The last month has been an odd one for me. I'm not sure it's writer's block, at least not in the traditional sense, as I've still been writing, but the problem is making progress.

Like, I suspect, a lot of writers, when lockdown first started, I thought it would be a boon to productivity - after all, I'm no longer spending an hour or more commuting, time which could be better spent writing. I quickly discovered the opposite - I was writing more slowly.

I put a large part of this down to screen fatigue - now I'm working from home, I spend most of the day either staring at a screen or delivering training virtually, using Teams as a platform. By the end of the day, I've been finding the thought of staring at a screen for another couple of hours less than thrilling. Some evenings, I've not bothered at all and resorted to pen and paper. I now have quite a lot of potential material for future stories (assuming I can decipher my own handwriting) and have ideas for another couple of books.

But I've still been productive - I've launched a book this year, sold a couple of short stories, written quite a few more, finished editing my next novel and finished writing the one after that. The love of writing is still there, but I'm now struggling with new work. It's not a lack of ideas - I've got what I think are a couple of good ideas for books, one a YA novel and the other a gritty crime thriller set locally (Edinburgh, Scotland). I've got several key scenes noted down (which is about as much planning as I ever do - I'm a dyed-in-the-wool pantser) but I'm struggling to make headway with either of them.

I've written the beginning of the crime novel four or five times now, each time getting to around 5000 words before getting stopped and deciding to start again. I decided to leave it to one side for a little while, hoping my sub-conscious would get to work on it, and tackle the YA novel instead. Had even more material sketched out for this (the original idea was a short story I wrote a year or so back, but it kept tapping me on the shoulder demanding to be expanded) but I hit exactly the same problem - write so much, then start again, tackling it from a different angle.

Frustrating, to say the least.

It finally struck me just the other day. This is how Covid has affected my writing. I don't know how best to tackle it. I'm fortunate in that I only know a couple of people who've had it (one mild case, one more serious long-term case) and none of them are close relatives. Do I write without making any reference to it? Seems like that would do a great disservice to all those who have been affected by it. Do I only make a passing reference, and set my books in the near future, when (hopefully) things are more or less back to normal? But if so, how much do I mention, and what adjustments do I need to consider? In the case of the YA novel, which is set around fifty years in the future, I'm wondering how best to reference it.

The good news is I've started to make some progress. I've settled on setting the crime novel a year or so ahead of now and I'm relying on small references, mainly in dialogue, to give the text what feels like a suitably authentic setting. I've not written a huge amount yet (around 3k words) but instead of feeling like I have to force each word out, they're coming with relative ease. Even better, I can see the shape of the story unfolding before me, and I'm feeling an urgency to write that's been absent for the past few months. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to maintain that momentum.



Yes - I've also wrestled with the problem of whether to mention Covid or not. When it all started I had almost finished a mystery novel, so I pressed on with it, although it seemed wrong to have people gathering in groups withput a thought, not wearing masks etc. I found that so difficult that I decided to set the next one in the series during the time when things relaxed a bit between the first and second waves, so people were trying to be careful and mostly wearing masks, and there were still some older people trying to shield but it seemed to me that some of the sheer terror of the beginning had dissipated.
Most of my readers seem to have accepted this approach but I have now noticed a couple of adverse reviews so it certainly was a bit of a risk. At the moment I've gone back to my historical series instead, to give myself a rest! I think your idea of skipping 2020 might be the best option!
Umberto Tosi said…
I know too well the territory you describe. Your candor is consoling - and encouraging. We'll get over this... Remember, you can't have writer's block unless you're a writer. as Harvard neuraolgist Alice W. Glaherety noted ironically in her 2005 best-seller about creativity. Writer's block is usually followed by writer's surges, these being two sides of the same coin.
Neil McGowan said…
Thanks, Cecilia, it's been cathartic to actually write this and externalise the thoughts. Being closely involved with the whole thing hasn't helped, as I've been working with nurses and doctors on a daily basis around Covid - been working on the vaccination clinics today, for example - and have developed an acute awareness of it as a result. I thought at the beginning it would be interesting to write about; now, I'm not so sure.
Umberto - many thanks for the encouraging words, so true and yet I'd never thought of it like that. I'm hoping I'm coming out the other side of it now as I've got that urge to write again tonight even after a rubbish day at work)
This year's restrictions have definitely affected my creativity, partly because it's difficult to create anything worthwhile when you cannot fill the well, i.e. get out of the house and experience new things, meet other authors, travel, or simply sit with a coffee and observe life passing from a cafe window, etc. So many small things I used to draw inspiration from without even realising have been snatched away, replaced by the horror of people in masks, doom-laden statistics, half-truths and constant uncertainty.

I was ill with covid in March, but recovered ok on my own at home during lockdown. The months since then have definitely been worse than the disease. It's the political and social response I find fascinating as an author... a real-life 'Hunger Games'! After the twin towers came down, I wrote "I am the Great Horse" about Alexander the Great in response. Wonder what will come out of this...?

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