Writing About a Pandemic During COVID-19

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One of the very reasons readers love fiction is for the escapism of entering a new world.

Readers slip into the pages of a fictional world for the magic, the wonder, the frights, and the drama. What they don’t want is to enter a dystopian landscape that too closely resembles their own life. For writers currently working on dystopian novels, this is a discouraging notion.

Recently on Twitter, a publisher openly stated they weren’t accepting novels with pandemic subject matter. They said readers wouldn’t want them, and they’re not buying what they can’t sell. My novel Ghost City is years into a future after a pandemic killed many thousands. I’m nowhere near the finish line, so when I’ve completed it, publishers may feel differently, but there’s no guarantee.

I’m not alone either. In my small local critique circle, three of us are working on books that either take place in the aftermath of a pandemic or unfold during the threat of one. We not only feel the weight of producing potentially auto-rejected material when it comes time to publish, but it’s difficult to get the words down when they remind us of the terrible things happening right outside our own doors.

Everyone is handling COVID-19 differently, and our fear is manifesting in myriad reactions. I’m sure many are rather content to stay in the comfort of their homes, forgetting their worries of ‘what is’ by reading about ‘what isn’t.’

In our house, we rarely turn on the news anymore. We just want a day where pandemic isn’t the only headline. Even the commercials are pandemic-focused. They’re meant to be supportive and encouraging (and a reminder that their companies still exist), but I miss the mindless content that made me laugh over a product I never cared about. Everyone wants a return to ‘normal,’ even if normal wasn’t all that great to begin with.

If you’re a writer, and you’re finding the lines between fictional and non-fictional are too easily blending, it doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. Maybe it just means a delay in your current project, one which you can always return to later. If you’re a writer, you’ve got other ideas, likely ones that have been tickling your mind in distraction this whole time.

Work on that other concept. Try writing that short story. Start a blog. Our world is what it is, and normal will return. Meanwhile, there are endless worlds writers and readers can travel within. Readers are in need of these worlds now more than ever.

Open them up. Create them. Then invite some guests.

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