Friday, June 26, 2020

COMING OF AGE IN THE TIME OF COVID

by Chris Goff

I celebrated a birthday a few weeks back, one that marks retirement for many people. But not a writer. Right?

That's something I am. I have four training books on the shelf and eight books published novels  I've had some success, garnered some critical acclaim, won a few awards. I have yet to hit the New York Times list, but there's time.

With Covid and quarantine, we've had nothing but time. My husband is now working from home, so we have a routine. After coffee, we both head to our separate offices, then convene for lunch and dinner, and our daily walk at the end of the day. Outings have consisted of trips to the grocery store to let someone put bags in the trunk―bags that occasionally contain the items we ordered, but more often a list of what couldn't be filled.

Yet, with all that time...

I've got nothing. 

In three months of quarantine, I've written and rewritten a few chapters of a few new books. I've thought the stories through. I know where they start. I know approximately where they end. I've thought up some great plot twists, developed some interesting characters, been intrigued by some complicated, timely and interesting story ideas. And yet nothing's panned out.

I sit down at the computer, fill some pages, then slow to a grinding halt. I soon find myself rewriting a few paragraphs over and over. I spend hours crafting one or two sentences, which I eventually abandon.

I've done great work.

For other people!

For ITW, I put in hours and hours judging manuscripts in the Best Paperback Original category.

For the Colorado Book Awards, I spent hours and hours producing events and building interest in Finalist books (I got paid for this).

For SinC and MWA, I dedicated massive amounts of volunteer hours, produced webinars and videos, hosted Zoom sessions.

For Rogue Women Writers, I helped launch Rogue Reads.

I'm finding it hard to sleep.

I started soul searching.

Growing up an only child, I figured quarantine would be a piece of cake. After all, I know how to entertain myself. I have never lacked for solitary endeavors. I love to read. I love to knit (mostly baby sweaters or crazy scarfs—projects easily completed). I love making things—sewing projects, needlepoint, sculptures, cribbage boards, paintings. I do not lack for arts and crafts projects. And I have home projects out the wazoo—filling in ancestry charts, organizing photos, sifting through the massive collection of stuff you gather in 38 years of marriage.

At a time when there is nothing but time, I'm finding it hard to concentrate.

I'm making lists.

To be honest, I've always made lists. They help me prioritize, and keep me on task. I put writing at the top and then watched it slip slowly down in importance, usurped by things like FAMILY, UNFINISHED BUSINESS (work or volunteer commitments or taxes), UNFINISHED PROJECTS.

The funny thing is, the items seem to circulate. WRITING moves back to the top, followed by PROJECTS, followed by....

I'm finding things aren't getting done.

I'm giving myself permission.

I've decided that it's okay. If I don't write for a few months, I'll write again. If the projects sit uncompleted, they will be there when I want to tackle them again.

18 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a life-changing moment. There were surgeries, missed deadlines, lost contracts, new contracts. I swore at the time my outlook on living would be different going forward, and for a time it was. I relished being alive, cherishing the days. But like most people who experience the "wake up call" heart attack, the diagnosis of a chronic illness, the loss of a loved one, time has a way of putting those moments into perspective. It might take years, but most of us slip back into complacency.

That happened to me. I began to fall back into comfortable patterns, and before I knew it, I was back on the treadmill—over-committed, over-extended and wishing I had room to focus on things that matter the most, like family and friends and breathing.

I'm giving myself time.

Part of this changing world is taking the time to reevaluate and reassess. To ask the BIG questions. What is it I want to do with the time I have left? What is it I'm on this earth do do? Where can I make a difference? What brings me joy?

COVID-19 is here to stay for a while. I've heard projections that say things won't get back to "normal" for between two and eight years. Timelines like that mean there will be a new normal. For instance, can you ever imagine blowing out the candles on a birthday cake again, and then sharing pieces of that cake with your family and friends.

I'm taking baby steps.

WRITING has recently topped the list again. I have three very different ideas. One for a Birdwatcher's Mystery novel; one for a domestic thriller set in western Colorado; and one for an international thriller that takes place in the United States. One is lighthearted and fun; one is marketable; one is difficult, complicated and would be a hard sell. Guess which one I'm leaning toward?

And, to give myself a jump start, I've signed up for an ITW Master Class. My instructor, William Bernhardt, founder of the Red Sneaker Writers Center, just touched base, and I felt a flutter of excitement. I've taught Master Class, but right now I'm in need of a teacher. Like I said, baby steps.

How is this pandemic treating you? Are you struggling, or are you more productive than ever? Are you lonely, or spending too much time Zooming with friends and wishing for some quiet time? 

3 comments:

  1. I’m so glad to know it isn’t just me feeling unable to concentrate—and unablle to understand why, since my life has not really changed that much.. I never stopped going to work, since at the police department I’m considered ‘essential.’ Yes, my husband has been out of work for two months, but we’re not broke yet and since he worked largely from home anyway that doesn’t feel that different to me. Yet I find myself reflecting on new respect for people who lived through world wars or maybe the sixties, because I have never seen the country as freaked out as it is now. I started a new book but I’m floundering; please tell me that’s due to COVID and not because the plot isn’t, ultimately, going to work.

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  2. When I read the list of activities that you HAVE accomplished during this Covid sequester, Chris, I am in awe of all you have done, especially FOR OTHERS: for the Colorado Book Awards, SinC, MWA and, thankfully, for all of us Rogues and our followers. You are amazing. Besides, you are a great writer, so I can't wait to see what book you decide to write next. I'm betting on the Bird Watcher Mystery - after all, in times like this - something "fun" is to be welcomed. As for me, since mid-March, I finished one (more "light-hearted) novel and 3/4 of the next one. Among other things, writing keeps us all sane -- right? Thanks for a great post.

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  3. Wow, Chris, what an amazing life you've had, all the ups and downs in your lives (writerly & personal). No wonder you bring such richness and insights to your work. I can't wait to read your new novels, because I know there are many to come!

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