I noticed there was an article in The Guardian the other day about the difficulties of writing during the pandemic – here’s the link in case anyone is interested (it focusses mostly on writers failing to find anything to be inspired by during lockdown, but there is a mention of a problem I had about whether to incorporate the pandemic or not, towards the end): https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/feb/19/writers-blockdown-after-a-year-inside-novelists-are-struggling-to-write
I must admit to giving a hollow laugh, or maybe two, while reading this as I seem to have been writing more than ever, and sure enough, when I actually paused to count up how many things I’ve written since last March I realised that I’m on the point of completing my 7th book since then. Admittedly the first two were not entirely written during the pandemic, and in fact that caused me a bit of trouble as the first one was Pitkirtly 20, which started with a wedding and involved several other situations where people merrily clustered together and got on buses etc just as they would usually do, but I had to write at least half of it at the time when we were just starting not to be able to do any of these things.
The next two were historical novels which turned out to be very much easier because I didn’t have to justify to myself either mentioning the pandemic or not mentioning it. Then there was Pitkritly 21, ‘Unsafe DIstances’, and I had to decide which way to go. After quite a lot of thought, I decided the only way I could cope with it as a writer was to set it during the situation as it was at the time, which was during a lull in the lockdown when we could meet in each other’s gardens and go to the Zoo together with masks on, or at least that was what we did in our family as we live near enough the Zoo to hear animal noises from it occasionally. My feeling was that I wouldn’t be able to write a ‘normal’ Pitkirtly novel, if there is indeed such a thing, until the world outside my head got back to something resembling normal, and I didn’t want to leave what would have been over a year between books in the series.
I had decided to retire from my day job in early October, and my plan was to spend more of my time writing. It hasn’t worked out quite like that – I haven’t been writing any faster or spending any longer immersed in Word files, but I feel that is probably of some benefit. What I’ve found is that I can work things out more easily now that I don’t have work to distract me, and can spend longer thinking things through. This was of course of some use when I wrote up my family history research (‘A Very Scottish Family’ – in case anyone is interested, this is published under my ‘other’ name, Sheila McCallum Perry – watch out for a free weekend on Amazon soon), the 5th project of the year, but it was when I started on my 6th main pandemic project, the story that turned into ‘Life and Death in the Woods’, that I really saw the benefit of pausing for thought. This one was based on something I had written a while ago, but much of it had to be completely rewritten and large chunks deleted, which always goes against the grain with me as I tend to write quite concisely in the first place. (I have saved some of the deleted sections for recycling later – waste not, want not)
At the moment I’ve almost completed the historical novel I started during National Novel Writing Month last November, which had been left to marinate. When I read it through, I found quite unexpectedly that it was one of these rare novels without any major plot tangles, and the only part that needed a bit of rewriting was the ending. I only have a couple of things left to sort out now so it should be published before too long under the title ‘The Heiress is Not At Home’.
I did consider whether to make myself write a short story every month for a year so that I would always have something to do in between larger projects, but instead my mind has wandered off, as often happens, to three other novel ideas! More on that later once I have tossed a coin or something to decide which will jostle its way to the front of the queue.