Writing in Isolation

We are into the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s been a tumultuous year as we adjusted to a new vocabulary; masking, social distancing, quarantine. Yes, we’ve heard those words before. We read them in books, maybe, heard them in movies or on television dramas. Now the words were a part of our daily conversations.

I have been out of my house less than twenty times in the past fourteen months. I have seen my children and grandchildren less than that.

I have learned a valuable lesson, and it came as a shock.

I’ve always been something of a loner or homebody. Many would disagree with that assessment. I like people, but I love my own space. Being stuck at home shouldn’t be a problem for me. Generally, that’s true. However, this super social distancing reached a peak a few months ago.

I’ve always committed to writing at least two thousand words a day. That’s what Stephen King does, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s certainly good enough for me.

When staying home was recommended by health officials, I believed this would afford me more time to write. I might double my daily word count. I had several unfinished works, and this would provide the ideal opportunity to whip them out.

Why, I might even finish them all before the quarantine ended!

As the weeks passed into months, I found I was writing less, not more. I would sit with my trusty laptop and read over what I had written the day before. Pages became paragraphs. I would have an idea of what I wanted to write, but I couldn’t get my motor going.

It wasn’t until last month that I realized I hadn’t written anything in over three weeks. I’d edited projects I was working on for others. But I didn’t have a word of my own to show. What was happening? Was this writers’ block?

Somewhere in my ruminations, I recalled something one of my English professors told us. He advised we carry notebooks (this is pre-tech days when pen and paper were the methods of the day) and write down bits of conversations we overheard, descriptions of people we encountered, or places we saw.

I’m a writer and much of my writing draws on outside sights and sounds. My imagination may turn everyday events and conversations into more elaborate (and often disturbing) experiences.

A writer needs a good imagination. A writer also needs to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel the world outside her head. Being cut off from the sounds of busy streets, rolling waves, crunching leaves, bits of conversations, and other real-life noises removed them from my conscious and then my subconscious.

Living inside, I missed the end of one winter, the bright colors of spring, summer heat, the crispness of fall, and another winter.

I missed Valentine’s dinner at our favorite restaurant with my husband, watching my grandchildren hunt for Easter eggs in the grass that was beginning to green. There was no giggling and splashing in the backyard pool, no picnics at the lake where the sounds of motorboats cut the air, no weekend at a cabin for our anniversary.

The pumpkin farm and haunted trails never happened. No big family Thanksgiving dinner where everyone brought a dish to share. I did my Christmas shopping online without the hustle and bustle of crowds, both joyous and stressed.

I don’t know about other authors, but this writer cannot write in a vacuum. I need to smell the change in the air as seasons drift one into the other.

I need to hear snippets of conversations and build a story around an innocuous remark I overhear in the supermarket or restaurant.

It seems, things are beginning to loosen up. I’ve gotten my Covid-19 vaccinations. I will still double mask and be responsibly socially distant. But I feel safer venturing out into the world where my inspirations are waiting.

Somewhere a woman is complaining about the price of milk, a man is discussing a sporting event, teenagers are giggling at a TikTok video.

Tomorrow the sun will rise over a late winter day, and spring will beckon me to go out and play, to smell the freshness of growing grass, to see the heads of flowers forcing their way through the rich soil.

And I will once again begin to weave commonplace occurrences into tales.

In fact, I think I have an idea tickling the back of my mind now.

© Elizabeth Noreen Newton


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4 thoughts on “Writing in Isolation

  1. Richard Russell

    There’s a reason they put prisoners in isolation. It isn’t so much because they don’t want him to conspire with other inmates, or that the other inmates will harm him, or he them as much as it is … they want him to suffer, to break down his will and dull his mind; it’s a form of torture to put a human being into a closed space with no windows, no sound, smells, textures, changes in light, temperature, or sense of passing time, and particularly, no other human contact.

    Yes … we NEED external stimulus.
    We were MADE to interact with the physical world; I mean our bodies are specifically designed for it. Everything about the human body is geared to process input from the senses and adapt to a changing situation.

    Isolation is antithetical to our existance.

    Think about it … when are we ever totally free from input from our senses?
    When we’re dead.

    (I hope this qualifies as an interaction for you.)
    (Oh, and “eclectic” is one of my fav. words.)

    Like

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