SHAREN FORD ON: WRITING THROUGH WHAT HAPPENS
Lurking around the corners of every life are tragedies, great and small, that have the potential to stop us in our tracks. As John Lennon wrote in his song, Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” For a writer, those plans always include writing and, when something bad happens, it can rob them of their words.
I’m currently working on my second novel, trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day—a modest enough goal for someone who is fortunate enough not to have to work. Things were going along as planned up until a week ago. Then my husband’s close colleague, a beloved friend to us both, died after a brief illness. Suddenly, the hours I had planned to spend alone with my computer were filled with the rituals of death and, paralyzed by sadness, I could not have written a word, even if I’d had the time to try.
I have always found it difficult to write when I’m anxious or depressed, and concern for my loved ones can be particularly crippling. For a long time, I believed that, if I remained vigilant enough, I could protect them from harm. That delusion ended 16 years ago when we lost our oldest son. Before his unforeseen death, I had written half of what I expected to be my first novel. I was never able to complete it. My husband and three other sons needed my support, and I thought it would be selfish to abandon them for my writing. Later, when everyone was doing better, I went back to the manuscript only to find that I loathed every word of it.
After abandoning that first attempt at a full-length book, it took me many years to try again. When I began, I faced the daily fear of being blind-sided by some event that would prevent me from finishing. In the two years it took to write that novel, life was definitely not without its inevitable trauma, but I discovered I had found a way to write through the obstacles instead of allowing them to bring my work to a halt. I learned that the passage of time had been my friend, allowing my psyche to absorb what had happened and come to terms with it, until it eventually became a source of inspiration.
I also learned to look for and pay attention to the good moments that occur in every single day, even in times of terrible sorrow…a phone call from a friend; the wordless sympathy expressed by a dog when it places its head in my lap; the mystical power of my mother’s universal panacea for every trouble: “a nice cup of tea”. The passing years have taught me to notice and appreciate these little gifts of grace and comfort, and use them to bolster my ailing creativity.
Studies have shown that writers and other artistic types tend to feel things more deeply than the general population. There are numerous examples of famous authors who have suffered from and succumbed to depression, but I believe that most of us can find a way to take our episodes of grief or anxiety and channel them into our work. There is no other way to be a writer than to submit to life and whatever happens.