It’s amazing how life can be somewhat peaceful and then turn you on your head. I’ll give you the basic run down, but the chaos of the last 2 1/2 years is not the topic of this post.
In January, 2018, my husband died. In May, I developed a pulmonary embolism. In November, the building attached to mine burned to the ground, taking the water main, the electrical, and my car with it (totaled…the building fell on it). My condo is fine and the photo is from the actual fire. However, my adult son and I ended up sharing a hotel room for fifteen months. Not how I would recommend for anyone to spend time, trust me. To be trapped in a small space with a talkative extrovert tested my sanity at times. 🙂 In March, 2020, just over two years after all this began, I’m finally back home, a bittersweet thing as there were leaks and my kitchen needs to be ripped out.
I didn’t write after my husband died. In fact, though I journaled, I didn’t write fiction for a year. The confidence with which I used to approach posts here was gone, too. I had coaching training, but no clients, I’d lost the one editor I trusted absolutely, and I wasn’t sure I was cut out to publish any more. The dark night of the writer’s soul, I suppose.
In January, 2019, I was exasperated, not sure what I was supposed to be doing as other paths had opened up, and very much felt like Jacob, ready to wrestle the angel. I got angry, shook my fist in the air and demanded to know where my focus should be. For a week, I did nothing but go down each path in my imagination, trying to imagine life in the future. One thing that became clear…the only thing I had endless patience with and energy for was writing.
The dam broke loose January 19th. I sat down at the computer, found myself opening up Scrivener for the first time in recent memory, and more than nine thousand words poured out of me that day. Within a week, I had a routine and was actually producing stories.
It was like going from a hose that dripped once a day to a fire hose in my face. I’m still shocked when I look at my daily averages and word count for 2019. Where did it come from?
I thought a lot about this event, and I think there are insights useful for all writers. The first is the truth that, as writers, we watch ourselves when we go through painful things. We remember those emotions and lend them to our characters. The best scenes are the ones that bring tears to your own eyes as you write them. My ability to write three-dimensional characters has expanded hugely. My willingness to be vulnerable on the page and take chances as a writer have stretched.
I think another reason this torrent happened is because I said no to other paths, acknowledged that I was a writer before almost anything else, even to the point of understanding I’d rather write than have a steady relationship that took time away from the words. Believe me, that was a revelation that caused a few tears. I’ve always imagined myself to be writer and many other things. I coach. I encourage. I teach a very little. Whatever else I may do, I am a writer. That’s who I am, that’s my primary focus and priority, and there is no conflict as to my lifestyle. Words rule. If I do nothing but put words on a page for the rest of my life, I’ll be content.
Here’s another. Stop worrying about what you write and just let it come. Of course we want to be focused and produce to our goals, yet there is a time and place to open a new document and just type. It may be something totally outside what you usually write. It might provide adhesive to your current work. I’m an advocate of free-writing about stories and characters. I am no longer surprised when the free-write becomes something all on its own. It’s okay. No guilt. Just creative process. I’ve now written in genres that scared or intimidated me. And I liked it.
Though I believe writers write and do not advocate putting my hand to my forehead to declare it’s just not there today, I have discovered there are times it’s okay if the writing dries up for a bit. If you make a living writing, you’ll find a way to break through it if you can. If not, if you have the time and space, as I did during the initial recovery from the embolism, just sit with it. I still wrote in my journal every day, but lost all fiction. At some point, I think you just decide to give yourself a break and let it be. Relaxing about it and taking the pressure off probably had a lot more to do with the flood being so productive when it arrived. Regardless, not beating myself up as hard as I would have the year prior helped me to be open to whatever would come word-wise.
There’s a good chance this post seems egotistical or woe-is-me. That’s not where I’m at. I think, in a way, I’ve finally found my feet. So many losses in the past three years. Losses, disruptions, and more. Yet my word count is no longer an issue. My willingness to sit down and compose isn’t something I think about. I do it first thing. Would I have all this if I hadn’t dried up for a year? Would I have all this if I hadn’t lost my closest friends, my husband, and for a time, my mobility and health? I have finished several first drafts that I actually like. It’s been a while.
For writers, no life experience is wasted. We grow. Our capacity to write well and with deeper meaning grows. Our characters have new opportunities to grow.
If you’re in the midst of something that hurts right now, you have my empathy. Keep your notebook close. Take notes on phrases, feelings, observations. Let yourself really feel and describe it. Then put the notebook away and simply sit with life until you’re ready to write.