The Age of LIFELESS

When I first came up with the basic elements of LIFELESS, I was living in the sort of apartment glorified in tales of woe - a poorly-insulated, roach-infested studio with horrifying wiring in a sketchy part of town. But, hey, cheap rent, on-site laundry and a free parking spot for my old Buick! I was alone on a Friday night because I couldn't afford to go out, sitting in front of my computer eating rice with butter for dinner (not for the first time). While my new boyfriend was bowling with his friends, I was thinking about my senior year project. Despite being old enough to drink, I wasn't anywhere near my senior year in college. But I was bored and decided giving the project some thought was a productive way to spend the evening.

The Black Death had fascinated me since I was a kid. How could it not? A pathogen, currently thought to be carried by fleas on rats, wiped out so much of Europe's population that entire towns were given back to the forest. I went from reading National Geographic articles and watching whatever PBS, History or Discovery channel show that happened to come on about the topic to reading journal articles. One that stands out discussed strange weather patterns and the explosion of great gerbil populations in Kazakhstan in the months leading up to the first outbreak of the plague.

As a bored adult college student, I started my formal research with the subject's Wikipedia entry (like you do), opened the included reference links in new tabs, rummaged through JSTOR, and started writing down some notes. After a while, I brought up a text document and did some creative writing inspired by this research, calling it the highly inventive "Black Death Story v1". I eventually gave up and fell asleep on the air mattress that served as my bed.

Fast forward a few years. I now owned a real bed, was selling short stories on the side and attending a new school. It was finally, FINALLY time for me to use this Black Death research I had gathered for a class assignment. My instructions were to compile an annotated bibliography for a topic, and I had a healthy list of bookmarks and research material ready to go.

Unfortunately, my professor didn't care for the abundance of digital material. The first book I found was an amazing work of non-fiction called The Black Death by Rosemary Horrox. It is an entire volume of first hand accounts of the Black Death written by witnesses, survivors, dying victims. It is morbid, sometimes gruesome but incredibly vivid and tangible. Merchants who lost their entire families, priests using orphans as human shields between themselves and the dying, the few using the fear of the masses to murder countless numbers of Jewish families, the widespread spiritual revolt against the Catholic church. It made me fully commit to the Black Death story, now called LIFELESS. I had a title. This was it, I was ready to write.

Then I got a new job. A very demanding job.

I was still working on the story, but between full-time school and work, it wasn't a priority. Survival was a priority. Days away from the book turned into weeks, which sometimes turned into a month. I would look at the dates in the "last modified" column of my LIFELESS folder in despair. Here and there, I'd edit paragraphs, add a chapter, delete a character, write a monologue. By the time I left that job several years later, I had also graduated college. Most of the book had been written. Now that I could dedicate all of my time to it, I knew just what to do. I butchered the entire book and put it back together. Obviously.

What's my point?  I spent almost a decade of my formative adult years working on this book. I started as a pitifully broke 22-year-old college student, picked away at it as a tech minion to manager, edited and added to it while experiencing the haze of new motherhood sleep deprivation, and I am now wrapping it up as a 30-something actual adult ready to call herself a novelist in her tax returns.

Life happened.* It made the story better by forcing me to write through so many phases of my existence. I wrote being a slightly vain, carefree young woman when I was one. About being a workaholic as an active workaholic, a university researcher as a science student, and, most importantly for the story, motherhood as a mother.

My advice to you is if you want to write, don't give up because life gets in the way. Life is supplying you with raw material. Spend whatever time you can, even if it is just 20 minutes on the train typing through the cracked screen on your hand-me-down smartphone. It might take 9 years, but it is worth it. I promise.

*I've glossed over some details. A disabling illness, marriage to my incredible husband, a life changing solo trip to Ireland, a cross-country drive. You know, formative stuff. You get the idea.

Lifeless
By Norah Woodsey