Every year I write a post about how my writing year went, highlighting how many pieces I had published. But this year is different.
I had zero pieces published, for the simple reason that once the pandemic hit, I pretty much stopped submitting work to journals. I made a total of four submissions for the year, when I often make over one hundred. I was already so stressed and depressed, I decided to give myself the gift of a year without rejection.
For the first few months of the pandemic, I found it impossible to write at all. Instead, I kept a pandemic diary, thinking that someday I would set a piece of literature in 2020 and would need to remember the odd details. Here’s an excerpt from April:
Went to the grocery store for the first time yesterday. Terrible, tense feeling, especially from the employees. Almost everyone wore masks (the one woman I saw without one came in with no cart, obviously to pick up something small. Then she stood too near me.)
Aisles set for one-way traffic. I went down the wrong way once, trying to speed through to the other side of the store and avoid a crowded aisle. Of course, then someone turned into the aisle and I had to apologize. Ended up passing a woman dithering over packages of chocolate chips—I think she picked up every kind. Then she had to pass me as I tried to find dried chipotle flakes in the spice rack.
I saw two different people wearing special Cleaning Crew smocks and roaming the aisles with wheeled canisters of disinfectant.
Met a woman in the toilet paper aisle who complained that last time she came, the store only had some expensive, fancy kind. Now that she tried it, she likes it better, but now they didn’t have it.
Aside from the journal and finishing The Hat Project (which I did despite having nowhere to wear hats), I did no writing for months.
One day in my journal I put in this cartoon from the New Yorker that said what I was feeling about writing.
Referring to my writing, I wrote:
“Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless.”
So, I wasn’t in a good place for a few months. I started the discipline of going for a daily walk, posting my photos on Instagram. Getting out helped. I also started feeling better once more places opened up.
Gradually, I was able to write again, and, in fact, I finished the first draft of the story collection I had started the year before. It was freeing to just write without worrying about publication. “Maybe I should just write for myself and quit trying to get published,” I thought.
Of course, there's little point in writing if no one reads your work, so I've started to think about submitting again. Maybe in the new year.
So many other important events happened in 2020. The Black Lives Matter protests made me think again about how to be more inclusive in my writing and my reading, and how to better stand up for others and live what I believe.
The election season brought additional distractions with its intense dose of hostility and craziness, but also brought tears of joy when Kamala Harris stood up as Vice President Elect.
2020 was historic in so many ways, I'm giving myself a pass on not accomplishing everything I'd hoped a year ago. It certainly would be a good setting for a novel, but it's not a novel I feel like writing now. Maybe never.
After a quiet, slightly sad holiday separated from many loved ones, I hope we can get through this latest virus surge. Surly, with a vaccine starting to be available, life will be better in 2021. I hope a year from now I'm writing my usual post about publications and writing successes.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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