Thursday, August 20, 2020

Putting the "P" for Productivity into the Pandemic

COVID-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2, as seen through an electron microscope.
Image provided by The National Institutes of Health.

Now that we're all several months into this pandemic, each of us has settled into something of a routine that may or may not be productive. I confess my first response was to turn into a human slug, sitting in my chair for countless hours with my computer on my lap, staring into space, or working endless rounds of crossword puzzles or games of Sudoku.

I suddenly realized a few days ago I was in a sort of semi-coma and wondered if my epitaph would read, "She played a lot of Sudoku."

I didn't want that to be my epitaph.

I tried focusing on my garden but we're suffering from a plague of slugs this year and it is really one disgusting mess. This time last year, I was eating fresh organic food straight from my garden every single day. This year, the slugs are eating fresh organic food straight from my garden every single night. By the time I wake up in the morning, there is nothing left but a few slime-covered green nubs.

Next, I decided to reorganize my kitchen. Let's just say that is a far more daunting project than I realized in the planning stage, but at least it is ongoing even though my progress is slower than I would like.

Still, I couldn't bear the thought of picking up a knitting needle or crochet hook or even threading my sewing machine. I didn't feel like beading. I didn't feel like reading...something that had never happened in my life. Reading has always been my go-to happy place, but once the pandemic settled in for its extended visit, reading began to feel like it required too much effort, squandering energy I didn't have. I couldn't even focus on listening to a book on tape. In fact, I didn't feel like doing much of anything and was alarmed by the growing number of my friends who found themselves in a similar frame of mind. Were we all going die from ennui?

Finally, I realized I was just using the pandemic as an excuse to put off spending time on my work in progress. I fought against that conclusion for days but finally had to acknowledge it was true.

To be completely honest, my work in progress is a hot mess of a book. I am essentially a journalist, a non-fiction writer completely at home in the world of accurate quotes from real live people, science-based data, and verifiable facts. But when I have to make up stories and characters from whole cloth, I lose my moxie. Oh, I can still turn a pretty sentence. But can I actually write a complete work of fiction that makes sense, with a story that both intrigues and satisfies my readers and characters who are so real they leap off the page straight into the readers' hearts and imaginations?

That is a question that has yet to be answered.

After several failed attempts, I was beginning to worry that I would never complete a work of fiction. But there have been many authors who made a successful transition from journalism to fiction. Louise Penny and Hank Phillippi Ryan come immediately to mind. Not to mention Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. If they could write both a compelling news article and a compelling work of fiction, why couldn't I?

Then I hit upon an inspired idea. Instead of trying to wrestle my story back into a dimly remembered past or forward into an amorphous future, why not set it down smack in the middle of the pandemic?

I am happy to report that one small change has made a huge difference. Now my words are flowing. I don't have to stop and ponder, "What is going on here?" I just write out what is happening all around me and have plopped my characters right into that muddle and am watching to see how they respond. They haven't let me down. The book is finally moving forward.

The pandemic forced me to look at my fiction in much the same way I look at my non-fiction, and allowed me to put the "P" back into my productivity after months of sitting on my duff. For that, I suppose I should feel grateful, but my head and my heart keep taking me back to the heartbreak of the crisis that is gripping our nation, the tens of thousands of families affected, lives decimated, so it is difficult to feel too much joy in taking a small forward step with my writing. But I do feel grateful to have had that breakthrough, even within the context of the immeasurable suffering happening all around me.

Has the pandemic changed or helped you in unexpected ways? If so, let us know in the comments.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.


  1. I loved everything about this post! Thank you for sharing!

  2. You're not alone, Pat. I hear these concerns from everyone I know. I push myself to do a little more than I want, but I'm not nearly as productive as I could be. There seems to be no good reason to try, and that's not a good feeling.

  3. Glad you got your mojo back, Pat ... mine is still MIA ... wish I could blame it on the pandemic, but, unfortunately, it's that damn coach!

  4. Wow. Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels like a "slug," doesn't feel like doing anything at all, is in a terrible rut but hasn't the energy to climb out of it!! Good for you for taking that step.

  5. I actually found that without meetings to attend, I could focus on writing. There were days when I procrastinated. But writing took me out of the dreadful daily news.

  6. It's clear you aren't alone, Pat. I think the loss of emotional energy that used to fire us up to write, or garden, or do any of the things we usually enjoy is what's missing. There's an overriding sense of hopelessness about the situation of the pandemic and the way it is affecting people all over the world. Here at my house it's like everything I'm doing is in slow motion, but I haven't let myself stop. Glad you got your writing energy back!

  7. So glad you found a reason to continue. If it's the few chapters of the book I read, it's a perfect background for the pandemic. Way to go, Pat.

  8. Well said, Pat. We continue to commiserate over an unwelcome visit from a stranger that seems determined to extend its stay. When and where (and if) it will finally leave remains to be seen. Meanwhile, our adaptability has been challenged and our comfort zones have become discomfort zones. Seeds of change are being sown, and now we wait to see what will sprout. I applaud as a stroke of genius your adapting of your story to present situations. A lovely perk of being a writer is our ability to touch people's hearts and lives with relevant tales. In one form or another, let's all go for it!


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