“We go through life. We shed our skins. We become ourselves.” Patti Smith
Why write at all: Motivation during Covid
In the past I’ve looked to nature and animals for writing motivation. Spring flowers and emerging life are Mother Nature’s invitation to go outside, hear the birds sing, smell fresh air, dip fingers in warming soil.
However, the pandemic that has sickened and killed thousands has kept many of us indoors. It’s forced many writers to scribe in isolation and artists to create alone. The in-person gatherings, classes, and workshops that taught us and nurtured us were postponed, then cancelled. We were on our own looking internally for motivation during Covid isolation. Winter months when plants are dormant and it’s too cold to spend much time outside contribute to one’s sense of confinement.
I started this blog discouraged about writing as I reviewed failures of the past year. Once I flipped that notion on its head and looked at accomplishments first, I began to recapture my usual optimistic perspective. After all, if authors stop writing, and publishers stop publishing, readers will have nothing new to read.
During the past two years I’ve read multiple online comments from notable writers in blogs like Brevity and social media sites like Facebook about moments of indecision when they asked themselves “what’s the point in writing.” These author’s observations are typically followed at the end of their notation or essay by the author’s impressive credentials. Writers also blog about imposter syndrome – the notion that the public will find out they are pretenders, not legitimate journalists, novelists, poets, or essayists, e.g., https://brevity.wordpress.com/2022/02/09/getting-to-the-truth/ That notion certainly describes me. I worry I’m not a real writer and become discouraged.
In 2020 artistic and literary public events came to a near halt due to the arrival of Covid and its derivatives. We eventually discovered how to use zoom or began to meet outside in person and often in masks. Even with those baby steps it was a quiet year. I, like many people, stayed home and only saw the humans in my bubble.
My full-length book of poetry, A Quilted Landscape, was due to be published in 2020 but was delayed until 2021 because of the pandemic. The publisher and I hoped to be able to hold readings and public events in 2021. This was true only to a very limited extent.
A Quilted Landscape was delivered to my house by UPS in the spring of 2021. It turned out beautifully thanks to the terrific editor and publisher at Scurfpea Publishing, Steve Boint. I held a book launch at a coffee shop outdoor dining room in the summer of 2021. Both the publication and the book launch were highlights of the year for me.
Another accomplishment was publication of two poems in “Beyond Covid: Leaning Into Tomorrow” anthology during 2021. “Real Women Write” from Story Circle Network is a two-volume sequence about living with and getting beyond Covid. Inclusion in this anthology series is another motivation to write this blog. I, like many others, want to get beyond Covid into a new normal. A journal also published a poem and an essay and one poem was accepted into another anthology.
I initially became familiar with the idea of “new normal” after the 911 attack on the Trade Center and Pentagon. A National Guard unit from my town was deployed to Iraq. I was one of several Red Cross volunteer counselors who helped the Guard Chaplin work with family members of deployed soldiers. The Chaplin educated the families to the concept of a new normal in case their soldiers returned with physical and/or emotional wounds.
Covid has introduced us to another new normal as the latest Covid variants arise and subside. Schools struggle to stay open, health care workers feel overwhelmed, businesses look for new ways to operate, many people change occupations, and we all wonder what will be next as states drop mask mandates.
Why do we chose to write?
This winter, I am seriously examining the question in the title of this blog, “why write?” or more specifically, “what’s the point, who cares?” As an author in the Baby Boom generation, with my very polite perspective, I would like to find out what may be contributing to my recent string of literary rejections. Most days I don’t have a clear answer to this question, but it seems I’m not writing what the presses want to publish or I haven’t found compatible journals, with a few exceptions.
Literary activity in the second year of Covid, also known as 2021, was slow for me. I submitted 130 poems to thirty-two different journals. Four of them were contests. I submitted essays to five additional journals. One was accepted and published. In addition, I submitted chapbook collections to three presses. One is still pending but none were accepted. I am striving to adopt Sylvia Plath’s attitude when she says, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
My writing group has met only sporadically during Covid. The group is currently on hiatus due to several people’s health concerns. I dearly miss the comradeship and editing help from the group. I’ve joined an online writing group that meets on zoom, but it isn’t the same as getting together in person and work-shopping each other’s poems. I’ve also taken several online writing classes to improve my skills.
There may be journals managed by people in my age bracket but most Baby Boomers (age 57-75), like myself, are retired or semi-retired. Presses and journals are run by Generation X (age 41-56), Millennials (age 25-40), and increasingly by Generation Z (age 9-24). The latter two groups are over-represented in the people who screen submissions. They are the first readers, interns, and students that are the gatekeepers at academic and large presses. Many will say age, gender, disability should not matter, it’s the writing that counts.
There is the notion of voice or tone of a writer’s work that speaks for them. My voice is usually understated and subtle in tone. I’ve been told by a young reviewer that my voice is so quiet it’s not compelling. On the other side of the voice question, Baby Boomers like myself, have suggested I might need to calm down some poems as too erotic or confrontational. Ultimately, I must be comfortable with the way I write. As Patti Smith says, we become ourselves. I can’t write another author’s words or in someone else’s voice.
In conclusion, on days when I don’t think I have anything to say, I write about that conundrum, and see where it takes me. Today it sparks my motivation to compose all over again.