My Journey of Writing a Book During a Pandemic, Just Like Shakespeare

My Journey of Writing a Book During a Pandemic, Just Like Shakespeare

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash. Stratford-on-Avon

I’m a writer. It’s what I say when I want to impress people at bars, back when we had bars. It is a lot more impressive than saying that I am living off ODSP and odd jobs while imagining interactions between my various Dungeons and Dragons characters. As such, I have been struck by how the current situation has offered me the chance to focus on finally finishing that novel I’ve been trying to write. I wish I could say that I have finished it, or even a first draft, but the answer is I have only barely gotten started. Mostly I just play video games and listen to podcasts. This keeps me up at night, focusing on my own inability to complete a novel despite all the time I have for completing this project that I have been trying to start since 2016. What is wrong with me?

The slogan I’ve seen the most in this whole COVID thing is “Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague.” I’ve thought about this phrase a lot.  It’s likely that if we were to ask William Shakespeare what he would have thought about this, he wouldn’t be impressed at all. After all, King Lear is a play, and part of the point of a play is that it is seen. It would be something of a let down, after writing what many consider to be one of his greatest plays, for nobody to be able to actually see it. We often forget that Shakespeare wrote for a company, his plays were a way to put food on the table. 

What should especially be considered is that King Lear, in addition to being one of his best plays, is probably one of Shakespeare’s bleakest. We usually joke about the ending body counts of Shakespeare’s tragedies, but King Lear hits it as one of the bleakest endings. In Hamlet, while the stage is littered with bodies, but Fortinbras of Norway is able to step in as a legitimate king and restore order. King Lear ends with the title character dying a broken man holding the dead body of his one loyal daughter, and the question of who will be king textually uncertain. What isn’t widely known however is that this was not what originally happened. In the source material of Lear, Cordelia actually manages to overthrow her sisters, reinstating her father and later becoming Queen herself after his death. After it was written, many people would purposefully change the ending to make it more positive. It may say something that the saying is “Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague,” as compared to “Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer’s Night Dream during a plague.”

If I were to summarize what I am currently writing in its most basic terms, I would describe it as a horror novel of an intensely personal nature. I don’t want to get into the details of it, this isn’t the essay for it and explaining it would involve too much explanation of live action role-playing. What you need to know is that I am trying to write something with only some incredibly troubled memories and in a genre with that pulsates with blood and trauma. In that way, I can see how this would be similar to Shakespeare writing King Lear, at least as far as subject matter. 

When the corona virus hit I was hoping to write this would give me more time to work on this novel. I have written only a fraction of it, most of which is about setting up a character and I don’t even know where this story is going still. The “Shakespeare wrote his best work in a plague” crowd would probably tell me I should focus on things, but in addition to processing the very personal horror of my own novel, I am being constantly bombarded with the wider horror of the coronavirus, ongoing protests against racial injustice and to top it all of it is an election year in the States. Do you know how long those things go for? It’s ridiculous. 

Photo by 烧不酥在上海 老的 on Unsplash

Things are really scary right now. If I were to make the call, I would say they are going to get scarier before things quiet down. In this time, why are we being so hard on ourselves to finally read Marcel Proust, or to learn a new language, or to write a novel? Maybe in these troubled times we shouldn’t be seeking to make progress by doing things we were not able to do in the before times, but take comfort in what we have done and to take care of ourselves in little ways. Like watching a podcast. I recommend My Brother, My Brother and Me. Those McElroy Brothers are always good for a laugh, and it may be good to have a little comedy in a time marked by so much tragedy. 


Written by: Gretchen - a participant in our Youth Employment Program

1 comment

  • Ola

    I totally agree that we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard to do now, things we weren’t able to do before. Let’s celebrate the seemingly little things and enjoy every second.
    Thanks for the reminder Gretchen. Great article!

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