Soaring and Sinking in the Pandemic

Has it been easier or more difficult for very creative people to cope with the forced isolation brought on by the pandemic? I asked several Twisted Road authors about their experiences of writing during COVID. The response below is from Elizabeth McCulloch, author of Dreaming The Marsh.

I have an easy life, even during the terrible thirteen-months-and-counting of the pandemic. I don’t live alone, but with my husband and granddaughter, and we get along well. I have a garden, a swimming pool, the writing work I love, and no money worries. I don’t have a job that demands I spend most of my time virtually, nor small children whom I must help with virtual school. The only direct impacts I’ve suffered from Covid 19 are a minor one, being unable to dine out, and a major one, missing the annual gathering of family in Maine.

Even so, adjusting to the new world, with my own small troubles and the daily news of horrors, took some time. WHO declared a pandemic early in March. In my diary from March 2020, I see how the virus filled my thoughts.

March 16: I sat down outside with my book printed out with a wide left margin for revision, and many notes as to the direction I want to go. But Covid 19 overtook my mind. Over and over: deaths are high among those over 60 and those with an underlying medical condition. That’s me.

Like my mind, my life is cluttered, and my diaries are sprinkled with lists, as well as writing ideas, drafts of essays, and notes from encounters with businesses and bureaucracies. I found a list from that first week, a mixture of immediate tasks and more general pursuits to keep me contented though shut in at home: Sort recipes, Garden, Call plumber, Crochet, Tidy deck, Order backpack and underpants, Find Kindle, Find shoe, Minestrone

After a few weeks of floundering, I found a certain tranquility within my boundaried world. I couldn’t travel or run around with friends. Mostly confined to my house, I almost achieved the productivity of a writers’ retreat. I had submitted my third novel, Seeing the Edge, to Twisted Road in January, and Joan Leggett had recently suggested substantial revisions.

Here is a cheerful email I sent to Joan in spring 2020:
We are all three doing ok. A’s idea of bliss is never leaving the house (though even she is getting bored). Joe is Zoom teaching and meeting – pretty comical, as he sits with his laptop out on the deck wearing a blazer, oxford shirt and tie above, and a blue bathing suit with huge red lobsters below.

And I am beginning the day with writing, no miserable newspaper for me, followed usually by a walk in our wetlands reserve, where huge male gators are bellowing, 23 babies were crawling just outside a nest, and birds birds birds greet the day. I block the internet most of the day, and only look at the Times in late afternoon. I’VE MASTERED PIECRUST!! and thus far have made an apple pie, pecan pie, chicken pot pie, and Argentine empanadas. I won’t get fat, since the two family gluttons dispatch them within 24 hours.

But my big news is the revisions are coming along very well. I have it pretty much figured out and have written two and a half chapters. As usual, I am stimulated and embarrassed writing sex scenes, though I am anything but graphic. And I assure you it’s not 2 1/2 chapters of erotica!

Well into the summer I worked and achieved with desperate energy, but then it flagged. After that, manic periods alternated with gloom. I grieved the loss of three friends. Writing was like slogging through mud. My couch cushion and I both developed depressions. I drifted from chore to chore, gazed into space, read too little, watched Netflix too much. Still, during the good times, the writing flourished.

I published three personal essays and a book review on my website. I sent a query to an agent for novel #2, which Twisted Road doesn’t want. I wrote seven chapters of novel #4, an apparently endless saga of a 20th century marriage. I developed a tentative plan for poetry, stories and essays left in my charge by a friend who died shortly before the pandemic. And I revised and resubmitted Seeing the Edge three times. These were not minor tweaks, but a response to such Joan comments as We have to see your character’s dark side. The two major characters should have an effect on each other. It lacks a narrative arc. I (almost) always follow Joan’s guidance, because she knows what’s what; I knew nothing about narrative arcs.

The peaks and valleys continue. I’ve given up pie crust but taken up high protein bread. My garden is greening and blooming. And the two highest peaks: my granddaughter has been accepted at a college that looks like a perfect fit, and Seeing the Edge has been accepted by Twisted Road; it will be published in Spring 2022.

To learn more about Elizabeth McCulloch, click here.
To buy her book, click here: