Distraction in the time of plague, or can you still write?

Lockdown sucks.

But you’d think as writers we’d glory in all this time. We don’t have to go out, nobody calls, the television is dull, dull, dull. We can’t run (generally pointless) errands, waste time drinking too much caffeine in coffee shops, or even go gallivanting off to literary events.

On that last, three of my events have been cancelled ☹️ and I’m spending ages getting flight and train refunds. All in hand now I’m happy to report.

So I should be able to get cracking on my new book. It’s like a mini NaNoWriMo when writers buckle down to write 50,000 words in a month.

Er, no. This isn’t happening.

My take is that we are all living in uncertainty, a rupture from normal and we don’t have a clue how or when we are going to come out of it. Humans are VERY risk averse and this ‘plague’ is high risk, stealthy and without a known cure or vaccine as yet. We are also separated, sometimes brutally, from our friends and family. Not interacting with anybody apart from the stressed-out food shop cashier is daunting, even alienating. We can’t shake somebody’s hand, kiss their cheek or hug them – very awkward and normally very impolite in France.

However tough, steady and balanced we usually are, we find ourselves behaving a little strangely – home-baking, mopping the floor every day, sorting bookshelves, doing the filing and other more physical or mundane things. Apparently, its underlying stress and it’s making us tetchy and tired.

And I for one feel guilty that I’m not producing much.

So what can we do about it?

  1. Stop beating ourselves up about our reactions – it’s normal to feel out of kilter when this kind of event happens over which we have no control whatsoever. And you are definitely not alone!
  2. Think of all the things you do have – technology can at least keep you in touch with people. Okay, Skype, or Zoom or Teamworks are nothing like being in a roomful of people, but they help.
  3. Rather than try to be super-creative, revise old pieces of work you meant to develop further – that writing exercise you did on a course, a short story that didn’t get placed in a competition, a dodgy scene in your current novel draft.
  4. Although we can’t get to bookshops, you can fill your ereader or iPad electronically. Apart from a heap of new fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of background stuff for my next novel. Yes, I know the fall of the Roman Empire isn’t for everybody, but I find it quite relaxing. Believe you me, we’re living in paradise in comparison with the late fourth and early fifth centuries!
  5. Watch films. If you feel guilty, you can tell yourself you’re researching plot structure and narrative thrust…
  6. If you have an email list, send a special newsletter and if you can, include a free short story. It doesn’t have to be a new one, but your readers might welcome a distraction.
  7. If you can, make a book temporarily free. As a “special” during this time of lockdown and to support #readingathome and #escapistbooks, I’m making INCEPTIO, the first of Carina’s adventures, free for a little while.  Amazon     Apple    B&N Nook    Kobo
  8. Don’t try to do stuff that is ‘worthy’ out of guilt, but try to have some kind of objective for each day, however small. Keeping to some kind of routine gives you structure and an element of control.
  9. Look ahead and make a list of things to do post-lockdown. They can be as simple as a coffee or glass of wine with a friend, or wandering round the shopping centre, clambering over a Roman ruin 😉 or a world trip. That last one might be difficult for a while, though.

Some pleasures to look forward to afterwards

Essentially, don’t force creativity unless you have a desperately near deadline. Just try to do a little every day, even 3-400 words, or just a double-spaced page and it will start to mount up.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste the latest contemporary thriller… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

10 comments to Distraction in the time of plague, or can you still write?

  • lesley2cats

    But I HAVE got a deadline! Two, in fact!

    • Alison Morton

      Aaaargh! Are you on track for them? I know one or two other trad published writers who have been given some leeway on deadlines as I guess the publishing industry itself has slowed somewhat.
      Best of luck, but then you are a very experienced writer and I bet little will stop you. 😉

  • A great post, Alison and some helpful advice. I have a deadline in five weeks and, thankfully, have now found a useful working rhythm to my writing days again. I’m normally so focused but in the beginning it was hard not to be distracted by the news. This is the ‘new normal’ for now. Keep safe!

    • Alison Morton

      Thanks, Charlotte. This is what happened to me. It’s such a change, but I think we’re adjusting. Good luck with the writing. I look forward to reading it.

  • Great post thanks. After I stopped beating myself up I found I could settle down and write again. I’m now finding it quite therapeutic in that I can escape into my fiction and forget about what’s happening in the real world for a while.

    • Alison Morton

      Delighted you enjoyed it, Deb. It took me a couple of weeks to work out why I couldn’t write and then put together a few thoughts. Even a few hundred words a day will mount up. Happy writing!

  • Thanks Alison. I’ve just downloaded Inceptio; looks great. 🙂

  • What is this mopping the floor of which you speak? 😉

    I am cooking more, but was already in that mode before the lock-down since I retired in early January and have to watch the pennies (and the waistline)! But I don’t bake, because 1) I live alone; and 2) I would eat every crumb!! (I love baked goods!! So much for the waistline.)

    A great post, Alison. I know many folks who are struggling through this, so I am grateful for what I do have, and accept that I cannot do everything I’d like.

    Stay well!

    • Alison Morton

      Mopping, ha ha! Like many homes in France, we have tiled floors throughout the house. So much easier to keep clean than carpet. 😉
      I think that getting into some kind of routine and appreciating the things we *do* have may not be the world’s worsts things. We may even find inspiration for new stories in our more confined environment!

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