Trying to carve out a career as an author isn’t easy on the best of days. Even if the stars are all aligned, your publisher wants a whole series, your readers love you, your words flow, there are still challenges at every stage of the game, and very rarely are circumstances so forgiving. Still, we follow dreams of writing because we love writing, because it is important to us, imperative for us, something we cannot live without.
Usually, that drive is enough to get through the ups and downs, the days when presses close, publishers say no thanks and the words dry up. After all, we signed up for this crazy life knowing that it would not be an easy one.
But sometimes, the hurt, the challenge, the struggle, doesn’t come from the writing itself. Sometimes, we are faced with the everyday human suffering that can throw a wrench into even the most distinguished of plans. Crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s cannot prevent life from taking its course.
My grandfather passed away in September. He was just a few weeks shy of his 91st birthday and sat down quietly, peacefully, in his desk chair, not to wake again. There were no tubes, no wires, no unspoken words or unfilled dreams. He was a man who gracefully met the end and who was happy to do so.
In that, we could find peace. His death was not a tragedy, as so, so many are. But it was sad. After all, he has been a constant presence for my entire life. I grew up just a few towns away from my grandparents, and rarely went more than a few days without a shared meal, phone call or day trip. They are – and were – people I knew intimately, not the grandfather in the far-off memories, but a man whom I spoke with deep and often.
Grandpa was a writer. He wrote songs, plays, books, histories. A comedian and a historian, Grandpa was discerning and unique, his voice thick and gravelly, his meaning subtle and sharp, brilliant and quiet. He didn’t need to speak for his words to be heard.
I can find solace in writing because it gives me that link to my grandfather. He was able to see me produce several of my final works, able to read dedications I had written him in real, published books, able to talk shop, to tell me you tell stories. That’s the hard part. Not everyone can do that, but you can. Grandpa read my writing from the first time I picked up a crayon until this passion morphed into a career, and that link has provided me a great deal of peace and joy, even within the confines of his passing.
Of course, we must all find our own links, and oftentimes it is difficult to sit before a computer and be creative, innovative, unique, while suffering loss and sadness. I know I struggled despite our writing connection. Such is the way of grief.
Writers, artists, creators, often have one of two ways of handling such circumstances. We bury ourselves in our work, or we hide from it. I’ve always been the type of person to double down, to press a little too hard and put a little too much pressure on myself when the going got tough. Distraction is as good a technique as any, when it comes to keeping sane during a major loss or even a simply challenging time.
Grandpa passed the day of my first book signing. I had final edits on a book due and I was working on two other manuscripts. And, of course, there was the ever-ubiquitous marketing, freelancing and all the rest, that demand attention, focus and time.
The most important thing to remember, whether you batten down the hatches and work twice as hard or if you take a break from your artistic pursuits, is to be kind to yourself. You will work slower. You will have pockets of sad throughout the day. You will want to crawl into bed and stay there. These are all reasonable reactions to loss, grief, hurt and sadness. You are allowed to feel them and you are allowed to do them. For days, I wondered why I seemed to be working all the time and never finishing any projects. I was dragging, slower than usual and unfocused, stuck between memories, realities, and emotions, unsure of how to proceed and how to comfort the people in my life.
I forgave myself. And I gave myself permission to work more slowly, to stumble and take breaks. It is the only way forward.
I took much comfort in work, slow as it was. But when it got too hard or I got too sad, I read. I read all the time in the first weeks, mostly historical romance novels, one right after the other, so I could keep my toes in a far-off distant land, where things weren’t so raw and my heart didn’t hurt. It helped.
Of course, you must find the way that works for you. Perhaps work is the only way through, writing stories, sharing characters borne from the depths of your imagination, creating worlds without the hurt and loss. Perhaps leaving your writing for a short while, until you get your head back on, until you can focus, is the way you need to respond. Loss, struggle and pain are part of life. As writers and artists, we often feel these emotions even more intensely. It is important to find a way through them to the light on the other side.
Whatever that way through means to you, the most important thing to remember is that you must be kind to yourself. Kindness, acceptance and patience are necessary to healing and to returning to your art. If you try to force productivity now, you might just snap. But if you accept that struggle, acknowledge the need for more time and more breaks, you might just find your muse, your inspiration, your ability, bends with the wind, and you are able to walk through the storm after all. ♦