Sunday, 22 March 2020

Writing in the Time of CORVID-19

After all, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza were just two characters in Garcia Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera. You, fellow writer, on the other hand, are the only character in your own life’s novel. And you’re coming back to port now.
In times of self-isolation it is necessary, fundamental even, to free up our imagination. While four walls present challenges of a physical nature, the blank page in front of us is the window we can escape through.
Write. Write until you fill up that blank page. Write until your fingers hurt. Write until your eyes are red and you doze off to the point where you begin to question the reality (or lack thereof) of your own thoughts.
And when that page is filled up, and the next one, and the one after that one, pause. Because you will be tempted to submit your work there and then. I’ve had that urge myself. Pause, though. Remember, the world out there is still COVID-19-infected and that bastard, sadly, ain’t going nowhere soon!
Allow a few days to pass. Then, go back to your manuscript with a fresh mind, open eyes and a sharp pair of scissors. Revisit, revise and snip. Now, like any self-respecting cook, let the new mix sit quietly for a few more days. Busy yourself doing something else. If your neck of the woods is in lockdown, listen to a podcast (may I shamelessly plug my own one, Marathon Man, on East London Radio?) or, in the UK, catch up with anything BBC iPlayer might have on offer.
The logic behind waiting is that we’re not geniuses. Painful as it might be to admit, we, authors, can be self-conceited sometimes. We finish that draft and we think we’ve just written the next Great American Novel, or in my case, living in the UK and writing chiefly non-fiction, the next Down and Out in Paris and London. No, we haven’t. We haven’t even proof-read properly.
There’re only so many typos and grammatical howlers an editor is willing to put up with. Think of the poor souls, trudging through manuscript after manuscript, and instead of enjoying the ride, taking out a red pen to circle easily avoidable baby blunders.
At the same time, when revising, set yourself a time limit. After all, you do want to submit that manuscript eventually. Going over your draft ad infinitum will not help and it might knock your confidence. The key is in striking a balance.
What happens, then, if your piece is accepted? Even better, if it’s accepted and you’re paid for it? The trap to fall into easily here is to think that all your future work will be equally accepted.
No. You just got lucky.
The reality of writing and getting published is that we will be rejected more often than not. It is not that what we write sucks (although that might also be the case), but that the timing is wrong, or we pitched our manuscript to the wrong publication or publisher.
Don’t chuck. Recycle.
In the same way we want a greener planet, we also want a less-polluted literary world. That means, fine-tuning our work whilst maintaining our individual author’s voice. That draft that just got rejected because it didn’t meet the guidelines, yet you loved so much? That draft is a good one, but it hasn’t found its right home yet.
Writing and reading are the key components of literature. Literature is art. And art is subjective. Therefore both writing and reading are subjective. What for one publisher might be the next White Teeth might, for a different person, be the much sought-after loo roll missing from supermarket aisles up and down Britain now (just a tongue-in-cheek, Coronavirus-related joke). My point, though, is that if you believe in your own work, and you think it has merit, stick to it, tweak it a bit and submit it again, to different publications this time.
I shall be back to write about the next steps: how to pitch, when to pitch, to whom to pitch and how to keep track of what you pitch.
Happy (self-isolation) writing!
© 2020


  1. I don't know how people summon the fortitude to edit manuscripts. I might edit and re-edit a short blog post and still find errors after I post it.

  2. Happy writing and editing to you as well!

  3. Hi ACIL - your thoughts will be so helpful to many at this time, and so informative to people like me who are interested. My aim is to read and to write up all the blog posts that are outstanding ... thanks for this - all the best to you and yours during this outbreak - Hilary

  4. Thanks for the inspiration, Cuban! I hope you're well and that you and your family stay well! It's wonderful to see you on here, again. Keep coming back.

  5. A very, happy, productive time to you. Today and always.

  6. A fellow who went by the name Ecclesiastes once said men go and come, but Earth abides, and something about nothing new under the sun. I sort of came to a point of realization he was right and decided to more-or-less coast along as the only character in the novel of my own life. My recommendation for reading would be George R. Stewart's 1949 novel, "Earth Abides."

    Beyond that, the advice you offer is excellent and beneficial, CiL. No matter what goals an individual pursues, having faith in oneself is paramount in achieving them and there is nothing like practice/practice/practice to hone one's skills and to improve one's talents.

    To modify David Coverdale's admonition: "Be safe, be happy and don't let anybody (or anything) make you afraid."

  7. Excellent and inspiring advice. While I'm not a writer in the true sense of the word, I've been thinking I need to pull out my old journal. It's been awhile since I put pen to paper.

    In reference to the comment above, I read that George R. Stewart novel a few months ago. Along the same line, I could recommend "The Brief History of the Dead" by Kevin Brockmeier.

  8. Hope this time is productive for you!

  9. Being quarantined is like an enforced vacation, so we might as well make the most of it! Writing is an excellent way to spend some of that time. I always expected that there'd be another pandemic, but I never imagined people all over the world stockpiling toilet paper as a response. People are funny, eh? Hunker down, and take care, Mario.

  10. "we also want a less-polluted literary world". Good one.

  11. At least we get productive like that - though hopefully not for too long...

  12. First.Iam so happy to see you here again.It is a wonderful post and something to think about.I am glad you did it.Wish all good to you and Your creative writing.Hope you will stay tune With us and looking forward to Your NeXT post

  13. Good advice. While I have published a lot of articles, I find that I generally do 7-9 edits of each. Blog posts, not so much! Hang in there--the good news where I live is that I can wear shorts and ride my bike to my office without connecting anyone--and since we all have "private offices" we work and only consult from the doorways. But riding the bike is a nice part, for I am not allowed to make visits to hospitals, shut-ins, etc. Hang in there. Oh, and there's also reading!

  14. and what a better time to start that new novel! (whether able to finish it is another story). :)
    enjoyed your excellent post.

  15. You are such a fluent writer. This post is both inspiring and soothing.
    Stay safe and healthy!

  16. Excellent advice for difficult times (and all times really)

  17. I go out a lot, but into the woods, not the city :)

  18. Great advice here, CiL...and I understand exactly what you mean. I have lost count of the rejection slips I have collected over the years!
    I still keep writing though. Because I love to write. I no longer attempt to publish my work, just write what I write for pleasure - and if someone likes my work, then that is a huge added bonus!😊😊
    Thank you for a great and inspiring post... I'm sure you will have many people writing now!!

    Have a good day...and be safe!

    Greetings from Hampshire!

  19. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Let's all be more active in painting as well as editing old articles that are not good enough to see.

    Let's pray that this global epidemic ends soon.

    Greetings from Indonesia



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