How I Wrote A Novel During the Pandemic

Druid Arcane urban fantasy novelWriting a novel is one of the most daunting tasks a writer can attempt. All those words, all those pages, not to mention handling plots and sub-plots, pacing and dialogue, character development and themes—it’s enough to make you lose your hair, and I’m somewhat of an expert on that topic. Yet, finishing a novel is an achievement I would list among the most satisfying I’ve experienced in my nearly five decades of existence.

Prior to the pandemic, I’d written and published twenty urban fantasy and paranormal suspense novels, novellas, and short story collections. In fact, I’d just released the tenth novel in my Colin McCool urban fantasy series when the lockdowns went into effect. Needless to say, the lockdown wrecked my book launch. And while I did make up the sales in the months after, at the time it felt like a major setback.

But, one can cry over spilled milk, or one can acquire more cows. I knew that sitting on my thumbs fretting over the state of the world would not help me sell a single additional copy of my novels. So, I did what every experienced author does when a book release fails to go as planned—I got to work on my next book.

The Apocalypse Novelist—Or, Avoiding Information Overwhelm

Accomplished authors all share a secret that is pivotal to their success. And that secret is, they write every day, even when they don’t feel like it. I’ve never been one to experience writer’s block, but I have to admit that after I’d logged onto my social media accounts each morning, I felt anything but a strong motivation to write.

For that reason, the first thing I did was turn all that stuff off. For starters, I stopped watching the news, and I installed a browser plugin that blocks my Facebook feed. Then, I subscribed to a few email newsletters that boil each day’s top news stories down to a few key paragraphs, resolving to scan and delete them immediately when they hit my inbox.

This forced me only to use Facebook and other social media sites for reader interaction and to conduct business. In turn, that freed me up emotionally and timewise to attend to things that mattered most. Namely, seeing to my family’s welfare and finishing my next novel.

Then I went to work.

Writing When You Don’t Feel Like Writing

As I said, writers write. They don’t waste time vacillating over whether they should write, or complaining about writer’s block, or talking with the other writers in their writing group about how they’d finish their novel, if only they had the inspiration.

Instead, they sit down at their writing desks at the same time every day, and they write until they hit their goal for that day, be it a set period of time at the keys, or a certain number of words, pages, or scenes. This is the daily discipline that often separates the dilettante from the career author.

Yet, there were days that I simply did not want to write, especially after we lost two of the elder members of our family to COVID. Added to that emotional burden was the fact that my novel specifically dealt with themes of loss and death. Certainly, it made the writing of said related scenes and chapters all the more poignant, but it did nothing for my desire to write them.

My solution to this challenge was to make an agreement with myself that I would at least write one scene a day, or roughly 1,000 words. That might seem like a lot to some who are reading this, but for an author who routinely writes 3,000 to 5,000 words a day, it felt like throttling my muse. That said, by committing to a bare minimum output I was able to slog through those sections that caused me the most dread, without feeling guilty for missing my daily word count.

This proved to be the most important decision I made for my mental health and sanity as I finished the novel. Making periodic progress toward my goal gave me a regular and much-needed sense of accomplishment, a small daily emotional boost that helped me get through a very rough time. Indeed, it turned out to be my saving grace.

Other Tricks for Producing When the World Stands Still

Another minor challenge I faced during this time—and I’m sure other work-at-home parents can relate—was having my family home with me around the clock during the lockdowns. Thankfully my wife is an essential worker, and I am very grateful that we didn’t lose her income during this difficult time. However, with her working remotely, and my son completing his school year from home online, distractions were at an all-time high for this stay-at-home author.

To deal with that challenge, I locked myself in my office with a white noise machine running nearby, and a noise-canceling headset over my ears. Or, I’d turn up some fast and loud music and get lost in the rhythm while I worked on my novel. Both techniques served to drown out any background noise so that I wouldn’t break concentration during my scheduled daily writing sessions.

Additionally, during that time I experienced increased pressure from my “day job” as a small business consultant. I’ve run my consulting firm for years as a one-person show, and as you can imagine, my clients faced significant financial challenges after the lockdowns commenced. So, I had to increase the service and support I typically provided, all while continuing to make progress on my book.

How did I balance this? I dedicated specific time to each endeavor, and I made sure that I never allowed one to interfere with the other. Doing so prevented me from getting too distracted by my day job responsibilities to finish writing my novel.

The Final Outcome?

I’ve seen writers boasting on social media about how they used the lockdown to crank out twice as much work as before. I have about as much regard for those writers as I do for the social media influencers who encouraged their followers to learn a new language or get a degree during the lockdown. In dire times such as these, I see their admonishments as tone-deaf humble-bragging that serves no one but those who post such nonsense.

So, I’m not about to boast about my accomplishment, as it certainly took me longer to write this novel than any I’d written over the last three years. Yet, finish it I did, despite facing some personal and emotional obstacles that could’ve easily derailed the project. Druid Arcane releases on July 31st, and I’m hoping that this launch goes much better than the last.

But if not, I know what I’ll be doing come August—namely, working on my next novel.

16 Comments

  1. Angelique Tompkins on August 7, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Thank you for all the time you dedicate to your craft. I devour your Colin McCool series and always wait impatiently for the next one. Blue wolf as well! So need your books right now as the need to escape what is going on around us is so scary and helpless feeling. Your books very much help to give this old woman a break from all that. Your imagination is a wonderland to step into, a fresh breeze that’s so needed now more then ever! So from me to you and your family, thank you for my mind vacation! A devoted fan. Angelique Tompkins

    • M.D. Massey on August 8, 2020 at 4:50 pm

      Thank you so much, Angelique! Man, I’m going to have to pick up that Blue Wolf series–you’re the second or third reader to mention it.

  2. Michael Brubaker on August 7, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Your dedication to us, your readers, is commendable. Your work ethic is admirable. Thank you for your efforts. They pay handsomely, in our gratitude, if not in your bank account.

  3. ChemistKen on August 7, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    As a writer still working on his first book, I’ve found the extra time at home due to the pandemic has actually slowed my writing progress. I’m learning that I have to set myself a schedule in order to get any writing done. I plan on following your advice. Thanks.

    • M.D. Massey on August 8, 2020 at 4:47 pm

      It’s easier to get distracted when you have more time on your hands. Setting aside the same time each day to write–and actually using that time to write–is the best way to overcome those distractions. Best of luck with your book!

  4. Sinead Almole on August 7, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    Your discipline deserves applause. Wishing you continued success.

  5. Tracey Robinson on August 8, 2020 at 2:19 am

    Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for keeping going despite all the challenges. Thank you for helping us to escape all that is going on for however long it takes to read your stories. I am so very sorry for your losses and glad you and your family are still safe. Remember whatever happens you are loved by your family and even by complete strangers you will never meet. Always look after yourself first so you have the strength to help those around you. Thank you.

  6. Cathy Johnson (Kate) on August 8, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Oooh, I want to know about that FB feed blocker! I have mine partially trained so most of what I see is art, writer friends, nature, magic, but altogether too much politics and ugliness is sneaking back in!

    And good for you, it IS tough when a launch goes awry! My 2nd Sierra Club book came out just as their distributor changed and no one could figure out how to buy it…then Sierra Club went out of the book business altogether! It’s out again now after some years, from Echo Point, but sales are not what they would have been…

    • M.D. Massey on August 8, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      It’s called “News Feed Eradicator,” and it’s a Chrome plugin. Agreed about launches that get derailed. It’s difficult to make that income back over time.

  7. Beth on August 8, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    The pandemic basically forced me back into reading, there’s only so much kid tv one mom can take and I was resolved to read more for anyway. I stumbled upon your series and I have had more than a few late nights staying up riveted to the series. I love it! Your little aside to the pandemic in Arcane made me giggle, twas a nice little joke. BTW, I live south of Austin, so I particularly love that aspect. Wish I could visit your fair city more often!

    • M.D. Massey on August 10, 2020 at 1:31 pm

      Thank you, Beth! I lived in the city for many years, and now live in the Hill Country west of Austin. Sometimes I wish I was closer to downtown, but the trade-off has been worth it.

  8. Joel O'quain on August 10, 2020 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for your time, to devise another great book for your Druid series. This is a great series that I have enjoyed since the beginning. My only complaint is, that I have read through the series so fast, I now have to wait for your next book, #13 I believe. Druid Arcane was another great book, I love how they flow together. I guess now, that I will have to try another series, what do you recommend??? Love your work, keep it up. Looking forward to your next book.

    • M.D. Massey on August 10, 2020 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks Joel! As for other authors, I’m a huge fan of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. I also enjoy Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International books, John Conroe’s Demon Accords series, and Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger novels. And if you enjoy zompoc or post-apocalyptic stories, J.L. Bourne’s books are top-notch.

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