Covid-19: What I've Learned About Writing & Fear



Day 43 of the Coronavirus Lockdown. People are saying they’re bored, lonely, stressed. They’re tired of being stuck at home, video conferencing; they want to get their nails done, their hair cut, their kids out from underfoot.

I admit these complaints haven’t fallen on sympathetic ears. I’m impatient with the complaints and self-pity. I tend not to dwell on things I can’t change. And if there’s a problem I try to fix it. I don’t complain a lot because hell, no one can hear me over their own litany of complaints and petty dissatisfactions. (Full Disclosure: I have an anxiety disorder for which I take Lexapro which has been life changing; more on that in a future post.)

Don’t take this to mean I don’t find this pandemic jarring. I do. And any confidence I had in the U.S. government to manage this crisis has fallen to nearly nil. I’m also having flashbacks. This pandemic reminds me of the early days of the AIDS pandemic—back when no one knew quite what this new disease was, or how to treat it, or better yet how to avoid getting it. No one knew who had it and who didn’t so the prevailing wisdom was to presume everyone had it, including yourself.

That’s sort of where we are with COVID-19 at the moment. Once this was clear to me, despite myself, I worried. Was that cough I just experienced caused by pollen or coronavirus? Why does my chest hurt? The larger question persisted: what if I get it and die? I was sad—my dogs would never understand why I abandoned them. What if my husband and I both got it—who would take care of our dogs? I wanted to see my nephews grow up—I want them to be proud of me. What about my new book, at the moment unfinished?

By the time coronavirus broke out, I’d been working on my new novel for nearly a year. This one was special. This was to be my masterpiece, my magnum opus, incorporating everything I’d learned over the course of writing five books. It was also alas, nowhere near finished. I decided that I needed to get the book finished—at least to the point where my editor could take it over, edit it, and get it published if I was no longer around.

Like many people, in March I started working from home. While the work was no easier or less time consuming, I saved two hours a day in commuting. I could also sleep an hour later each day. That gave me three extra hours every weekday. On weekends, with nowhere to go, and my monthly trips to my family in New York on hold, I picked up even more time.
I committed to writing three hours each day. (I find I can’t write more than four hours at a stretch; it’s just too much and what I produce after hour 4 is bilge.) Sticking to that schedule allowed me to finish the book in seven weeks. I submitted it to my publisher last Friday.

So, what did I learn? That fear can be either paralyzing or a great motivator.

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

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