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Writers in an Era of Social Distancing

The social-distancing requirements prompted by the COVID-19 illness and the Wuhan Coronavirus that transmits it have left very many people suddenly shut in, at home, and off their normal routine. For writers of a certain stripe, this mandatory exclusion presents a double-edged sword—all the problems that everyone else experience but offset by dwindling social excuses to put off writing. Writers are especially well-positioned to handle both sides of the axe.

Thoughts About Writing

Beware the temptation to pen the next dystopian, post-apocalyptic story arising from the ashes of a virus or bacterium. Seasoned editors and agents are already bracing with dread for a deluge of this kind of story over the next six to 18 months. If COVID-19 has inspired you to write, look for different angles. Different conflicts. Different plotlines. And avoid catastrophizing the catastrophe. Writers at their best celebrate the human element that triumphs in adversity, so emphasize that human element and avoid stereotyping and over-promoting the catastrophe. Station Eleven written in 2014 by Emily St. John Mandel offers a good (if, perhaps, a bit too on-the-nose) take on this approach.

Enforced seclusion forces writers to think about their craft in a different way. Approach this period as something of a writers’ retreat. Carve off time to reflect; explore holistically what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Yes, you can just continue to work through your last NaNoWriMo novel or tweak an old short story or two. But when else will you have the chance to contemplate your long-term writing goals and to actually plot a strategy for achieving them? Writers always lament that they don’t have the time or the money to go on a writing retreat. Well, guess what fate just handed you?

Thoughts About Being A Writer in a Time of Crisis

You know how else you can put your writing chops to good use? Practice social distancing but also emotional togetherness.

Use your literary prowess to bring comfort and good cheer friends and family. Send clever notes, story snippets, poems, whatever—and don’t be ashamed to use the coronavirus as an excuse to rekindle long-dormant relationships. Very small gestures mean a huge difference to people who don’t enjoy deep safety nets and support systems.

We might be separated physically but we can use this time to grow closer. As a writer, you’re especially well-positioned to brighten the day of someone you know who may be frightened, or isolated, or suffering. So be a beacon of hope to people struggling in the darkness—you are, after all, a writer, and hope is your superpower. And now’s as good of a time as any to shine.