After a month of social distancing and the uprooting of almost everything that was routine in my life, I’m having a lot of feelings about this whole situation. I miss hugging my friends—heck, I miss seeing my friends. I miss the casual banter with the lettuce lady at the farmer’s market and the camaraderie of my workout buddies and running to the store on a whim to pick up the bread I forgot to buy earlier. My palms are peeling from all the hand-washing and I have dreams about Clorox wipes. My husband and my youngest daughter are fine people but now they are in my house 24/7, having conference calls and Zoom meetings in what used to be my private work space. I lie awake at night dreading my weekly visit to the grocery store, or worrying how I will survive if my 90-year-old mother dies and I can’t even have the comfort of a funeral. And then it becomes more personal—a friend’s mother dies, a college classmate’s husband gets sick and writes goodbye letters to his family, my daughter has a bout of asthma and we spend a sleepless night, worrying. My 17-year-old cat dies and I feel like I could drown in grief.
I am anxious and I am grieving and I am lonely and I am bored and I am frustrated and I am grateful—does any of this sound familiar? And as hard as it can be to focus, all I can think is that all this emotion is raw and true and real and is exactly what fuels the best fiction. So how do I take all this feeling and use it in my writing?
Write the scene that you’re feeling right now, not necessarily the one that comes in the next chronological order in your story. My father died suddenly in 2011, as I was in the midst of working on a major revision of my second novel. The book was under contract, my editor wanted me to try adding a second point of view to the book, and my deadline was six weeks away. Of course my editor and agent were understanding about my father’s death, and told me not to worry about the deadline. But I found that it helped to pour my grief and shock‚ raw and real, into my writing. I looked for points in the story where my characters were experiencing loss or sudden upheavals in their lives, and I wrote those scenes. I didn’t worry about how I’d work them in or exactly where in the chronology they would appear. I knew certain events had to happen to my characters, and I wrote the events that reflected the emotion I was feeling then. It led to some of the most genuine writing I’ve done. None of my characters experienced the sudden death of a parent. But they had their own losses, and their grief was mine. Once I finished those scenes, I wrote other, less intense scenes, and mapped out the story arc, and moved scenes and chapters around—the equally important but less emotionally charged work of writing. [Read more…]