You might quite naturally jump to the conclusion that COVID-19 has provided the opportunity through lockdowns and enforced isolation to create the perfect storm in which writers can work on their book.
For some this may be true, however, for others—and I include myself among them—it has created a barrage of situations that have shrunk my writing time, instead of expanding it. On the face of it, my fingers should be running across the keyboard like a woman possessed. So, why aren’t they?
I can sum it up in one word – family – and I use that all-encompassing word with a smile. Despite, the fact my writing time is now at least halved from before, I don’t begrudge it, because I actually feel the need to nurture, comfort, support, and teach those I love during this unique opportunity for my family to develop a deeper understanding of one another.
Family, are like the pieces of a puzzle where the picture is continually changing and everyone is trying to fit themselves together as best they can. Under normal circumstances; pre-Covid; any family difficulties, sibling disagreements, home boundary issues, household chores and finances; could be easily avoided or postponed; by simply exiting the family unit on the pretext you’d be late for school, work, or friends. In my case, any unpleasantness could be shelved until after the first glass of red.
Enter stage right; Covid 19. My daily routine was erased and I found myself sitting opposite a bewildered family at breakfast, who hadn’t said good morning to me in years, as I was out the door by 7am. If asked, pre-Covid, I would have said, ‘we’re a highly adaptable family, we’ve lived in a few countries, we have some experience of the world – bring it on! The reality landed a punch that made my knees wobble. I believe we pulled off the description, ‘plucky’, but that was about it.
Before the week was out, our house had become the center of all operations, with each of us acting autonomously to what was in our individual best interests. My husband was determined to stockpile every can of beans within a thirty-mile radius. My eldest daughter (who has a young son and apartment in the next town) needed to know immediately what my babysitting schedule was looking like for the next year and that I was in her, ‘support bubble’(?), and my youngest daughter believed she was destined to become a spinster. I began planning how to sneak into the garage to write and leave them all to it.
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The pandemic forced me to step-up and be emotionally present for my family. The first weeks were the hardest, with no routine and no idea of what I was expected to do, other than cruise the supermarkets for toilet paper. I was hit with what felt like collective shrapnel: upcoming exams, work interviews, medical exams and a speeding ticket – all of which had to be taken online using a webcam. I reminded myself, ‘you’ve relocated across continents with a 3-and-6-month-old – I can do this!’
I don’t remember writing a single line in those first few weeks, while I attempted to calm the rising panic in the house.
I became the IT fixer, cook, teacher, college advisor, nanny, bank negotiator, therapist, nurse, dental hygienist, hairdresser, and veterinary nurse, everything but, a writer. In an even shorter time, tempers frayed, and long-held annoyances and fears were voiced at decibels which left our neighbors blushing.
My, ‘light-bulb’, moment came after revisiting the biscuit tin for the umpteenth time one morning. If Covid didn’t kill me then the stress might. I swallowed my pride, like 90% proof bourbon, gathered the family and announced I couldn’t do it all. You should have seen their faces! Complete disbelief.
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Now for the delegation of duties part. I set about the room asking each one of them what their preferred chore was and what hidden skill sets they possessed, pointing out, we didn’t need any twerking done in the house. I was pleasantly surprised and not a little relieved as they took it upon themselves to take responsibility for household chores, communication with the outside world, and scheduling.
In late 2020, we were months into the lockdown and bracing ourselves for the second wave. Our perspective as a family had shifted—it’s no longer ‘poor me’, it’s now ‘what can I do to be useful?’.
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Finally, I was writing more furiously and with more conviction and creativity than ever before. I looked at my family, one of the millions on the planet and thought, “wow, these people support me and I support them—and in turn, we support our community”. It was a ripple effect. I’m not alone. We are not alone.
Writing under the pen name Pandora, Claire Pandora Gearty lives in Devon, England with her husband and two daughters. Her debut novel, The Balance-Pilgrim, selling in nine countries since 2015, was adapted for a screenplay, and her follow up novel, Pilgrim and the Geometry of Fear, was published in 2016. She’s working on the third in the trilogy, Pilgrim and the Fall of Kings.