The Low Down, Brain Sucking, Pandemic Blues

pandemic blues

Somewhere on this planet sits a writer oblivious to everything around her.

This oblivious writer is totally focused on her book or story, eating whatever she can find in the pantry and drinking coffee by the gallon. She’s on a roll, so immersed in her story that she hasn’t seen a newspaper or turned on television news in weeks, maybe even months.

This writer knows–vaguely–that there’s a lethal virus making the rounds. She knows because she didn’t have to cancel water aerobics or yoga classes for the duration of her novel, because some mysterious and helpful stranger did that for her.

She knows there’s a virus because her neighbors are no longer stopping by to chat–isn’t she lucky?–and when she does happen to look outside, she notices some of them are wearing masks as they go about their business.

She knows something’s up, but whatever it is isn’t up in her novel. And for her, that’s where she’s living and breathing.

SHE is not most of us.

Each of us knows how the pandemic has affected us as individuals and families. The future will be different for people who used to get dressed and drive to work five days a week. Jobs are gone or permanently altered. From now on, some jobs will always be done from home.

But for writers and other people in creative professions, people who have often worked from home anyway, things should feel much the same.

Only I’m here to tell you that they don’t.

Stress and writing.

Years ago I did a talk at the national Romance Writers of America conference on stress. I remembered very little about it, except that I was over-prepared and the writer I shared the podium with appeared with a few notes and spoke beautifully off the top of her head. I was stressed, she was not. So much for being the expert.

Looking back at that talk, I realize how little of what I said has to do with what we’re going through now. One of my best pieces of advice? Surround yourself with people who are stress breakers, not stress makers. Well, in an age when we aren’t surrounding ourselves with anybody, that’s not much help.

While I was digging out that talk for advice, I found another old talk: Writing When Things Go Wrong.

That seemed more appropriate. So I re-read it. I’ll capsulize it for you. There are two kinds of crises we live through. The first is the normal stress of our everyday life. The overflowing washing machine kind of crisis. The second is the kind that wrenches our gut and makes us wonder who’s upstairs pulling our strings?

Now I was on to something. Pandemic: Second kind of crisis.

In the middle of that talk I re-titled it.

Reading that talk just now I saw that it went from Writing When Things Go Wrong to Writing or Not Writing When Things Go Wrong. The message? There’s nothing particularly virtuous or courageous about forcing yourself to write a novel when the world is falling down around you. And the final insight? There are two kinds of writers: those who are energized by writing and those who are depleted.

I think we know which kind of writer is not writing much or at all these days.

In a world where every day is fraught with difficult decisions, where much of what feeds our creativity has disappeared, where everything else seems much more important than what a couple of people are doing on the pages you hoped would become a book? Writers who under normal circumstances find writing depleting, find it impossible now. And while many of them feel guilty that they can’t put words together anymore, the guilt doesn’t spur them forward.

Oddly, though, I’m hearing from writer friends who are normally energized by writing, but who are having trouble making their way to their home offices these days. Personally I find that this is an excellent time to edit old books and to find the best new covers for them. An even though I’m someone who’s always been energized by writing, I find creating is depleting now.

You may have noticed that recently I skipped a few weeks of blogging, after years of making sure I had a new blog online every Wednesday or Thursday. Yep, depleted. What on earth do I have to say about anything right now? And my newsletter? I’ll get back to it, I’m sure. But again? What insights do I have that I can share?

So what does this mean for you, the reader? 

First, publishing is ongoing, despite editors and staff working at home. Nothing is happening quite as fast as it once did, but it’s happening. So there will be books.

Will your favorite author be writing them?

I can’t speak for anyone else. I can’t speak for the future of this planet. But having thought and spoken about stress and writing for decades, I’ll hazard a guess. I think that  like everyone else, writers are adjusting to this new normal. And when the adjustment is largely made, when our living and working situations settle down a little, we’ll find new ways to create.

Will the pandemic show up in our fiction in the future?

That’s a topic for another blog. And once I’m energized enough to write it, I’ll share that with you, too.

For now, I–and I suspect you–am grateful for all the books that have been written over the centuries. If novelists are taking a break right now, there’s still plenty to read. Let’s take a deep breath together and do just that.





  1. Shelley Costa on July 29, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    Terrific, Emilie. Thanks!

  2. Nancy C Lepri on July 29, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    I hope and pray this virus will not stop authors from writing. I’d be lost without books. The stuff they’re showing on TV does not interest me at all, and I look forward to reading, and can’t wait till your next release!

    • Judy M Zell on July 29, 2020 at 1:01 pm

      Nancy, I agree with you!

  3. Judy M Zell on July 29, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Very interesting and insightful. I had just been speculating about what kind of books would appear next year that are written during and/or about this pandemic. A friend had sent me an e-mail about free e-books that included “Writers in Lockdown,” a collection of short stories in various genres written by several authors.

  4. Adelyn Grudier on July 29, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    One must ask, How can what is happening to our world right now not affect us. I find myself almost glad that my days on this earth are dwindling down. Let’s face it, I’m old, I have a vast accumulation of trite trivia and I really don’t want to see what the world is becoming. Am I feeling depressed? I guess I am because this lack of civility, thuggyness and just plain meanness could get me down. I chose to avoid much of what is happening and just tell myself that at my age there is little I can do about it because in so many ways my generation probably caused a lot of what is happening today. When we chose not to dine together as a family, not to pray together as a family, we lost a lot of what was good in the world. While I didn’t give my kids Kool-Aid I did let them consume a lot of Hi-C and we learned that so much of it was red dye. Red dye can’t be good for anyone.

Leave a Comment