Tag Archives: Covid-19

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Making the Most of Our Present Situation

My Writing-Tip Wednesday post for last week was a downer (and also had a rather annoying typo near the end, for which I apologize). No way around it: The publishing business is in a bad place right now, and if I am going to offer writing advice to you every week, you deserve as well an honest assessment of the market.

Today’s post is not intended as a corrective for last week’s, so much as a chance for me to offer a way forward. My career is taking a hit right now, too. Almost everyone’s is. But I’m not giving up. For one thing, I have no other marketable skills. More to the point, I still love what I do, and I have a ton of stories I want to write.

The truth is, much of the advice my colleagues and I offer at conventions and workshops, and in online venues like this one, seems tailor-made to this new world in which we find ourselves. Here are some examples:

“Don’t try to write to the market.” My reasoning with this bit of advice has had two components. First, the market is a moving target, and getting a book out into the world can take a little time, particularly if you’re trying to publish traditionally. By the time you get your book about The New Hot Thing out to the reading public, the Thing might well be neither New nor Hot. Second, we generally write best those things about which we’re passionate. Sure, every now and then our passions and the market’s predilections align perfectly, but those moments are rare. Better you should write the book you are burning to write. It will reflect your enthusiasm, your passion, and that will make it more compelling. In today’s world, “Don’t write to the market” makes even more sense, because the market doesn’t know right now what the hell it wants. Writing the things YOU care about and WANT to write has never been more important.

“Love what you do.” Similar to “Don’t write to the market,” but broader. “Love what you do” is probably the answer I give most often when asked, as I often am, “what advice would you offer to young writers.” And I mean it in three ways. First, as I said above, write the story with which you’ve fallen in love, the one aching to be told. That’s the one that will turn out best. “Love what you do” also has a deeper meaning. At the best of times, writing is a tough profession. So do it for the right reasons. Do it for love of the written word, for devotion to story telling, for fascination with characters. Writing because you think it will be an easy gig, a way to make money – that’s never been a good idea, and it’s never been a worse idea than it is right now. And finally, “Love what you do” means enjoy the process, and commit to doing it well. None of us knows where the project we’re working on right now will wind up. Will we sell it to a publisher? Publish it ourselves? Let it languish in a proverbial trunk? So it’s more important than ever to love the actual writing, to lose ourselves in the act of creativity.

“There is no single right way to do any of this.” Boy, if I had a dime for every time I’ve said this… It applies to the craft and to the business, and I believe it’s vitally important that writers offering advice repeat this often. Those of us who have enjoyed some success in publishing speak with authority, simply by dint of having experience and a publication history. Less experienced writers take our words to heart, and so they have to be reminded that our way is not THE way. Because THE way doesn’t exist. And this is especially true right now. As I said last week, people who claim to know what publishing is going to look like after Covid-19 are fooling themselves and anyone foolish enough to listen to them. No one knows nothin’. And even if they did, there is no single right way to do any of this.

“To the extent you can, make writing part of your daily routine.” Earlier this year, I wrote a post in which I said that those of us proclaiming “Writers must write every day” had oversold the point and done a disservice to writers who can’t write every day, whether because of family obligations, or day jobs, or health issues, or whatever. I also said, though, and will continue to say, that writing often and regularly are good things. The more we write, the better we get and the greater our daily output. In this way, writing is like exercise – it gets easier the more we do it. And so, in this time of stay-at-home orders and social-distancing, why not try to write every day? There’s really no down side, and maybe you’ll finally finish (or start!) that project you’ve been thinking about for months (years?). In other words, tying in another bit of advice my colleagues and I have shared before, “BIC!” Put your Butt In the Chair!

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Covid-19 and Hope

Last week, when I wrote my Monday Musings post, I was pretty ticked off at the world. And this week, after watching “protesters” in Michigan, North Carolina, and other states take part in the worst sort of astroturf demonstrations, one might expect that my mood would be even worse.

I mean, think about it. People in NC drove to the state capital to demand that their state be opened up because, they claim, the governor has overreacted to the crisis. Yet, many of these protesters remained sequestered in their trucks wearing face masks! You can’t make this shit up! Then there are the Michiganders who showed up for their protests carrying high-powered rifles and Confederate flags (dude, I live in the South, and the flag has nothing to do with my heritage. It sure as shit has nothing to do with yours…). One guy carried a banner that read “Trump Pence” and that displayed between their names an enormous Swastika. Yes, that ought to help their reelection chances. Hard to believe they haven’t yet turned it into a lawn sign…

Kellyanne Conway, one of Donald Trump’s most visible flunkies, was on Fox News the other day trying to justify the Trump Administration’s withholding of money from the World Health Organization, and she actually said “This is Covid-19, not Covid-1, folks…” implying that health officials should have been better prepared. The problem with this “logic” is that we didn’t have Covid-1, Covid-2, Covid-3, etc. The disease is called Covid-19 because it was identified in 2019. But, hey, it’s not as though Kellyanne is a senior aide to the most powerful political leader… Oh, wait…

On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis opened Florida’s beaches. Yep. And Floridians flocked to them, unprotected and, it seems, utterly clueless. This after DeSantis was caught on camera putting on a face mask the wrong way – he put one of the ear loops around his head so that the mask hung sideways over his face with the other ear loop dangling below his chin.

We’re fucking doomed.

Except we’re really not. And that, actually, is the point of today’s post.

My wife is the provost of the university here in our little college town, and as the Chief Operating Officer of the school, she is tasked with coordinating the Covid-19 response. The other day she sent out a message to the university faculty and staff that concluded with a personal note about how much hope and solace she took from the community’s response. And I was amazed at how similar her thoughts were to my own percolating ideas for this very post.

Let’s start with the obvious: many of the reactions we see to the crisis – on all sides – are rooted in fear. I am observing social-distancing and stay-at-home guidelines because I don’t want to get sick. I’ve read enough about the disease to harbor a healthy fear (as it were) of contracting it. In the same way, the protests we’ve seen – however wacky and misinformed and filled with rage and hate – are based in people’s legitimate fears of an economic depression. Fear is, and has always been, a powerful stimulus for political action and governmental response.

But I see more than just fear at work here. I am worried about the economy, too. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. A large swath of the population, though, has made a conscious choice – a supremely rational one, in my view – to sacrifice their short-term economic security for the health of their families, their friends, their communities. We have said, “Yes, I know this is going to be painful, but I want to keep my children safe, my elderly parents safe, my neighbors and friends safe. And I want to be safe, too.”

We have done this despite the utter absence of Presidential leadership, and often despite the absence of leadership at the state level as well. Sure, there are people who thumb their noses at safety, at community. And yes, every day we see new idiocy from our leaders and opinion shapers – Doctor Mehmet Oz telling Sean Hannity that losing 2-3% of our school children would be an acceptable outcome if we reopened schools; Bill O’Reilly telling us that many who have died from the coronavirus were “on their last legs anyway.”

For the most part, though, people throughout the country and the world have put material concerns aside in order to save lives. And that ought to give all of us grounds for hope. If we can do this to stop the spread of Covid-19, might we also be capable of doing it to curb global climate change? Might we be willing to make the far, far smaller economic sacrifices necessary to ease social inequality, combat the historical economic and social impacts of systemic racism, and find solutions to our ongoing health care crisis?

This is a rare moment. A historical inflection point. A tragic moment to be sure. We are being tested daily. Some days we are found wanting. Too often, our elected leaders and media outlets fail us. And yet, I’m hopeful, perhaps naïvely so. People keep saying that even after we emerge from this crisis, our society will never be the same. I believe that. And I believe the differences between the old normal, and what my wife calls “the next normal,” can be ours to choose. Likely we will find ourselves in a more cautious world, maybe a less physically intimate world, at least at a societal level. But I choose to believe that it will also be a world in which we will appreciate more fully the potential of cooperation, communal action, and commitment to something greater than ourselves.

Wishing you all a healthy, wonderful week.

Monday Musings: Flattening the Curve, Projection “Hoaxes,” and Righteous Anger

I’m angry today.

The pandemic – the isolation, the uncertainty, the steady stream of tragic news, the underlying fear – elicits different emotions at different times, running the gamut from those I’d expect (sadness, fear, numbness) to those I might not. At times lately, I have looked with renewed appreciation at the blessings I have and have had, and I’m thankful, even peaceful.

Today, for a whole host of reasons, I’m pissed. Why? Well, if you really want to know, read the articles about the so-called “Red Dawn” emails. Read the articles about red state Senators getting ventilators for their states, while blue states, where the virus is MUCH worse, have to beg for masks and tests, as well as ventilators. Read the articles about how dangerous it would be to “reopen the country for business” at the end of this month.

But it’s not just those things. How many of you have heard people claiming that, because the national death toll is now projected to be lower – “merely” 64,000 rather than 100,000-240,000 – the more alarmist projections were a “hoax” and symptomatic of panic and overreaction? Never mind that 64,000 is more Americans than died in either the Korean or Vietnam War. Never mind that it’s more people than die in traffic accidents or are killed by firearms each year. Never mind that it’s comparable to annual drug deaths in this country. And never mind that even this new projection could have been much, much lower if only our nation’s leaders had taken action more quickly.

Those crying “hoax” ignore the fact that the projections fell because we (belatedly) reacted to the crisis. They refuse to acknowledge that social-distancing saves lives, that shutting down the economy, though excruciating, saves lives. The best analogy I have seen for this insanity comes from a Tweet I read the other day: Claiming, based on the new projections, that we have “overreacted” to the crisis is like saying, “The fire department told me my house would burn to the ground, but they were wrong – it’s still standing and now it’s all wet…”

In the same way, the President’s talk of opening up the country before his own health experts deem it safe is a recipe for disaster. We are in the first wave of this pandemic. More waves will come. Flattening the curve now does NOT mean we have won. It means we have bought ourselves a bit of time, during which we should be making more masks, building more ventilators, increasing the capacity of our hospitals, and, one hopes, developing a vaccine for the virus.

There will be another wave. It may well be worse than this one if we don’t avail ourselves of this time we’ve gained. The next wave will certainly be every bit as bad if we end the social distancing and self-quarantining too soon. This is not my opinion. It is basic epidemiology (and yeah, I live with a biologist). So, in other words, we have succeeded in slowing the first wave of the pandemic, and in doing so have likely held down the initial infection rate and death toll. And that’s great. But that’s all we’ve done.

Again, flattening the curve is a delaying tactic, a way of marshaling our resources so that we’re not utterly overwhelmed by a highly contagious and deadly illness. It is not the ultimate goal, but rather an interim strategy. Which means that even after this curve has run its course, we will not be done and we will not be safe.

Finally, consider this: Despite early reports to the contrary, this is not an older person’s disease. Yes, fatality rates are higher among those in older age groups. But young people are getting this virus, and young people are dying from it. For whatever reason – and thank whatever deity you worship for this – children really do seem to be relatively immune. But the recurring conservative talking point about how Covid-19 is only killing the elderly and infirm, like it’s some sort of airborne wolfpack, is complete bullshit. Remember that the next time you hear someone saying that we should be willing to make sacrifices to open the country for business again. Yes, recessions and depressions take a terrible toll, not just economically, but also in terms of our physical and mental health. But look around at your family, your circle of friends, your community of professional colleagues. Who among them would you be willing to consign to an early death?

So, yeah, I’m angry today. Angry because we as a society are still not doing all we can to stop this thing. Angry because our leaders are failing us again and again and again. Angry because the information we need to combat the virus is not as readily available as it should be, leading to false narratives and unrealistic expectations.

Stay safe. Stay hunkered down. Be smart. Be careful. Not only because your health and life are at stake. But because so are mine, and so are those of the people I love.