Day six: A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

“You remember the corona virus wasn’t there but now it is? Why is it happening now?”

It was a little shocking to hear my four year old speak the name of the virus. He asked why they call it the corona virus and I told him it was the shape of a crown under a microscope. I had no answer to why it was happening now. These things just happen.

We were playing with his legos when he paused to ask me about COVID-19. I had him repeat the question because it took me off guard. My son is at the age where he is a sponge. He absorbs information quickly, and processes it more quickly. I knew he understood a little about what was going on, but still…it took me by surprise.

A lot of people don’t understand the big deal about COVID-19. They think it’s some big conspiracy. I’m not saying they are wrong. It’s too soon to tell if this is a political move or just a pandemic. People keep comparing it to the seasonal flu. We have a lot of data about the flu. We know how many people it kills. They say COVID-19 kills less. The truth is, the pandemic has just started, so how can we compare it?

I don’t believe what people say. I take into consideration what people say, but I do my own research. I look at the numbers, the factors. Timelines. I compare data. Going to school for writing hasn’t taught me much in the writing aspect (that’s all self-taught), but it has taught me a bunch more about other subjects. Science is one of them. I know how to question topics and how to find out answers. I know where to look and how to critical think. I know news agencies aren’t what we should be quoting.

Going back to seasonal flu and how much we know with that. We know there is a pattern. We know when it gets warmer outside, the spread lessens. We spend less times in doors. We spend less time closer to people. Higher temps and humidity cause quicker decay with some viruses. It’s hard to know for sure why viruses do this. There are a number of theories and factors scientists look at when studying them. The human body, the temperature, the altitude, seasonality, just to name a few.

We aren’t seeing a similar pattern with COVID-19. It’s in hot and cold places alike. It’s in South America and Canada during winter months. Dr. Anthony Fauci testified in Congress on the 11th of March that COVID-19 is deadlier than the flu. It is said that the flu kills one in a thousand people, and COVID-19 kills one in ten.

It’s easy to look at these numbers and not be alarmed. They are just numbers to many, but to one in ten people, they are a name. A family member. A friend. They are a life. Any number of deaths for any virus or disease is too many.

Pa cases shot up by another hundred on day six. We’ve been under shut down for nearly a week now, but the numbers are rising. This is to be expected. It’s only been a week and we’re testing more now. I don’t see the numbers curbing in the next week. I think it’ll take more time. I’m not happy about being out of work for longer, but I think it’s necessary to protect those we love.

My son and I spent a couple hours building Lego battle ships and then playing Lego Jurassic World. We attempted to watch the first Jurassic Park, but it was a bit more gory than I remembered. He enjoyed the parts I allowed him to watch.

I finally did some reverse drafting on my Kit novel. I’ve been so overwhelmed with it that I didn’t know where to start. I have about 30 k more words to write to reach my goal, but I thought it was pointless to look at that number. What I need to do is look at the plots to see where the gaps were. Whatever they add to once written is what’s important.

I also made a second batch of hand sanitizer.

Keep safe, you guys.

Day Five: A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

I have not left my house in almost a week. I took a trip to the grocery store this past Monday, but other than that, I have been here. I’m lucky that I have so much space outside and that I’m so connected to nature. I am not stuck inside like many others because of their proximity to other people.

But, my days are blending together. I’m not sure what day it is unless I look at my calendar. I mark off the day before bed each night. I have the days circled leading to the end of this shut down.

I have not stayed inside this long since my last bout of depression. I won’t deny that I would always like to hide inside, but since I’ve been getting better, I’ve forced myself to go out. Sometimes it took no strength. Sometimes it took all the strength I had. This past week, it’s taken strength to leave the comfort of my living room and even go outside. I’m getting comfortable in my complete solitude, and it’s scaring me. I miss working. I miss people. I miss my mom.

I’m not even positive I’ll have a job to return to. I’m only part-time and it’s a small business. I’m not sure if they can afford to keep me after this. I’m not sure if they can afford to keep their doors open after this.

I’m tempted to let my friends with children know they can come to my yard to let their kids play in turns. I have some playground equipment that would be easy to sanitize between turns. But then, I think of the look on my son’s face when he sees children outside playing. He’d be looking out the window and asking me why he can’t go play with them. I feel selfish when I decide against the idea. I couldn’t bear to explain to him why he can’t go play with the kids on his playground.

I woke up on day five feeling better, at least in the aspect of my cough and itchy throat. I didn’t get much writing done, but I did exercise for twenty minutes. I cleaned my mess of a room and did some deep cleaning in my office (which wasn’t a mess, but I feel the need to consolidate. To get rid of things. To lighten my load. Anything that has me making decisions, has me moving forward, has me not in stasis).

I haven’t read since day 3, but I have been listening to an audible book. Patrica Briggs, the latest in her Mercy series. I have wanted to write my book so badly, but every time I get started, I feel lost at sea. It’s so messy and I can’t figure out which part to start with or what to do. I’ll work it out. I always do. COVID-19 won’t stop me from achieving my goal this year. This year I will get a book published.

My state has seen another death from COVID-19 on day five. The number of infected also shot up by 100. No doubt these numbers will rise.

I also looked at the stats for the number of cases and how quickly they are rising in the US. It honestly just looks like it’s getting worse here, but I was expecting it to. We all were. As testing increases, no doubt the numbers rise. With something that spreads so easily and the number of people we have in the country, it’s expected.

According to Our World Data, over 80 percent of people live in urban areas in the US. The following data is from 2018.

Meanwhile, health care workers are facing a shortage of masks. According to sources (including my mother) masks have to be attained with permission now. Supervisors are keeping them locked away because people are taking them. Below, my mother asked those who could sow to make masks to donate.

I went through all the breathable cotton material that I have and plan to try my hand at it. What else do I have to do? (Lots, but none compare to doing my part to keep our health care workers safe.) I even unpacked my sons baby clothes to use them. I’d been keeping them as keepsakes, but they can go to a better use. I kept one outfit and finally put together the shadow box I’ve been meaning to make.

Meanwhile, my dog is getting sick of us.

My son and I played with his firetruck tent on day five. Our dog was the monster who kept trying to attack us as we drove. She had us both laughing. I appreciate my dog, but she is probably getting sick of us. (Kidding, this is her dream.) Speaking of dreaming, last night she fell asleep with my son and barked and growled in her sleep. She was probably still attacking us in the firetruck.

Make the small moments count, my friends. Make memories with your kids and try to enjoy this time with them. Depending on their age, they will remember the time their parents stayed home with them for an extended period and had lots of fun with them.

Everything will be okay. Humans are resilient and we find the joy in the little things. Stay safe. Stay home. Stay positive.

Day Four: A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

I woke up on day four with a sore throat and a cough. I crossed my fingers and chanted, “Allergies. Allergies. Allergies.” I’d never wanted allergies so badly in my life. The probability of it being allergies was pretty good because it was the first day of Spring (yay!). No fever. No trouble breathing.

I quarantined myself in the living for the first half of the day, just in case. I played Minecraft. A lot.

Around one I took my dog outside to go the bathroom, and was pleasantly surprised. It was still a little rainy, but it was close to 70 degrees outside. I don’t mind the rain, just the cold. My son was super excited when I said we were going outside to play. I needed some fresh air and nature, and he needed to run off his energy.

Of course, as soon as we stepped outside, there was a rain burst. It poured. My son looked up at me and asked, “Do we need to go inside?”

“Noooooo,” I said. “Race you to the mud puddles.”

The burst of rain only lasted maybe five minutes, and stopped as quickly as it started. I grabbed my phone afterward to take some pictures. There is a swamp over the drop off you can see in the picture above, and I grabbed my wooden frog caller my brother bought me for my birthday.

The sound of the swamp is soothing, and nearly all the critters went silent as I used my frog caller. I glanced at my son with a grin and said, “Queen of the frogs.”

Lydia enjoyed it, too.

*sigh*

I jumped on facebook, and saw this gem.

I let my writers group know the meeting was still on, but we’d be having a virtual meeting. I started the writing group a few weeks ago after realizing we didn’t have a local one. I mean, we have one that meets once a month at the library but it seems like it’s just there. Once this is all over I plan to go with some of my members to meet more and see if they’ll join my group, too. Writer meeting twice a month? Who can deny that?

We’d met twice at a coffee shop down town before the shut down happened, and I’d never had so much fun. To be around my own people…there isn’t a feeling like it. I met two new people and finally met someone I was facebook friends with (who my mom worked with). My son was at the second one when I met my facebook friend, and ironically played bag pipes on his phone just before my friend came in. My friend is Scottish. The bag pipes were totally by accident, but so perfect!

Cases in Pa jumped nearly 100 on day four. Another state shut down, too. My county still doesn’t have any confirmed cases, but it’s only a matter of time. It’s all around us, and I’m sure it’s here, too. It just hasn’t been confirmed.

I tried to write after we came inside. My writers group got a kick out of the following meme I posted because we could all relate to it.

This is how writing went:

The thing about watching TWD…it didn’t feel the same as any time I watched it before. I talked to my brother on day four, too, and he said exactly how I was feeling. “It won’t be the same after this.” He meant this time will affect everything in the future for us, and he was right. It was only hours in the future, but I saw TWD in a new light. Granted, I’m not fighting zombies, just a virus, but there was…a knowing? It’s hard to explain. The feeling I had while watching…these characters were facing an unprecedented time. I got that. There was a helplessness in them. I got that, too. An uncertainty for tomorrow. Yep, check.

What I really felt was when they had just taken over the prison and had to tell the prisoners who’d been holed up there that the world had ended. The look on their faces. They couldn’t believe what was going on and I said to the TV, “Yeah, shits crazy, huh?”

My brother let me know that the baby shower for his unborn kid was cancelled. He told me he was still working (he works for a company that goes all over the East coast to stock shelves at big stores) and that it was scary, but someone had to make sure the shelves had products on them. He’s been working in the epicenter of two out breaks. Baltimore and Richmond.

I thank you, little brother. You are one of the essential services who keep this country running. You know what’s scary? Truck drivers are being turned away from some of their only options to eat. Truck stops are closed. Drive thru won’t serve them because they have to walk up to the window because their trucks won’t fit through the clearance. They can only get food at places for take out if they can find a parking spot. Their cost of living has tripled in some cases.

Also scary:

I think this is because people are expecting looting. They’re expecting break ins. If this continues and our stocks are depleted, people will do whatever they have to do to feed their families. And people will do whatever they have to do to protect their families. Society hasn’t crumbled yet, but people are preparing it to.

I’ve kept my door locked. My windows locked. I don’t live in a crowded area. My neighbor is a mile away. I never locked my door or windows except for at night. Now, they are locked all the time. I saw a car driving slow in front of my house. I don’t know what they were doing, but my writer brain went through all sorts of scenarios.

There are a lot of animals around me, but it’s been increasing because of lack of traffic on the road. I woke up on day four to see a beheaded rabbit outside my window. Probably a coyote or fox. It just gave me a feeling that more things were to come. Bad things. Like an omen.

Stay safe, guys.

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Day Three: A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

I’m a big player of the Fallout franchise, but I’ve been off the game lately. Especially since the real outside world is so unrecognizable. I said in other journals that I love post apocalyptic stuff. Reading it. Writing it. Watching it. Playing it. I can’t deny that I was curious to see how the real stuff would play out. What would happen if the world was sucked into another plague? If life as we knew it came to a stop? Would it continue as usual afterward, or would it forever be changed? I naively thought that I wouldn’t be affected by a changed world, even if only temporarily.

I’m feeling the affect. Physically, emotionally, and mentally.

I look for funny things wherever I can find them, and I found this gem.

COVID-19 is changing our world, and I don’t think it’s just temporarily. We will still feel the financial impact years to come. Despite what our Government is trying to do to keep our economy afloat, some small businesses may not survive this. Even our game playing will be forever marked by this virus. 2020 will be in our history books, no matter the outcome.

As of day three, there were 14 thousand cases of COVID-19 in the US. There were 185 in my home state, Pa. There was one death state wide, but 217 deaths nation wide. Over 100 people recovered. We can expect to see all of those numbers rise.

China experienced it’s first day of no new cases.

When this first started in Pa, the statistics were as follows:

Only days later, here is the update:

Our state officials put out a new article on day three.

I texted my mom to see how she was feeling (all good so far) and asked what was different about this than the last statement the officials put out. It’s pretty much states the same thing with one big difference: there will be legal consequences for businsses who are not life sustaining that remain open.

On facebook, I saw pictures of people. People getting new tattoos, people getting together in large groups, people going about life as normal. Meanwhile, I’m like “Should I wash my hair today? How many days left until I have to see people?” I’m all about bubble baths, but washing my hair is a whole ordeal.

It’s been raining here for the last week. I think one day was nice but the rest were cold and rainy. Not even the awesome stormy weather. Just blah weather.

On a good note, my lavender is sprouting.

On a bad note, I’ll get to enjoy beautiful lavender as I’m starving because my edible crops are water logged. (Kidding, but not about the water logged part.)

In my last journals, I talked about climate change. I’m an advocate of that, too. The science is there. The proof. Yet, still too many people believe it doesn’t exist. They believe that humans play no part in the change of our earth. Yes, climate change happens naturally. There’s proof of that, too. That was never the question, though. Never the argument.

I’m not trying to preach. You can believe whatever you like and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. I’m just asking you to see more than your political status and personal beliefs. Just entertain the notion that humanity has a negative impact on our world. If COVID-19 has any positives, it’s that we’re seeing proof of it.

And seeing proof that if we can change our ways, the earth will let us.

COVID-19 is a wake up call. And we can do better. We have to do better.

Day Two: A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

I’m currently reading a post-apocalyptic novel. It isn’t because of the times, but rather because I’m obsessed with the theme. To my greater excitment, I’ve realized it’s a zombie post-apocalyptic novel. I blindly picked the book, just searching for something similar to what I’m writing so it helps me get in the flow. Granted, my WIP isn’t a zombie novel, but I’ll never say no to zombies.

I’ve actually been on a non-fiction kick before this novel. Psychology, to be exact. The other book I’m in the middle of reading is called Biased. I guess both books kind of go with the times. Zombies because of plague, world altering stuff. Biased because it explains how we all harbor unconscious bias, and it explains how our brains work. It leaves me with a better understanding of why people are hoarding toilet paper.

In case you were wondering, it’s because toilet paper is a sense of normalcy. Seeing those fluffy rolls gives people comfort. Doesn’t make it right, but understanding helps see that it’s straight fear that had led people to do it. How many post-apocalyptic movies and shows do you see where the survivors make sure they have a roll? I’ve seen zero. Toilet paper is a luxury. It’s a sign of normal life. (There’s a word for it, but my writer’s dictionary is in my office. I’m currently not so we’ll go with normal life).

About a week ago, I saw someone mention in a news article that the CDC recommended people watch The Walking Dead to prepare for COVID-19. I can’t find the article that proves this, but I thought that was an interesting notion. (Also, I need no recommendation to watch The Walking Dead, thank you.)

Day two of the shutdown was like any other day off. My son and I played Minecraft most of the day waiting for his racing game to download so we could play that. I did a little reading and took a bubble bath. Typical stuff.

Until my mom called me that afternoon.

I’d almost forgot the virus was happening. I have days off during the week so it felt just like that. Normal routine. Write. Exercise. Read. Play with my kid. Clean. Mom’s call was almost normal, too. We call each other all the time.

She started to say something, then switched it to, “How are you and Cole?”

I answered we were fine, playing Minecraft. She asked how his appointments went and I told her cancelled. I’d need to reschedule one and the other was already rescheduled.

Then she said the words that made what was happening hit home. Made what was going on too real for comfort.

“We won’t be able to see each other for a couple weeks. I’ve been exposed.”

My mind didn’t seem to work for a moment, but then, silent panic.

I can’t remember the exact words I said, something about being tested, but she followed up with, “I don’t have any symptoms so they aren’t going to test me.”

Remember that post I shared in the last journal? About the three patients confirmed in her hospital? All three patients are on her floor. She cared for each of them. She, and a ton of other nurses. They were all exposed. Yes, they wear protective gear. Yes, they take precautions. But they are the front line of defense. They are who cannot get sick because if they do, who will care for them? Who will care for the thousands of other people who are bound to get it?

My reaction to bad news, scary news, and even good news is delayed. It always has been. Of course, as a human, bad news takes a second more to process. On the phone with her, I hadn’t processed it yet. The virus still seemed like something other people get, in other places. Not my family. Not my town. Not my county.

She said she had to get ready for work and would talk to me later. Work? She was going to work? How did that even make sense? If she’d been exposed, she could have it. She could spread it. She said she may not have symptoms, but could still be a carrier. This made no sense! My reaction was: Why hadn’t they ordered the nurses there to self-quarantine and clean the floor? Why hadn’t they replaced her and the other nurses who were exposed with new nurses? Yes, I knew we had a nurse shortage.

Travel nursing companies were currently offering insane sign on bonuses as well as guaranteed thousands for a few months in contract, especially to go to hard hit places and places that were expected to be hard hit (NYC, for example).

I have no answer to why she hadn’t been ordered to self-quarantine. It’s a developing situation and it’s not as if she can just take off work. My dad’s business is halted just like thousands in the state. She basically runs a zoo (inside joke, my parent’s house is called The Reeder Zoo because of the animals and all the grand kids and kids they have). Every single animal they have is rescued. (Her mouse just passed away, and she rescued it from my dad’s snake.)

I asked her permission later on to post her being exposed, and she had no problem with it.

The first PA death was recorded that day, too. A man in a few counties over contracted the illness and passed away. His sister also contracted the illness and passed away, days before in another state. NJ, I think. And their mother a day later if I’m not mistaken.

Let’s stop and talk a moment about mental health. If you’ve followed my writing blog, you’ll see snippets about me advocating for it. Mental health is just as important as physical. Many of us are feeling the affects of this quarantine. I’m not a social butterfly. I’m a writer and a single mom and I like my alone time.

But waking up this morning (I’m writing this on Day Three), I couldn’t help but feel the pinch. I have to go weeks without seeing my mom? Without seeing my friends or going to work? I had my second writing meeting planned for next week, and I have to let my members know that it has to be online. I looked forward to it. I looked forward to seeing my mom this weekend and a baby shower in April. I’m not sure if the shutdown will be lifted when it’s supposed to be, or if it’ll be extended.

They’re talking about months of this.

I already struggle with getting out. With seeing friends. With making sure I take the time to myself. With making sure I have cushion in my bank for hard times. I’m starting to feel a little helpless. That’s why people are hoarding toilet paper. They’re doing something, anything, to make them feel in control.

Again, check on your neighbors in a safe way. Make sure you’re communicating with people. Take the time to be sure you mental health is okay. We may be under a shutdown, but you can still have fun. It’s imperative to have fun.

Day One: A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

I kept up with COVID-19 while it was still in China, back in Dec. It was on the news next to Trump’s impeachment, the killing of Qassem Suleimani, Australia’s wild fires, and mess of other news articles.

I wasn’t too worried about it at that point. The flooding in Venice and then the dry season in Venice caught my attention more. The fires in Australia. All the climate change stuff. I was one of many witnesses to the live impeachment hearings because I felt I should be. This was history. It was all history and I wanted to be present.

I debated whether or not to write this series of journals documenting my experiences, but regardless of whether anyone reads this or cares, I want to. As stated in my last update, we are in unprecedented times and something of this magnitude may not again happen in my life time. Regardless of whether any of this is right or an over reaction, we should remember how this started.

The first official day of the state-wide shut down, I went for supplies. I’d heard that people were hoarding toilet paper and cleaning supplies, but hadn’t seen the shelves yet in person. I’d seen them online in pictures, saw videos, saw the country going crazy. I saw the Italians singing from their balconies to raise each other’s spirits during their country wide lock down and the comparison to what was happening in my own state was insane.

I thought going early in the morning to the store would be for the best. I realized other people would have that same idea, but I could escape most of the rush that I knew would be coming.

What I found were empty shelves and panicked people. I was almost out of soap and was able to grab two of the last four on the shelf. There was no toilet paper. No sanitizing products. Barely any good dish soap (I managed to find two antibacterial dish soaps). We usually buy bottled water because we have well water that doesn’t taste great to drink. Not. A. Single. Case. I grabbed two gallons of water because that was all I was allowed to grab. Signs like the ones above in the picture were posted all over the store for essential items.

I always liked to be prepared, even before all of this. When I get low on something, I buy it so I don’t run out. I was lucky that the timing allowed me to have most of what we needed before the craziness happened.

I was probably the youngest person at the store that morning. Most were elderly who were stocking up, their carts filled to the brim. I hoped that these people had all they needed and that they stayed home after this.

I filled the rest of our day with games and a little learning. Anything to keep my son’s mind off of why I wasn’t at work. Anything to keep my mind off why I wasn’t at work.

I decided to harvest my aloe plant since I accidentally left it outside overnight. My first harvest, just in time to make the much needed moisturizing hand sanitizer. I’ve always washed my hands, but I’ve been washing them more often and quickly ran out of the good stuff. My hands are cracked, dry, and in some places, bleeding. Eczema is no joke.

Most of the day went on as normal. I stayed offline as much as I could, but checking up was inevitable. My local friends were sharing the following post.

Now, I’m aware that the stated hospital isn’t in my county. What it IS is my mother’s place of employment. She’s a nurse there. I’m thinking, “Let mom know. I’m sure she does, but put it out there so she can get info on it and avoid that area like the plague”. No pun intended, but it’s never been more true.

Stay safe, guys.

Day Zero-A State-Wide Shut Down Journal

“We can’t touch our faces, mama?”

My four year old mimicked the concern in my voice as he repeated back to me my instructions.

“That’s right, baby. It’s important.” I sounded distracted, I know I did. Because I was. I wiped down the surfaces surrounding us, doing my best to make sure he couldn’t accidentally touch anything and then touch his face..

“We can’t touch anything?”

“You can touch what I sanitized.”

“Because we don’t want to get Pop sick?”

“We don’t want to get anyone sick.”

It was a tough thing to explain to him. I did it as best as I could. We’d be fine, but others wouldn’t. I tried to keep the concern out of my voice to not scare him, but he picked up on the atmosphere. Things weren’t as bad here as they were in other places, but it was in the air. The fear.

The bus was usually a fun experience for us. I took it every day to work and he loved riding it. But now, he picked up on the fear that crossed the other rider’s faces every time someone coughed or sneezed.

We couldn’t sit in our regular seats because there were people there. I tried to explain as lightly as I could why we couldn’t sit behind them. Social distance. This is a hard concept for him to understand because he doesn’t understand personal space. All he knew is that he wanted to sit where he could see out all the windows but he wasn’t allowed.

I tried to keep our life as normal as possible, but there were things in our routine I had to cut out. Our bi-weekly visit to the arcade had to be cancelled. That was also tough to explain. He looked forward to it on my paydays.

That day we were on the bus headed to his doctor’s appointment. A normal well child checkup. We arrived in town only to get a call that it was cancelled. His doctor had to deliver two babies. Easy enough to explain to him.

He told me he had to use the bathroom, so I took him to the transit center waiting room to use the bathroom.

We stopped when we entered as I gazed over the taped off waiting room.

“Mama, what’s that?” he asked.

“The waiting room is closed due to the virus,” the man told us.

“That’s caution tape. We can’t wait in here.” I told my son then glanced back at the man. “Are your bathrooms opened? He needs to go.”

“Sorry, restrooms are closed, too.”

I thanked him, and asked what bus I needed to get on to take my kid to get lunch.

“Can you hold it until we get to burger king?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

He was potty trained, but he was four. I wasn’t sure if he could hold it. He had his backpack on with his extra clothes so it wasn’t a big deal if he couldn’t. The bus was already there, not twenty feet from us. Yet, as we headed for it, I heard the chatter of the bus drivers.

“Have you seen the latest? Fresh off the press.”

I didn’t get to hear it, but couldn’t ignore the thought that I missed something. After we boarded the bus and I sanitized our area again, I checked my phone.

The bus ride is short and I don’t have time to read the article. I’m not quite sure what this means but it leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach. Burger King’s door has a message on it but my kid is moving too fast for me to read it.

“Why are all the chairs up?” he asked me.

“Because the dining room is closed. We can’t eat in here.”

I’m assuming that’s the gist of the note on the door, and the General Manager confirms it. We order our food and I ask if their bathroom is open. It is, and he uses it and we wash our hands.

We eat our food on the side walk outside, waiting for the bus to come back around.

It isn’t until I get home that I can look at the news article. All businesses that are nonessential should be closed. I text my boss asking if that includes our store, which is a bookstore, and then call my mother.

She’s a nurse who works for Geisinger, so the mandate doesn’t apply to her, but she thinks it will apply to me. Even as a book lover, I have to agree that buying new books is not essential when it comes to health. Many of our customers are older and are high risk. It makes me worry about the store because we aren’t a large business. We aren’t a corporation. Small bookstores are on the verge of extinction in some places, and the permanent closure of my store would change my town. It’s been around before 200 years, give or take some years. Oldest Independent book store in the country.

I’m not too worried about the bills just yet. I only work part time and it’s mainly just spending money. Otherwise, I’m a stay at home mom who pays minimal rent in exchange for keeping my grandfather’s house clean and do repairs. I’m extremely lucky compared to many others. He’s 87 and insanely diabetic. A huge risk for this illness.

I have no great urge to travel to and from work every day on the petri dish they call the bus and bring him COVID-19 to him.

“Has anything like this every happened to you guys?” I asked my mom, who had me on speaker phone so my dad could hear me, too.

“It’s a first for us, too,” my mom said.

My boss called me later that evening and told me that Wolf’s message wasn’t clear on a local level. We would still be opening to the public in the morning, and I would get to go to work. He said he’s posted on our Facebook page that morning, but it may be void. They were still trying to figure it out. If we were closing, it would be to the public only, but the senior staff members would still be on site for email orders, phone, and website orders. They would be working in shorter shifts.

My boss called me later that night to tell me they were officially closed to the public, and he’d drafted another statement for the Facebook page. I was officially off work for two weeks, like many other Americans. It sucked for losing the money, but the money was not worth the potential to carry the illness back to my grandfather or four year old. Just because I would be fine doesn’t mean those I care about would be. My dad is diabetic, too. A lot of my family is.

I’ve seen a number of theories regarding COVID-19. Some present facts, some are conspiracy theories.

No matter what theory you believe, the one thing we can all agree on is we are in unprecedented times. The first for many of us. No matter the outcome of all of this, many of us will not forget what has happened. How it has affected us. For some, it will affect our lives more than others. For now, this could be the beginning. The beginning of something greater. Or, this could be the means to the end of COVID-19 and life will go on as normal after the shut downs are lifted. Time will tell.

Check on your neighbors to make sure they are surviving. Call your family. Practice social distance. Wash your hands even when this is over. Be safe, my friends.

10 Tips on Self-Editing

So this happened.

Somewhere a rumor started that writers don’t have to self-edit. I’m here to let you know that it’s a false rumor. Writers should always self-edit. Keep in mind two facts, though. One: Self-editing does not make up for professional editing. Two: Self-editing comes after the first draft.

See, all writers have to wear more than one hat. We have our fun hat, the one we wear during our first draft. This is the creative, bedazzled hat that reminds us not to give a damn about what anyone else is going to think. As Terry Pratchett put, this is us telling ourselves the story.

The second hat is more professional. Think construction hat. We’re going to worry about the structure, plot holes, grammar, and the overall picture. We’re going to use our blueprints and evaluate our story with a keen eye. We’re going to locate any missing pieces and our hat is going to make sure we’re protected. (By “we”, I mean our egos. They are awfully fragile.) Switching hats is a good way to give yourself distance from all the blood, sweat, and tears you just put into that first draft.

It also helps to change formats, or read aloud when you go back that first time. Make notes, but don’t edit yet.

There is more than one type of self-edits, and I’ll talk about them below.

Levels of Editing: Big Picture & Small Scale

There are essentially two levels of editing, but each level contains their own bits. The first thing you do when you complete that first draft is put it away. Yep, throw it in your desk drawer and forget about it for as long as possible. Anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. The point of this is when you finally unearth it again, you’re looking at it with fresh eyes. You’ve probably heard about that numerous times, but I can assure you it’s important.

The first level is the big picture editing. You may have the urge to start rewording and editing your grammar as you do you first read through, but that’s a waste of time. Big picture editing is also called developmental or structural editing. You’ll remove scenes, chapters, subplots, and anything else that doesn’t move the story forward or develop character.

Big Picture Edit

  • Plot
  • Subplots
  • Characters
  • Arrangement
  • Background dumps
  • Scenery dumps

Not everything has to go, but it’s important to look at each of these to see if they need cut, moved, or strengthened.

Small Scale Edit:

Line editing

  • Paragraphs
  • Word choice
  • Transitions
  • Author’s Voice
  • Clarity
  • Vocabulary

Copy Editing

  • Sentences
  • Grammar
  • Inconsistency in usage of words in a sentence (afterward vs afterwards. Stick to one spelling)
  • Spelling of names, places, and things
  • Inconsistency of details about characters, places, or things
  • Wordiness
  • Document clean up (such as extra spaces between words)

Proof-reading

  • Words
  • Deleting extra words (such as two “the” in a row.)
  • Basic spelling and punctuation
  • Book format

Tip # 1: Use your blueprint (a.k.a the outline)

Photo by Christian Kaindl

I love outlines, but I haven’t always been this way. I used to sit down with my notebook and just go for it. I never finished a book, and although the pieces were interesting, they were a mess.

You don’t have to outline every single scene, but you should at least know your direction. See my Dramatic Structure page for help outlining and tips for plot points.

If you don’t create an outline before your first draft is finished, then create one out of your first draft. It’ll help you see the big picture and point out spots that need work, or if you haven’t tied off any loose ends. I like to do both an outline in excel with each plot and subplot and on index cards. Excel allows me to see it all on one page and if a plot point doesn’t have an event for one of plots, I know I have to add it. Index cards help me physically move scenes around to strengthen my structure.

Tip # 2: Cut the fluff

Photo by Matthew Henry

During your small scale edit, you’ll want to go through your manuscript and hunt down words that are filler. This will cut your word count and tighten your sentences. This includes “to-be” verbs and weak adjectives. They rob your writing.

Check out my favorite go-to page for cutting the fluff. 297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power

Tip # 3: Kill your darlings

Photo by Sebastian Pociecha

A lot of writers aren’t clear on what this means. To me, it means that cut anything that isn’t moving your story forward or giving character information that is vital to your story. It’s important for you to know as many details as possible about your character and their world, but your reader doesn’t need all that information. Less is more, and it keeps your reader interested.

Check out this post on what this phrase means.

Tip # 4: Use action and reaction scenes

Photo by Ryan Quintal

MRU changed my writing forever. I don’t worry about it during my first draft, but during editing, it’s a blueprint inside a blueprint. Just like anything else in the writing process, MRUs have to make your book better. If it doesn’t work in some parts, that’s fine. Writing is not like speed limits and stop signs. Breaking the rules isn’t going to get you in trouble.

For a better look at MRU, check out this post.

Tip # 5: Show and tell

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli

You’ve most likely heard “show, don’t tell” a million times now. It’s not something I worry about in my first draft, or second, or even third. This, despite how time-consuming it is to go through your entire manuscript hunting for these instances, is considered small scale. Don’t waste your time at the beginning of the editing process changing these sentences around because you may end up deleting a lot of work if you need to delete the entire scene or chapter.

Showing keeps your reader in your world while telling puts them at a distance. You never, ever want them at a distance because that’s when they put down your book.

For more about Show vs. tell, check out this post.

Tip # 6: Format

Photo by Kiwihug

While in your drafting process, it’s alright to have any format you wish, especially if changing it helps your editing. One of the last things you should do while editing is change your manuscript to the correct format. Read the guidelines for the publisher carefully. Many of them will automatically toss your beloved work simply for not following their guidelines.

Check out a basic formation guide here.

Tip # 7: Your opening pages

How many times have you picked up a book and found that it takes 50 pages to get to the story? How many times have you put the book down to never pick it up again? The writer drones on and on about the world, the character’s background, or anything that is absolutely boring. My answer is all. Every book I’ve read like that was donated and I never made it to the good parts. Readers don’t have time to waste, so don’t waste your opening pages (or any pages) with fluff. Of course, you want to ground them in the who, why, and where, but it doesn’t need to take pages or chapters.

I recently read a book where the opening was fantastic. The MC comes back from break to find someone has planted her own obituary on her work computer with an exact time of death. Though the rest of the book veered horribly wrong (I couldn’t finish it), the writer obviously knew how to start strong.

With all that said, this really should be the last thing you worry about. You’ll change it so many times by the end that you won’t remember the first opening.

Check out here the importance of the opening pages and chapter.

Tip # 8: Exit stage left

Photo by stefano stacchini 

Another time consuming small scare edit. Having your character detail every movement they make is a big no-no. Readers are not idiots and they know how the human body works. They know that someone sitting has to rise to pace. You don’t always need to describe them rising and then pacing (unless the rising part is important. If a character is about to attack the POV character, the POV character will watch every movement. It’s acceptable to write it out).

Check out The Manuscript Shredder for more information.

Tip# 9: Active Vs. Passive

Sandy was attacked by Rizzo. Rizzo attacked Sandy. Shorter sentence, more direct. However, there are times you need passive voice if the person/thing is unknown.

Check out this post on Grammarly to learn more about active vs. passive voice.

Tip# 10: Use Beta readers

Photo by James Tarbotton

Using Beta readers is one of your last steps. You usually do this right before your last draft, before you send it off into the world. Beta readers can help pick out parts that don’t work. Usually, you want to give them a direction on what to look for or what you think isn’t working in the manuscript.

Check out my post on Beta readers for some great tips.

Extra tip: Use a spell checker. Keep in mind, though, that spell checkers have their weaknesses. They don’t have human eyes.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



What is your favorite part of editing? Let us know in the comments below!

8 Tips For When You’ve Hit A Wall

Photo by Fares Hamouche

Writers get writer’s block for all sorts of reasons. There is but one cause, however.

Fear.

That tricky little bastard doesn’t always show up with that face. It can disguise itself as all sorts of problems, and sometimes you don’t even view its disguise as a problem. Take for example family. It doesn’t exactly seem like a problem because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Taking care of the people you love. The problem with this is you usually forget to take care of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong–there are times life gets in the way. Emergencies happen. New babies happen. Finals in school happen. You should forgive yourself for literally not having the time to write on some occasions. I didn’t pick up a pen for the first 6 months of my son’s life. Single moming to a new baby was time consuming, and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t possibly handle the effort it would take to write.

Falling off the wagon is easy, and honestly, it’s normal. What’s not normal is forever giving up your passion because life is happening because news flash: life is always going to happen.

Fear is primal. It’s instinctual. It’s a part of our evolution. It’s supposed to be there, and everyone feels it. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and not let it hold you back.

Tip # 1. Describe your proverbial wall.

Photo by Dave Webb

No, seriously. Describe it. Is it brick? Cement? Stone blocks? Does it have a pattern? Is it made of sheep’s wool? (it’s safe to say I’ve been playing too much Minecraft with my boy.) The point here is to get your creative juices flowing. Describe that wall in detail, down to the cracks and discoloring. I’m assuming it’s been erected for a bit now if you’re here.

Envision what it’s going to take to break it down. Try out a couple tools. Write how hammering it with a pillow does nothing, but you’re seeing some damage with the pickax.

That didn’t work? Okay, tip # 2.

Tip # 2: Dig deep.

Sometimes the only way around a wall is to go under it. Forget about describing the wall. This next exercise involves journaling. Start with the sentence “Why can’t I write?” then state your reasons. Next, think of ways to solve those problems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends you trust to help carve out time for something equally as important.

These solutions still seem daunting? Write about the worst thing that could happen if you took time to write. Now write about the best thing that could happen if you took time to write. Compare results with a keen eye and see where the probability lies. Chances are, the world will not fall apart if you take the time.

Journaling is therapeutic. It’s listening to yourself as you would listen to the problems of your friends. A lot of people don’t do it, and they are honestly missing out. It’s easy for your mind to go to the worst thing that could happen when you faced your fear, but I recently read a book that talked about taking it to the next level. Deciding what the best thing that could happen if you faced your fear. It was game-changing.

Didn’t help kick start you? Next.

Tip # 3: Edit

Open up your manuscript and go to your favorite or least favorite scene. Read the one before that to know where you are, and then edit that next scene. Don’t worry about how good it is. The point here is to get you back to the story.

Nope, not yet?

Tip # 4: Inspiriation.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 

You started that story because something about it interested you. It set your soul on fire. Write a paragraph summary. If you want to keep going, do it. Let your inspiration take you. If your muse doesn’t show up, move on for now.

Tip # 5: Research

Every good story needs some level of research. This ties into tip 4. Your muse may visit again if you do some research on your topic. Read the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let yourself feel as you read. You’ll probably pick up some other ideas for your story, and that is the point. As soon as you feel it, write a small scene around that piece of research. Look at pictures, too. Pictures invoke our creativity and you never know. You could end up using that scene as one in your story. In fact, try writing a scene with that picture.

If that didn’t work, well…you know what I’m about to say.

Tip # 6: Practice stories.

Many people call them fan fiction, but I like to call them practice stories. Pick your favorite book and put yourself in it. Just start writing. The author did the hard work for you, and remember there is no pressure. No one ever has to read it (in fact, I keep my practice stories in a file labeled as top secret. I don’t want those babies getting out!)

Tip # 7: Rest

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson 

Every night as I’m trying to fall asleep, I think about my characters and my story. This sets my writer brain up for incoming ideas. Go over stuff you’ve already written or you already know. Let scenes play in your head. Something big pops up, write it down, otherwise, see what you come up with the next morning. This works for naps, too, if you can fit that sort of thing in.

A study done in 2010 found that deep REM sleep improved creativity and memory. Sleep improves our abilities to make connections. I don’t know about you, but when I have one of those “aha” moments during writing, I’ll do anything to have it again. Best. Material. Ever.

Tip # 8: Read

Reading is probably what inspired you to write. Sometimes I felt as if I’d waste my writing time by reading, so I changed my perspective of it. Reading is another way of practicing. It’s now part of my product time. Not all writers read (astonishingly) but chances are, you’re a reader.

The important thing isn’t how you get back to writing, but that you do. My main tip is to be careful with yourself. Be forgiving. You are only human. Writing isn’t a job, but it is hard. Even the best writers hit walls. I seem to hit a wall around the 75% mark without fail. Know that the one thing standing in your way is you. Thank your fear, but tell it it’s time for it to get in the back seat and let your creativity have the passenger. You’ve got places to go.

Check out my Writer’s Block Series for additional help.

Let us know in the comments below what you do when you hit a wall!

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



Subplots

Photo by Aziz Acharki

One of my favorite parts of storytelling is subplots. A lot of writers refer to them as “strands” of a story, but I like to think of them as one with the story. I don’t separate them, and sometimes I don’t even plan them. That’s not to say I don’t plot them. I let them develop naturally within my story world and tweak when needed. Of course, some subplots do need to be brainstormed and plotted carefully.

Many writers are intimated by subplots. Writing the main plot is enough work, and now we, here in the literary world, are asking you to do more work. I’m telling you though–great stories require great subplots. Don’t think of throwing in your hat quite yet, though. I’ve got great news regarding subplots.

You’ve probably done half the work already.

Subplots are ingrained in our stories so deeply that sometimes we can’t see that we already have them, that we already started writing one. You have in-depth characters? In-depth world building? Then you already have enough material for subplots. That conflict you’re writing with a romantic interest or best friend is a subplot. The war raging outside the main plot is a subplot. The envy a character feels for another character is a subplot.

We have subplots in our own lives by having relationships with other people. We have family subplots, friend subplots, romantic subplots. We all have a main goal we are trying to achieve, but just like in novels, our lives are not a straight shot.

Where we have community, we have subplots.

Note: If your story relies on pacing, you’ll likely not have subplots. Pieces such as thrillers are fast-paced, and there’s no room for them.

Photo by Toa Heftiba 

What are subplots?

Subplots can run the entire length of the novel, half of it, or for only a short time. They often involve the secondary characters but can be about your protagonist. No matter who you choose for the subplot, they should, at some point, involve your main character. Subplots are simple to write if you know your characters. Characters who you’ve spent time on will be complex, and there is often opposition between them. Subplots add depth to your story and can evoke empathy in your reader. They can give your readers a break from the main story-line to explore your character’s world. This could be relationships with each other, problems arising in your world, or internal conflict.

Keep in mind that your subplots don’t have to appear to connect at first, but by the end of your piece, your reader will see the connection.

So, how do you write better subplots?

Brainstorming

Photo by Jo Szczepanska

The first step to writing a subplot is to brainstorm them. I like to use a whiteboard for brainstorming, but you can do whatever is most comfortable for you. To brainstorm, you must first know what your central theme or main plot is. You also have to know your characters. The more complex characters you develop, the better subplots you’ll come up with.

Subplots show different angles of your theme, plot, or characters. For instance, the theme of love can be shown with the protagonist who is trying to find love or has a love interest. Secondary characters can already have found their true love, or are struggling with their partner, or detest love. It shows choices, and choices show conflict.

Increasing Conflict:

Photo by Chris Sabor

Out of your list of possible subplots, look at the ones that will increase conflict. The trick here is to choose ones that relate to the central theme or main plot. As stated, they don’t have to make sense to your reader right away. Even a romantic subplot can end up influencing your main plot. There’s no greater incentive to save the world if it means saving the romantic interest or family.

Subplots can stem from your main plot, too. Two important characters don’t agree with a plan and their always at odds over what the next step should be. Conflict happens even if you’re on the same side.

Showing how characters handle smaller conflicts can foreshadow coming bigger conflicts. Your readers see how your characters dealt with the less important ones, and it makes them unsure if your character is doomed to repeat the not so graceful ones. On the flip side, it shows their strengths.

Using Subplots For Back Story

Photo by Aman Shrivastava

If you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice, you know that Darcy and Wickham knew each other. Not only was Wickham used as a subplot with Lydia, but it also gave readers information on both Darcy and Wickham creatively. It showed us their character without telling us.

Austin is certainly not the only one to use this type of subplot to further develop our understanding of her characters. We see it in some of the best novels and movies out there, and you can use this technique, too. Snape hated Harry, but we didn’t quite understand why until Rowling used a subplot between Lily, James, and Snape during their younger years.

What’s the right number of subplots?

Photo by Paul Bergmeir

There is no formula for the right number of subplots. A lot of writers say stick to one for every 15,000 words or so. I say that’s too limiting for what subplots can do. My only rule is this: if the subplot outshines the story, either change your story or delete the subplot from it (to use it as the main plot in another story).

Every point of view in your story will add a subplot because every character is different. Even your antagonist can be a subplot and have subplots if you wish it.

How to write a subplot.

Photo by Green Chameleon

The good thing is that writing a subplot mimics how you would write the main plot.

You give your character a problem, have them try to solve the problem, throw conflict in and opposition, and bring about the resolution.

The resolution will depend on your preferences. You can have them achieve their goal or not. Depending on the length of your subplot will depend on how many plot points it gets. They always get a beginning, middle, and end, though.

That’s the jist of subplots. Go forth and write!

Leave comment below to tell us what you’re favorite subplots are.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.