakthroughs when I get my brain back, post-pandemic. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile, I’ll keep touching the fiction most days and accept that I’m slow right now.
Oh, and continue meditating with the Calm app.