WHAT I DID DURING MY PANDEMIC PAUSE
The world as we know it (mostly) went on pause in Mid-March. In subsequent weeks and months I read about other people’s pandemic projects, and I even tried my hand at a few.
Like millions of other Americans, I tried baking bread. I shopped at six different stores before finding one measly box of Fleishman’s Yeast. I tried baguettes. Failed. Tried no-knead sourdough—three different recipes—before achieving something that was mildly edible. I did manage to make a pretty respectable hamburger bun, to my own amazement.
I sewed. Finishing up the newly-built carriage house over our garage, I decided to test my decidedly rusty junior high home-ec skills. I ordered four panels of unlined Ikea linen panels, and somehow figured out how to seam them together into two wider panels. Take THAT, Evelyn Anderson! Honesty compels me to admit that I took them to a neighborhood seamstress to hem them to the proper length. Because I earned a big fat F in hemming from Mrs. Anderson back at Bay Point Junior High.
And we gardened. Mr. MKA ordered a grow-light from an online company and I ordered seeds. He set up what our son teasingly called a “grow operation” in the garage and grew zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber and four different varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings before setting them in the raised garden beds in mid-spring. We planted flowers too, a dozen varieties of zinnias, half a dozen kinds of sunflowers, cosmos and black-eyed susans.
I had extra time and energy because the six-week twenty-city tour planned by my publisher for my newest book, HELLO, SUMMER, was abruptly cancelled once we began to understand the perilous spread of Covid-19. For the first six weeks of the lockdown, like almost everyone I knew, I stressed and worried. And baked. And I ate carbs like it was my job.
In early April, I got on a Zoom conference call with four other writer pals. You know them, I think. We created FRIENDS & FICTION. But in between Zooms, with each of us facing deadlines for next summer’s novels, we also complained and commiserated about how hard it was to write during such an uncertain, bleak time.
One of us (me, maybe?) suggested that what we needed was accountability. We agreed to start writing at 7 a.m. every morning, timed free-writing known as “sprints.” And every day, we agreed we would set goals to give as an extra incentive. My own goal, most days, was 2,000 words. Sometimes I made goal, often times I didn’t. But every day, no matter what, I showed up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And I wrote.
A week passed, then a month, and I was determined not to break my sprint streak. Two months, then three months passed. Slowly, the words started to accumulate and my plot began to gel. I picked up momentum, and the story took twists and turns I’d never anticipated.
I’ve been writing fiction for three decades now, and next summer’s book, THE NEWCOMER, is my 28th full-length novel. Last year, I finished HELLO, SUMMER on Christmas Eve, a full two months after its official due date.
On Monday, Labor Day, to my utter amazement (and my agent’s shock and awe) I typed the sweetest words in any writer’s vocabulary. THE END. A full six weeks ahead of schedule.
Of course, this is only a first, very rough draft. My editor and agent will have their opinions, and rewrites will happen. But after exactly 100 straight days of daily writing sprints, I turned in a book. Best. Pandemic Project. Ever.