Even Danielle Steel (a woman who literally hurls words onto the page so fast it looks like a power-washer spraying from a tank of ink) can’t write during the pandemic. This makes me feel better in some ways, and more hopeless in others. I haven’t worked on my novel in months, and if the verbal firehose known as Steel, author of 179 books, can’t do it, who can?
After I made the decision to stay in France, the solid lockdown confinement took hold, and I spent 76 days alone without leaving my apartment. It was an elegant jail sentence in a very comfortable apartment, but solitude is nonetheless what it is, and a huge challenge. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to write, and much to my surprise, for the first time in my life, with all that time on my hands, I was too anxious to write. My mind was blank, I was constantly distracted by my fear of getting sick, my fears for my children, and the world. It took me about three weeks to settle down. But what changed during confinement: I had trouble concentrating, my mind felt blank, I felt as though I was working and thinking in slow motion. Discipline is an enormous factor in my work, and I would force myself to sit with a yellow pad, or at my typewriter all day, for 12 hours at a time sometimes, and just couldn’t work. I knew what I wanted to write, but at first it wouldn’t come, and when it finally did, I found I was writing so much more slowly than usual. I had the time and the space, but not the focus for those first few weeks. Too much scary stuff was going on. I would watch the terrifying reports on the news, and was panicked for hours afterward.