Patience and Detours: Writing and Living in a Time of Pandemic

As we enter the heart of summer, I can tell that folks are coming down with quarantine fatigue. Patience is wearing thin, and people are antsy. Now isn’t the time to let down our guard. My wife Cathy, the Risk Management/Corporate Compliance Director at a small hospital shared a reminder yesterday on Facebook, encouraging people to remember that the virus hasn’t magically disappeared, our immune systems haven’t changed, and there’s still no vaccine or cure. We are, therefore, still in a time of trying to stay safe and to be mindful of those around us.

I understand the desire to want to believe that the world is going back to where it was before we were all encouraged to stay at home, but I imagine it might be some time before we all can freely move about and gather with others as we did in what we considered our normal lives. That’s the public service announcement of this post.

Today, Cathy and I surrendered to our own quarantine fatigue and decided to go out for a while. With masks at the ready, we drove out to one of our metro parks to see what we could see. We were particularly intrigued by the prospect of spotting the bison that roam freely on two enclosed pastures. When we got to the park, we were disappointed that many of the roadways were closed, so we couldn’t drive very far. Because of Cathy’s bad knee, we didn’t want to walk the trails. We did see some bison, but from such a distance it wasn’t possible to appreciate their magnificence.

So we headed back into Columbus to do some shopping at Whole Foods. We wanted some dairy-free naan to go with the Indian food we were going to prepare later. Our route to Whole Foods would take us through our old neighborhood, a drive we like to take whenever we’re in that area just to recall fond memories, but there was bridge construction on Trabue Road which required us to detour to Roberts Road and then circle back. The detour was another wrinkle in what we’d envisioned when we first set out, but we persisted. We drove through our old neighborhood and found our former townhouse, then made our way down Lane Avenue to the Whole Foods, where, wouldn’t you know it, we found no dairy-free naan.

Nothing about our trip really worked out the way we’d imagined it would—and, oh, isn’t this so often the way with the things we write—but we saw things we wouldn’t have otherwise: a sod farm, a newly planted cornfield, a beautiful farmhouse. Because our plans didn’t work out, we found new roads.

This is what we do as writers. We persist. If option A doesn’t work, we turn to option B and so on. This is what we do in this pandemic as well. We persist in what keeps us safe while finding low-risk ways to recall the old way of living that lies now somewhere behind us. We can’t do everything all at once. To try, I’m afraid, would be foolhardy. The returns from the 1918 influenza outbreak, or from the Great Depression, or from 9/11 didn’t happen all at once, or without significant sacrifices and changes in our world. Such will be the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. Be patient. I’m talking now to writers and to anyone so antsy to get back to “normal” that they foolishly disregard the social distancing practices that will lower the transmission of the virus. The manuscript doesn’t get written in a hurry or without missteps along the way. Often, we start, we stop, we go back and take another route. Make that your goal in this time of pandemic. Your routes may not be the ones you’re accustomed to taking, but they can carry you through some excellent times. Writing and living in a pandemic is all about patience, perseverance, sacrifice, accommodation, and finding what pleases you in what you might consider the out-of-the-way places. Remember, detours are is often the best routes.


  1. Wendy Beckman on June 15, 2020 at 7:26 am

    Great advice, Lee! This resonated with me especially today. Over the weekend I finally finished my first novel, which I started 30 years ago. I wrote it in first person. I rewrote it in third person. I changed the time setting to the 21st century. I rewrote it in first person. I moved it back to the 1980s. All along, I was smoothing out knots and adding twists. My most recent change was to add a Black secondary character, which works perfectly to advance the theme.

    Now I hope my quest to get an agent is a little smoother!

    • Lee Martin on June 16, 2020 at 11:53 am

      Congratulations on sticking with that novel and having the trust to try different things. All best wishes in the agent hunt!

  2. Nita Sweeney on June 15, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks so much for this Lee. Even once the writing is done, the first book published and the second headed for the stores, a pandemic can come along and turn book launches and marketing into a zoom adventure. I appreciate your perspective on this. Twists and turns and whiplash. I remind myself this is part of why we got on the roller coaster in the first place.

    Take care and my best to Cathy!

    Also, thanks for wearing masks.

    • Lee Martin on June 16, 2020 at 11:52 am

      All best to you and Ed, Nita! As you well know, our lives go in all sorts of directions and we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, or, in the case of the writer, one word after another. Take Care.

  3. Karen on June 20, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Thank you, I needed to read this today. I am at extreme risk should I get COVID (blood cancer, type A blood, over sixty), and recently there have been days where I get so frustrated seeing fewer people wearing masks and observing social distancing, and I think why even bother continuing writing, because I fear that at some point I’m going to get it, and I’m a sitting duck.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that writing is slow work and the book can’t be rushed.

    So I will double down on protecting myself as best I can — I haven’t gone anywhere, even for medical appointments, since late February except driving around the neighborhood to keep my car battery alive, so I’m housebound for the foreseeable future, perhaps for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop writing.

    • Lee Martin on June 22, 2020 at 9:58 am

      Hi, Karen. Thank you so much for reading my blog and for taking the time to share some of your own story. You’re absolutely right when you say that being housebound doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. In some ways, maybe a little isolation is good for the writing because it closes out some of the noise of the world. I’ve found that the key for me is taking all the necessary precautions while trying to stay in the appreciation of the present moment and not thinking too far down the road. I wish you all the best!

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