(This post first appeared on PaperLanternWriters.com)
Last St. Patrick’s Day, my city went on lockdown due to the pandemic. A book talk I had scheduled for that month was cancelled, as was a retreat planned by my publisher. Cancellations also affected one son’s schooling, the other son’s job, my nephew’s wedding, and my niece’s wedding. I consoled myself by thinking that I would have so much time to write! I’m retired, so no need to worry about work. I could take all that time I used to spend running errands, getting my hair done, going to the gym, eating out, and grocery shopping to focus on writing. I had barely made a good start on my WIP at the time. The lockdown would allow me to finish it and polish it so I could publish it in 2022!
By the end of March, the entire state of California was on lockdown, and the United States had the most coronavirus cases in the world. Streets were eerily empty. Wild coyotes and foxes roamed through neighborhoods. Anxiety rose as I learned to deal with masks, social distancing, washing hands, wiping mail and groceries with Clorox wipes, and grocery shopping during senior hours. My beloved yellow Labrador got sick and passed away. The stress of the virus affected the family in different ways. A severe gastrointestinal bug attacked my son. My father-in-law refused to stay at home, and my husband graphed every virus statistic he could find. Clearly my head was in many different places, but not on writing. I am working on a novel set at Fort Snelling, which is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, and deals with the blend of white settlers, Native Americans, and Black slaves in the area in 1835. Its first title was Confluences, referring to a meeting of rivers as well as a meeting of cultures, but it’s a terrible title. Despite all the distractions, I managed to finish the first three chapters of my new novel. Only three chapters when I’d planned to be so much further. I was frustrated and disappointed, but reminded myself that many writers were finding it difficult to concentrate at all on writing.
Over the next few months, I completed puzzles, a diamond painting, and lots of reading. I made a sourdough starter and baked bread. I learned how to use Instacart and Zoom, and I taught myself how to bead a bracelet. We walked the dog every day. Publication day for The Aloha Spirit was August 18, and promotional marketing began in earnest. My WIP, now retitled Finding Motherland, was not a priority in my life, and kept getting set aside for other things. Even so, I managed to eke out a few more sketchy chapters.
Even the best laid plans fail, and my assumption that I’d be able to get more writing done under quarantine proved false. The summer was filled with pre-publish book promo, super hot days, and near evacuation due to wildfires. Add to that the stress of surging COVID, and all I wanted to do was escape into reading a book. Even so, I did manage to finish some chapters. Every morning, I have two hours of alone time because I’m a morning person. I redoubled my efforts to lock in this time for writing, and finally finished the first draft of The Last of All Mothers’ Tears (title getting better?) in October.
All fall I was kept busy with promoting my new release of The Aloha Spirit. I have new appreciation for authors who are able to release books one after the other. It requires a lot of energy to market one while writing the next. Into the winter, a socially distanced holiday season dominated my focus, but I was able to complete one rewrite by the end of the year–enough to know the book, at this point called Along Mother River, needed a lot more work.
So as the plants in my yard begin to bud out with the promise of a better spring, I am deep into rewriting and polishing my nameless work. Current title consideration: Blood of Mother Earth (referring to the river). Looking back over my year of writing in quarantine, I know I spent a lot of time on activities that filled the time and didn’t require much thought. My creative urges exploded in a variety of new ways that kept me busy. Those first plans of dedicating full time to writing proved unworkable, but I am proud that I was able to write productively. Besides the novel, I wrote blog posts, interview responses, and book reviews. My goal now is to finish the rewrite of The Book Who Shall Not Be Named by the time I get my COVID vaccination. I’d better get on it…
Linda Ulleseit believes in the unspoken power of women living ordinary lives. Her novels are the stories of women in her family who were extraordinary but unsung.