Writing a Novel During a Pandemic
On Leap Year weekend this past February, I had no way to predict that it would be my last time to hang out face-to-face with my family for a long while. We were all in Baton Rouge, celebrating my nephew’s wedding. Stephen’s last name—Knight—set the tone for the evening with an “Oh, What a Knight” theme, based on the 1975 Four Seasons hit, “December 1963/Oh, What a Night.” And indeed, it was a fantastic night (aka/Knight).
I mean, how does one plan an outdoor wedding and pull it off without a hitch? Stephen and Paige did just that. The weather was gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky, and an acoustic guitar player set a natural mood for the breezy ceremony. We ate Louisiana cuisine—yum!—and danced all night (aka/Knight) to the Groove Factor Band. [By the way, hire them if you are planning a wedding or event… they’re amazing!]
It was a beautiful weekend, watching this young couple start their lives and future together. We all hugged and said our goodbyes, and my husband and I returned to Houston. Within the next few days and weeks, news of the coronavirus pandemic began ramping up. Sure, I had heard way back in January that it was declared a global health emergency, but I was still feeling safely insulated in Texas. In mid-February, for instance, the virus was given a name, Covid-19, but I wasn’t worried yet. Ignorance is bliss, as the poet Thomas Gray wrote.
By the end of March, however, stock markets had plunged, U.S. schools and businesses shuttered their doors, and stay-home directives were in place. New terminology like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” and “relief bill” and “Zoom meetings” and “are you essential?” would become the norm. But back on that gorgeous Southern evening of February 29th, the Grahams and Knights and other wedding friends were leap-year dancing. Mask-free, glove-free… FREE. Before all the international debates began—should we close down, should we not, and what the heck is Sweden doing???—we were dancing our hearts out. Oh, what a night (aka/Knight).
I came home from the wedding with a renewed dream and goal: finish my novel. It’s a middle-grade story that I got the inkling of an idea for in early 2018, or maybe even sooner. The details percolated in my brain for months, until I finally put pen to paper towards the end of the year… well, fingers to keyboard. Middle Grade (not to be mistaken with middle schoolers) is the name of a children’s literature genre for kids ages 8-12. Some people loosely call them chapter books, but that’s actually the name of yet another genre. Not confusing at all, right? HA!
My MG novel’s working title includes the word “Night”—which is kind of coincidentally cool, considering the awesome night theme I’ve got going here (aka/Knight). I’m not ready to publicly reveal the premise or theme of the story just yet, but I’m very excited about it. I wrote about a third of the novel during those early months, but then life got in the way, causing me to set it aside for way too long. I attended a fantastic small-group writer’s conference in September 2019, called Better Books, set at the beautiful EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma California. There, I received critical feedback on my very-rough draft from professional agents and fellow writers, and I flew back to Houston with a fervor to finish my novel. I knew I needed accountability, so, through a company called Author Accelerator, I hired a writing coach to help guide my plot and scenes and to push me on my deadlines. Thank you, Jen Braaskma for being the best writing coach I could ever hope for; and thank you, Jennie Nash, for having the vision to create Author Accelerator. You are both amazing.
When people were asked to self-isolate for the greater good, I decided to make my time at home count. I set up a makeshift office in my dining room—the one spot where I can best see people walking and biking along my beautiful tree-lined street. And I started writing. Writing. Writing. Writing. For me, it’s an urge I can’t escape… a muse who never leaves me… an inexhaustible source of magic. (Not to sound dramatic, lol!) And so, there I found myself, every day, at my laptop writing during a pandemic.
Fingers crossed, I should finish this manuscript in June. Then, I’ll show it to my critique partners and beta readers… as well as to my hubby, best friends and close family (simply because I enjoy hearing their biased praise about how awesome I am—they love me far too much to be purely objective). After that, I’ll likely send it off to a particular editor who, at that conference in Petaluma, asked to see it upon completion. [Dream Big!]
Like so many, I haven’t hugged my parents in well over two months, preferring instead to visit in front-yard chairs spaced six feet apart. I haven’t had a haircut, haven’t eaten with friends at a restaurant, and haven’t bought groceries without a healthy dollop of hand-sanitizer at the ready. And like you, I’ve worried ad nauseam about the millions of Americans who filed for unemployment, about bankrupted businesses, about all the children, about our leaders, about our front-line healthcare professionals, and about the death toll. I’ve struggled with a daily mental ping-pong tournament as to what I personally believe to be the right course of action.
But despite everything, I feel accomplished. I’ll have something to show for this emotionally heavy period in history… the time in my life that the world shut down.
The words to that happy, vibrant song keep echoing in my mind and heart:
Oh, what a night
Why’d it take so long to see the light?
Seemed so wrong, but now it seems so right
… Sweet surrender, what a night (aka/Knight).