Please socially distance yourself from the urge to write a Coronavirus novel

I would extend this to poets as well. The other day I asked Twitter to take a guess at how many poems titled “Flattening the Curve” are currently being written. Too many, is my guess. My suggestion for writers is to keep a journal of what life is like, then come back to it in ten years (haha, like we’ll be here in ten years) when you have enough distance and perspective to actually write a decent piece of literature instead of an opportunistic panic attack on the page. I’ve written two things on 9/11, one a commission for CBC a year after the disaster and another called “State of Emergency” in my 2012 book Whiteout. You can really see the difference waiting makes.

From an artistic standpoint, it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it back into everyone’s faces. After all, “Don Quixote” was published about a century into the Spanish Inquisition. Art should be given a metaphorical berth as wide as the literal one we’re giving one another. Right now we are distracted and anxious beyond measure, but things will settle (how much and when remains to be seen), and then? I think of the opening scene of Noah Baumbach’s first film, “Kicking and Screaming,” in which two young writers start taking notes on a fight as they’re having it.

“What if I want this material?” asks the boy.

“We’ll see who gets it first,” says the girl.

We all know how limited this kind of get-it-while-it’s-hot writing will seem in the future. That’s never stopped us from doing it. It’s not stopping me from indulging in a version of it right now. Look at the narratives that came out in the years immediately following 9/11. They have not aged well. Really, we’re only just now nailing World War I. But like everyone else, writers feel the need to distill life as a means of surviving it.

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