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  • Writer's pictureDylan Roche

Resetting Goals for 2020: Reflections During a Time of Self-Isolation

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

This post was originally published on my old blog in March 2020 and has been republished here for posterity.


Greetings to everyone out there in the midst of social distancing and self-isolation!

In some respects, I will admit that my life has remained fairly the same. As a freelance writer, I already work from home. And as a lifelong germaphobe, I’ve always been in the habit of washing my hands regularly and avoiding surfaces that have probably been touched by a million people already that day (credit card PIN pads at the store give me a sick feeling in my stomach). I’m even a little bit of an introvert who lives alone with my dog. Honestly, there have been times during the past week where I feel as if I’m witnessing the rest of the world experience what it’s like to be me.

But then there are the stark reminders that the world has come to a screeching halt, and I know that this season isn’t going to be exactly what I expected. Like many of you, I’m not going to accomplish much of what I aspire to. I’m not going to have the adventures I planned, or undertake the projects I hoped I would.

Trust me, I totally get it. We need to put health and safety first, and I’m glad that we’ve been able to adjust our culture enough to ensure fewer people are exposed to coronavirus.

And while I’m anxious for the many friends of mine who own or work for businesses and industries that are badly affected by this, I’m given hope to see so many people rallying to support them — ordering takeout to support restaurants, buying gift cards they can give out as Christmas presents at the end of the year, or just talking up the importance of shopping local so we all have a renewed sense of our responsibility to patronize these places when life goes back to normal.

Running a Personal Marathon

I’ve been reflecting a little bit on some of the lessons I can learn from this time of social distancing and self-isolation. For one thing, all five of the races I was registered for this spring, including my first triathlon and a few destination marathons, were cancelled. I’m disappointed, but I’ve been telling myself that my love for running doesn’t hinge on competitions and events. On the contrary, I often say that I run to get away from people and be by myself. I run because I want to understand what I’m capable of accomplishing, both physically and mentally, not to compare myself to others.

My first race of the season was supposed to be the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail Marathon, which I run every spring. It’s nothing too exciting, but it’s right here in town and I don’t have to travel for it. And it’s special because the whole thing takes place along the running trail I traverse every morning. It’s familiar and comfortable and, therefore, special.

The race was set for Sunday, March 15, but I got the email the Wednesday before that it was cancelled. It’s not as if I’d been training for it — after all, I train so hard on a regular basis that preparing for a marathon doesn’t require anything outside my usual routine. But still, it sucks.

I decided that coronavirus can cancel the event, but it can’t stop me from going the distance. On that Sunday morning, I went out and ran 26.2 miles anyway. I actually overshot and ran 26.8 miles, but who’s counting? And it felt really damn good. It felt better than a marathon because even though I didn’t have people cheering from the sidelines or a bunch of people on the course with me, I knew that I was doing it for myself.

Revising the Manuscript

I’ve also spent some time working on my latest manuscript, The Tide and the Stars. Like my first novel, The Purple Bird, this one’s a fantasy for middle grade/young adult readers. I wrote the rough draft in a rapid-speed burst of inspiration between August and December of last year. It’s been sitting on my desk for the past 10 weeks while I focused on directing a high school production of Guys and Dolls, but now I’ve finally had a chance to read through it.

I’m not going to lie: It’s rough. Really rough. And the final third needs to be completely reworked because the plot just fizzles out. I expect it’s going to take a complete rewrite, but at least I have a framework for the story. (I think a lot of people are under the impression that writing a novel is just about putting the story down on paper and then going back to make a few simple edits. They don’t realize that your first draft is about getting all your ideas out of you, and then from there you have to form it into something coherent, and from there you have to make it brilliant.)

It feels good to be working on the manuscript again. I like the story and characters a lot, and there’s much I want to explore as I work on a second draft. The story centers on Marin, a boy who has grown up as a field hand for the witch Ilth on her secluded estate deep in the country. His life is pretty miserable: He has no idea what happened to his parents, nor how he came to be a servant. He’s never even been allowed inside the house. But everything changes one morning when he finds out there’s been another servant, Astor, who’s been working in the kitchen all these years and has never been allowed outside.

Together, the two of them strike up a friendship, and emboldened by their new strength in numbers, they decide to run away and seek their fortunes in the great wide world. What they discover, however, is that the two of them are at the center of a prophecy that could alter the future of the kingdom.

I remember last fall when I was presenting to a group of elementary schoolers as the guest speaker for an assembly, and they asked me whether I was working on a second book now that my first was published. I told them about The Tide and the Stars, and they were all really excited about the plot. “Are the boys actually brothers?” they asked. “How did they end up being servants to the witch? What did the prophecy say about them?” I won’t lie, that’s pretty good motivation for me to keep working on it.

Progress has been slow, though, even during self-isolation. I’ve been lucky enough to have plenty of professional projects to keep me busy and bring in money, and I’ve been putting most of my energy into those. Honestly, that still feels good — it feels good to be writing, whether those are health/fitness features, human interest stories, fantasy fiction, or just blog posts like this one.

My Wish For You During This Quarantine

I hope everyone’s time in self-isolation has been productive. I hope it has been a chance for us to reflect on our goals, and why we’ve set those goals, and how we’re going to pursue those goals once life goes back to normal. If you’re doing that, let me know by leaving a comment below or shooting me an email at I want to know how you plan to take back 2020 when we get the chance.

That’s all for now — but I’ll check in frequently throughout the quarantine. With any luck, I might get into the habit of blogging more regularly thanks to all this!

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