When the state of Illinois went into lockdown in March 2020, I thought to myself: I’m going to get so much writing done. I envisioned my blog billowing with posts of varying subject matter. Perhaps I would even amass more followers. Now, it’s been two years since the lockdown, and just two months ago I published my first post since February 2020. In addition to being a mass murderer, COVID-19 has the power to kill creativity.
I am a writer reliant upon divine inspiration to fuel my work. Life experiences spark my creativity and my mood dictates my productivity—downward emotions result in low output. Once I fully understood the world was at war with an invisible enemy and I was one of the “vulnerable ones” at “high risk of severe illness” if infected, I became a shut-in. And being a hardcore news junkie, I thus began a heavy binge on as much COVID information as I could get. Every day started with a news update from Governor Cuomo, then I would watch Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ezike’s daily press conference. I watched the evening news every day of the week, and rarely went to bed on weeknights without watching Rachel Maddow. Although my brain was numbed by fear and discontent, my addiction wouldn’t allow me to look away from the fluid news story.
Inspiration disappeared from my life. My ability to create novel blog posts was about as possible as my ability to make my paralyzed limbs function. Worse yet, my lack of human interaction had me spending a lot of time inside my head where I would overthink and over analyze everything.
Before COVID was ever part of daily vernacular, in spring 2019, I hired an editor to help fine tune my memoir, The Accidental Virgin. Her suggestions and critiques strengthened the manuscript, and in the months leading up to the pandemic, I had submitted book excerpts to a few online publications. I selected two chapters for submission and crafted them into standalone pieces. Now, rejections were rolling in, and I was struck with an obvious realization: Every chapter of my book needs to be a standalone story; that’s how memoirs are constructed. I looked back through my manuscript and noticed stark weaknesses in my chapter intros and conclusions. I then embarked on a mission to rewrite the beginning and ending to every chapter in my book. I had stumbled upon a creative outlet and the mental stimulation was energizing. Within a few weeks, I had a sparkling new piece of writing.
Feeling a zap of confidence from my successful rewrites, I racked my brain for a clever blog post to compose, but alas, inspiration continued to elude me. The war against COVID was still raging outside and I hadn’t left the parameters of my home for several months. The work I completed on my memoir was a quality exercise, but I was bereft of original story ideas.
In October, a brilliant stroke of fate connected me with a screenwriter/film producer/editor in Los Angeles. She heard about my memoir through a long grapevine and was interested in reading with a critical eye. I leapt at the opportunity, and she came back to me with a grand suggestion: rework my storyline into a nonlinear format.
During the early evolution of my manuscript, I toyed with the idea of flashbacks and flashforwards, but ultimately decided to keep my storyline in chronological order. The linear format placed my accident at the climax of my story arc, but the suggestion from Los Angeles was to begin my story with a bang and move the accident scene to Chapter One. I would then jump back in time to my childhood years, before returning the narrative to the accident’s aftermath. I was intrigued by the notion and began dissecting my chapters, piecing together a brand-new chapter sequence.
The process was invigorating, and the emotions of my story were bouncing back-and-forth between chapters in a nuanced way—the juxtaposition of charm and tragedy made the tale all the more spellbinding. Eventually, I had a fresh table of contents with a new, more dynamic climax. I also spent time editing each chapter and adding content to the most emotional parts of my story. I then sent the new draft to my editor for a critique, and by the winter of 2021, my memoir had seemingly been reborn. I was now ready to hire a book designer.
I had long been dreaming of fashioning my book’s cover design and layout—color schemes and symbolic images had been swirling through my mind for months. As I began my search for a designer, I noticed the calendar was ready to flip to March. Without realizing it, I had made it through year one of the pandemic, and I was on the cusp of a remarkable creative adventure. My memoir rescued me from COVID’s creativity seizure.