I am a writer with Long Covid.
Ernest Hemmingway is attributed with the quote: “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” Whether he said it or not is open to some debate, but there’s no doubt the sentiment is shared among most, if not all, writers. For me, the blood from my seven opening words pours directly from my sense of self. This is the first time I have referred to myself as a writer, as I have nothing published, though my first novel has received some surprisingly supportive editorial feedback. ‘Writer’ is a title I wear uncomfortably, as do a great deal of us who remain without a writing credit, I would suppose.
It’s the final two words in that sentence, however, that really strike home. Long Covid. I fear these two words are beginning to define who I am, as a writer and as a person. I’ll spare you the implausible story of my battle with the Dreaded Virus, and try my best to focus on what I have become in the aftermath.
Prior to March 2020, my novel was, if not quite humming along, then perhaps proceeding with a pace that one might expect while one is trying to maintain a day-job and raise three kids. At the very least, there was some forward momentum, a sense of purpose, and a glimpse or two of the light purported to reside at the end of the tunnel. On the sunny day that was March 3rd 2020, I felt the first touch of Covid-19, almost simultaneously as I wrote what would be the last words added to my novel for some 19 months.
As terrible as my battle with the disease was, I was home within a few weeks, and through a quirk of fate assigned as decent a rehabilitation team as was possible under the circumstances. This was the front edge of the first wave, and this type of pandemic was several times more likely to occur in a Robin Cook novel than in real life, so no one really knew what the hell was going on. As it turns out, the problem wasn’t with the level of care I received, the problem was that even all the Queen’s doctors and all the Queen’s meds couldn’t put me back together again.
My body was weak, but my brain was pulp. My memory, once an iron vice, now had more holes than 1970s computer paper. My vocabulary, functional at the very least, now would casually substitute words like ‘bus’ when I meant ‘truck’, and ‘xylophone’ when I meant ‘hamburger.’ Add to this a fatigue that struck as swiftly and as unexpectedly as the Spanish Inquisition, and you’ve got a three-legged stool that I would not wish upon the backside of my worst enemy.
As the months wore on, I found I could just about compose posts for Facebook, or draft factually based correspondence. Torturously, the desire to create, to expand my self-made universe, still persisted all while I was physically and mentally incapable of doing so. I want the one I can’t have and it’s driving me mad.
Of course, I have tried to write. And, of course, my brain is healing itself. But, it is a slow process. My concentration span tends to last no more than 43 minutes (I know this as my Netflix account currently has about 50 movies each discontinued at or around the 43 minute mark). By the time I’ve fired up the ol’ laptop, reread my last chapter and engaged the working parts of my brain, the words are too tired to make the journey from my mind to my fingers – leaving each to waggle impotently.
That’s okay, I think, I will try again tomorrow. But I won’t. Tomorrow I will remember how difficult today was, and I will find a 40 minute TV show to watch instead, or fall down the Reddit rabbit-hole in search of distraction. Anything to not have to suffer at the hands of my vile keyboard once again.
But even with all this, the spark within me has failed to die. In the car, I find myself listening to the most vaunted writing books that Audible has to offer. My imagination, resuscitated, flits between imagining that I can write, and imagining what I will write, once I can. It is filled to the brim with ideas that I need to capture before any more fade away. I need to write.
But how? King, Stein, Zinsser, Lamott, Goldberg, Maass, Bradbury and the others that talk to me through my car speakers merge their voices, and bombard me with their worthy advice. Their lessons for me now are the same as they ever were.
I must persist. I must write, or try to write, as often as I can. I must believe in myself and recognize I am a writer. I must find my voice, and not worry that some will not like it. I must put the words down, knowing they are imperfect, and that they will need tending before they can be shared.
As long as these stories continue to grace me with their presence, I must find a way to embrace them, to give them a home and a life. Because the task is more difficult now than it was 19 months ago, is no longer an excuse. Deep down, I know I don’t really have a choice.
Tomorrow I must sit in front of my laptop, and see just how much I can still bleed.
Darryl R Williams has been an avid fan of speculative fiction since discovering a trove of Ray Bradbury paperbacks at a flea market at the tender age of nine. He presently resides among the castles of Wales with his wife, three children, and three dogs, and spends his days working in Public Health. His first novel is almost done.