On Completing a Novel During a Pandemic

I finished a novel that I had been working on for almost a year. It almost didn’t get finished.

The Queen of Swords is a dystopian novel that takes place on an earth that has been forever changed. When our heroine finds herself trapped in an airplane, she finds her way out only to see find the world she knew covered in blood and the sky filled with smoke from fires that are still burning.

Since 2014, I’ve had an idea in my mind. I wanted to write about the Fools Journey from a Tarot deck and use the cards as the backbone of a novel, giving it signposts along the way to propel the plot along. It took me five years to work up the gumption to attempt writing it. In my original idea, it would feature seventy-eight chapters, one for each card. However, that seemed too large to me, too much. I decided to keep it to the Fools Journey and only tell the story of the Major Arcana. I would write twenty-two chapters.

Even that seemed long to me. My novels range anywhere from five thousand to sixty-four thousand words. I don’t write long books but I knew that this one would be long. It would have to be to tell the whole story. I knew this book would push me in all sorts of different ways: it would feature a loose outline when I normally don’t plot a single thing about my novels, it would have long chapters and I knew tell the story that it would be a longer book than I normally write.

During the writing of it, I worked on other shorter novels, released a book of love poems, a few romance novels and painted. However, I always came back to The Queen of Swords and I kept telling Jackie’s story, wanting to find out where it would all end up. Jackie, the main character of The Queen of Swords, and her world thrilled me and I wanted to explore as much of it as possible.

Then the pandemic happened.

I normally work through difficult situations by turning to positivity. The Queen of Swords is not what I would call a positive story, though there is humour throughout and it and I knew that it would have a (hopefully) positive ending. The thing is, I didn’t want to work on a story set in a dystopian world when it all of a sudden felt like I was living in one.

I began working something that surprised me. I started work on Nancy Boy, the fourth book in my Lemonade Series. I wrote twenty thousand words of that book in two weeks. Writing has always been a comfort for me and has always given me somewhere inside myself that I can go when life gets too difficult or I just feel like exploring.

During that two weeks when I wrote about Nancy, and friends, Jackie from The Queen of Swords kept poking me. She kept telling me that I wasn’t done telling her story and that she would wait patiently for me to finish telling it. I turned to writing poems, short stories, flash fiction and yet Jackie from The Queen of Swords was still poking gently at me with one of her swords.

My mother and I were having a video conversation on Facebook messenger and I was telling her about my issue with writing The Queen of Swords and the pandemic. She looked thoughtful for a moment and said: “You know, maybe writing a novel about a pandemic during a pandemic would strengthen the novel.”

It was all the encouragement I needed.

I dived back into the universe of The Queen of Swords with what can only be called gusto. I was averaging around a thousand words a night and sometimes over that amount. The words seemed to be pouring out of me, wanting the story told as much as I did. When the hit 70,000 words, it became the longest book I had ever written. It kept growing and hit 80,000 words and then 90,000 words. When it hit 100,000 words, I was tongue tied and overjoyed.

I think what made the novel easier to write was finally knowing what had caused the disease that had ruined the earth. I even worked some of the pandemic that I was living into the novel. I guess in that way, life inspired my art.

It also helped me to deal with my anxiety. I’ve never dealt with anxiety in my life before, so this was new to me, the slowly growing feeling of panic that would hound me and would not be denied. I found that I could ignore it if I wrote. It was quieter somehow because my brain had something else to concentrate on. At several points during the novel, Jackie also deals with fear an anxiety. It felt right having her journey mirror the one that I was going though.

Just as Jackie walks the path of the Fools Journey, I followed along with her. Just as Jackie learns about herself, I learned a lot about myself, too. I learned what I’m capable of and that it is possible to climb the flat mountain and to come down the other side. I learned that the impossible is just a trick the mind plays and that everything is possible, sometimes it just takes a little time.

I wrote a wonderful long novel, something you can sink your teeth into and try to figure out as you go along. I hope I like it as much when go through the first round of edits. I’ve also come to realize that Jackie’s story isn’t done yet. A tarot deck has three part so it: the Major Arcana, the Court Cards and the Minor Arcana. That means there’s another two novels to come.

It seems my journey has just begun.

One Comment on “On Completing a Novel During a Pandemic

  1. Congrats on finishing your novel! The pandemic has been kind to my writing routine as well. Quite interesting to know that you’re able to allay anxiety through writing the novel. For me, it just riddles me with more frustration and stress.

    Thanks for sharing!

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