by Kris Maze
I don’t know about you, dear writer, but coming to terms with quarantine has been a challenge for me. Yes, I had extra time at home for the crucible of creativity, but not without a steep learning curve. Writing inspiration has been hard to come by.
During quarantine, my family pushed pause on activities and the daily grind. We found some comfort in the slower pace of life, dealing with the negative impact as best as we could. As many parts of the world begin reopening, let’s not forget the writing we have accomplished so far.
As always, I am inspired by history. There have been other pandemics, and great works have come from them.
Sir Isaac Newton left Cambridge college when an outbreak of the Plague closed all schools. His year of uninterrupted self-study and exploration led him to write his theories on early calculus, on optics as he played with prisms at home, and of course, on gravity.
William Shakespeare wrote some of his best poems and plays when the plague forced a closure of London’s theatres. According to Scientific American, "plague was a near-constant presence in the England of Elizabeth I and her successor, James I. When the death toll exceeded 30 per week, London’s theatres were ordered to close, forcing theatrical troupes to take a break or perform in the country. When a particularly nasty outbreak struck in 1606, Shakespeare used his time well, penning King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra."
Edvard Munch, famous expressionist painter of The Scream, painted during the time of the Spanish Flu. Having contracted the disease himself, he recovered to create many more works.
Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, inspiring over a century of gothic writing. That same year, “The 1897 Epidemic Diseases Act” was put into place and Stoker’s native Ireland suffered high numbers of typhoid fever and the lingering Bubonic Plague.
Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein during a failed vacation with writer friends. It was 1817, and a volcanic explosion of Mt. Tambora had caused an endless winter throughout the world. The atmosphere was choked with ash and dust, keeping essential sunlight from crops and leading to famine, epidemics, and a cholera pandemic. Mary’s personal life suffered as well when her poet husband, Percy, drowned in an accident five years later. Her friend, Lord Byron, died of a fever two years after that.
The earth in 1817 was literally dark, cold and uninviting, but was fertile for writing the first science fiction novel. One thing is for sure: centuries later, Frankenstein lives on, evoking philosophical debate.
The hurdles of 2020 are undeniable but perhaps framing your ideas in literature can provide solutions. As society adjusts to the coronavirus outbreak, our stories, our insights, our projects can help bring hope and healing. Even if it isn't Dracula or Frankenstein, every story matters. Yours might just be the one that helps a reader hang on while they wait for the world to right itself.
How has the pandemic of 2020 affected your writing so far? Do you know of other historical figures who took solace in creativity during a world emergency? Please share their story down in the comments!
Kris Maze has worked in education for 25 years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and Writers in the Storm. Her first YA Science fiction book, IMPACT, arrives in June 2020 and is published through Aurelia Leo.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family. She also ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.
Set in post-pandemic Wind City, a young journalist races time as an incoming asteroid with certain destruction. Nala Nightingale must decide between broadcasting the news of a lifetime or discovering keys to her orphaned past.
Trapped underground with a mysterious scientist named Edison and his chess master AI, can Nala Nightingale find the will to live and to love in a dystopian future?
To find out more about IMPACT, click here.
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I'd already started the WIP before the pandemic, but I find that I keep wanting to make everything easy on my characters, give them happy solutions to all their problems. And I wonder if readers want more "happy," too. I know I don't want to read anything filled with misery.
You made me laugh, Terry. I have the same problem!
I've rarely enjoyed a story that doesn't have some positive resolution. You can drag the character through the worst, but as long as they find some redemption, some growth, some success, I feel somehow cheated. It is possible that our readers want that too. You make a very good point about infusing positive aspects into your WIP can be the right thing for today's' readers.
I seem to get more ideas during a crisis than I do when things are running along smoothly. The idea for my first novel came on the long drive from Arizona to Pennsylvania to attend a funeral. My wife and I talked for 2500 miles and a book was born. The current situation has spawned the outline (yes, this pantser is outlining now) for my next book. Don't worry, it's not about a pandemic or the aftermath. I'm sure we'll be hit with a flood of those this fall. Bottom line--my brain seems to like using pain, suffering, and emotional turmoil as fuel.
Suffering is a natural catalyst for creative work. Sad but true.
And your comment about a flood of books on a pandemic is interesting, too. The first draft of my book, IMPACT, was written three summers ago in a post-pandemic setting. I wonder how this pandemic will affect the public interest in a dystopian novel. Time will tell!
I'm in awe of historical figures who created fabulous works and performed heroic deeds in the face of impossible odds. And surely we are creating those figures today during our own global crisis that future generations will look back on and be inspired. For me? I also gain inspiration from my friends who are quietly plugging away with me on the stories of their hearts. With so many of my activities and trips cancelled, I've found the time to concentrate on my fantasy romance and finished the first draft this month, months ahead of my self-imposed deadline. True romance by definition ends with a happily ever after, but I did manage to make them work very hard for it!
Thanks for your encouraging words. It is hard to focus on writing during the distractions and changes happening around us. I'm glad you see small successes around you and celebrate them. It's good to remember how hard even completing a page, or pushing through a writing session can be. Little steps lead up to a longer journey. I too am writing the longer works, one page at a time.
I've written and submitted two short stories in the past few weeks. And, I wrote another personal story about a personal experience as a writing exercise right before that.
Before that, my writing was at a standstill, but that's because I have edits for a novel and I couldn't figure out how to do what I need to do. I think I have it all worked out.
WOW! Go you, Denise. 🙂
This was fascinating, Kris - thanks for sharing your research and your inspiration!
Russian writer Anton Chekhov is considered one of the great short story writers. Many of these stories came as a result of what he saw as a doctor during the cholera epidemics of the late 19th century. He also helped to organize famine and cholera relief for those in need.
The pandemic has sprinkled depression into the emotional pot, but we grow as human beings with adversity. Surely some of this will be fodder for future writing.
Fabulous blog post, Kris!
I did NOT know this, Ellen. Groovy facts.
Thank you for sharing. I have had the same problem finding inspiration. Doing something that requires I focus on directions like baking and gardening helps clear the cobwebs and anxieties.
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