Christine Lawrence describes finishing her novel, which had not been touched for a year, while in lockdown, and how she managed to write over 87,000 words during the pandemic.
I sit and stare into the distance, wondering how much longer we have. Inside of me I have this driving force, telling me not to waste a minute of this opportunity. For years I have longed to go on a writing retreat, but in the past had talked myself out of it for various reasons. It was too expensive; no one to look after the cat; not fair to have a holiday when others were still at home, having to work, I had far too much else to do, meetings to go to.
Then came the so called lockdown. For the first week I think I was in a kind of shock, I didn’t go out at all, not even to the village shop. I phoned for the things I wanted and they were delivered to my doorstep. I took notice of the instructions that over seventy year old people were amongst those at risk. This was quite frightening and annoying, as I’d only just celebrated my 70th birthday a couple of weeks before and consider myself fitter than many of my fifty-something friends.
I stopped seeing my daughter, and my son. I couldn’t drive to my old Mum to take her to the market. I just had to stay at home. Looking around the house and in particular at my working space, I started to clean. I cleared out things I had no idea why I’d kept. I found things I’d forgotten I had kept and loved them again. My cat Elsie had a stroke and the last time I drove to Fareham was on the 23rd March to take her to the vet to have her put to sleep. It was a weird time.
But I thought, here is your chance to write. 3750 words of my novel had been there, staring me in the face for the past year. I was doing research, I told myself and anyone who asked how it was getting on. People had stopped asking me whether it was nearly finished. So, I sat down at the computer, I looked at my emails, I looked at Facebook, I looked at Twitter, I cleared out my inboxes, answered emails that were long neglected, I took part in any and every quiz that popped up in social media. I learned how to Zoom, conference call with Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat. I wrote a few short pieces for writing groups and spent hours sitting in the garden, doing crosswords, pottering about.
Yes, I did potter about. I grew tomato plants, lettuce, nasturiums, runner beans and onions from seed and I watered them well.
Four weeks in and I had written nothing of my novel. It was still there. Still at 3750 words. I was enjoying life but started to get a little bit panicky. What if we came out of the lockdown in a few weeks and I’d be still at 3750 words? How annoyed with myself would I be? That’s when I decided that maybe I should write a little bit a day, before I did anything else. Another five weeks later and I’d reached 60,000 words. I’m not quite sure how I got there, and I knew that this is a very rough first draft and there was still a way to go.
After a while, it stopped being a chore to sit down and work. I do call it work, as this makes it more of a discipline to finish at least 1000 words before I stop. Some days I can write 3000 and others I have only managed 200 but if that happens it’s either because I’ve been organising the plot, really doing research, or it’s the weekend and I want to spend time with my husband who still has to go to work during the week.
The novel has took off with a life of its own; I struggled at times to let my head stop whirling with what might be happening to my characters and where the story might be going next. Other times, I had to walk around the garden, clearing my head, struggling to let the story have free reign. I am grateful to the various writing groups that I take part in. When I got really stuck, there was always a prompt to pick up and run with. And it helped a lot to read out snippets for feedback from such a great bunch of writers.
Finally, after another 6 weeks work, I reached the final chapter. Having achieved over 87,000 words was something I didn’t expect to be able to do – now it’s done, I feel good.
I try not to worry about what sort of rubbish I might have written and how long it’s going to take to edit the thing now that I have reached the end. Because, we all know, don’t we, that when we finish writing a story, that’s often when the hard work begins.