Columns > Published on April 22nd, 2021

Why You Didn't Finish Your Novel During COVID

It’s been too long since I’ve heard a really bizarre conspiracy theory about COVID.

And when the wacky theories about something dry up, you know it’s coming to an end.

It’s too early to call COVID completely over, but based on the slowdown of bonkers theories around it, we’re getting there. It’s been a bit since I’ve heard a new theory as stupid as government chips being in vaccines, Amazon creating the virus, or Asian people, in general, having anything to do with it (I’m Polish, and that’d be like blaming me because you ate a bad Polish sausage at the ballpark, which, by the way, is impossible).

Didn’t you always figure that during an event like this, where you were stuck inside, where there was nothing to do, that you’d bang out AT LEAST a book, if not two? That a world without distraction would be ideal for writing?

And yet, you didn’t finish your novel.

What the hell happened?

Your Life Didn’t Change

Maybe you didn’t finish your book because your life didn’t change. There are two flavors of a life that’s mostly unchanged during COVID.

Flavor A: You’ve got a job or obligations that don't change much during a pandemic. If that’s you, COVID didn’t free you up at all. In fact, you were probably busier. You get a pass.

It’s pretty unlikely that writing time will fall in your lap. You need to fix this problem for yourself.

Flavor B: Your life didn’t change because you ignored COVID. If you got on a plane after March 2020, and if that wasn’t 100% required, then what you’ve learned is that you will not buckle down and work when conditions for doing so are perfect, when everything about the world is encouraging you to stay home. Maybe you should’ve stayed home like the rest of us, and maybe your unfinished novel taunting you is your cosmic punishment.

If your life didn’t change because of things outside of your control, don’t beat yourself up, but also recognize that global pandemic wasn’t enough to provide you more writing time, so it’s pretty unlikely that writing time will fall in your lap. You need to fix this problem for yourself.

If your life didn’t change because you’re a stubborn ass and probably a little selfish, recognize that if a potentially fatal virus can’t convince you to stay the fuck home and write, if the threat of illness and death isn’t enough to glue you to your keyboard, absolutely no external factor will. You’ll have to find motivation somewhere else.

You Were Distracted

To say that there were a lot of distractions in 2020 is like saying that going to bed a normal man and waking up a cockroach was “somewhat inconvenient.”

However, if your book wasn’t interesting enough to keep you engaged in writing it during 2020, it probably won’t be interesting enough to keep your readers engaged in reading it in 2021, either.

Your book is going to be in the real world, and distractions are part of the real world. If you didn’t finish your book because it wasn’t interesting enough to compete with 2020, you can either wait for the world to become boring (I put this somewhere in whatever year the Sun flares out) or you can fix your book.

Your book has to be more interesting than the real world for at least as long as it takes a person to read it. If you weren’t interested in it on that level, don’t expect anyone else to be.

You’re Not A Writer

Instead of crying over your unfinished novel, be the writer you want to be in the post-COVID era.

If you aren’t taking a crap every now and then, something’s wrong. Some people go every day, some every couple days, but for any human, if you go too long without taking a dump, you’ll be pretty uncomfortable.

If you’re a writer, and if you don’t feel compelled to write on a regular-ish basis, something’s wrong. Doesn’t have to be every day, doesn’t have to be every week. But if you’re not writing, and if that feels natural to you, you might not be a writer.

COVID knocked a lot of people out of their routines, and this is good and bad. It’s bad when your routine was being sober at 11 am on a weekday. But it’s good when your routine was to blow $80 bucks at Target every weekend.

If COVID knocked you out of your writing routine, maybe that’s bad, and it’s time to get back on the horse. Maybe it’s good, because maybe writing isn’t what fulfills you. Maybe it’s something you felt like you SHOULD do. Maybe it’s something you just got used to doing, but it wasn’t scratching the itch anymore.

If you got knocked out of your writing routine, instead of cramming yourself right back in, take this as a chance to figure out if this is really how you want to spend your life.


So you weren’t the writer you wanted to be during COVID.

Pre-COVID and post-COVID, those are the long periods, the critical periods. The time that passed during COVID, those two years, those will fade. A lot of what you slacked on, that’s all forgettable and forgivable. But only if you change.

Instead of crying over your unfinished novel, be the writer you want to be in the post-COVID era, a period that’s also known as “the rest of your life.”

Get Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott at Amazon or Bookshop

Get The War of Art by Steven Pressfield at Amazon or Bookshop 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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