“My family just suffered a tragic loss. Some days I can barely get out of bed, let alone convince myself to write something worthwhile.” – Stuck in Sorrow
Ruh-roh. Becca’s taking a turn for the serious this week.
Just a month ago, I lost my best furry buddy. Couple that with several seriously ill family members and the recent firestorm that swept through southern California, and you might say that it’s been difficult to find time, let alone inspiration, to write. Fear and Grief are the sort of house guests who eat all your food, wreck all your sh!t, and stay indefinitely on your couch. And then blame you for making them dependents.
But this blog isn’t about how to force yourself to keep working on your novel when everything’s going to hell. I had a peer in a creative writing class a few years back who wasn’t a writer, and never claimed to be. She said that she was taking the class to help herself work through some trauma. That’s what we’re going to do today with Fear and Grief.
Don’t try to hide, I see all you anxiety-riddled people. That’s right, those who suffer from imposter syndrome, those who think every word they put down, every published piece will be examined before God and everybody—and then emblazoned with a big scarlet A (for Amazon… Okay, that wasn’t the best extended metaphor ever).
If you weren’t worrying about that before, you sure are now.
Fear is a parasitic little house guest. The more you keep feeding it, the more hair it leaves in the shower. Try these simple exercises:
- Write it down! Seriously, you read all the way through this article for this common-sense advice? Write down your list of what’s scaring you right now. Acknowledging your fears is the first step in conquering them—and turning a light on is a great way to see exactly what sort of hairy visitor you’re dealing with.
- Come back to your goals. In a recent Writer Fuel that Gabriela sent out (if you haven’t signed up yet, you should! It’s that minty green box there on the right), she talked about the top 3 goals for her annual “holy grail”—three goals that trump everything else. You should have a goal that is so strong you would pursue it, even through your fears. According to The Guardian, public speaking is among our top five fears, and yet many writers will have to face this. If one of the items on your bucket list is to do a reading of your book, you’re going to need to conquer that fear pretty quick. Book reading as a famous author trumps being afraid to talk to people (self, listen up!).
- Do what scares you. Afraid of what your family will say when you put out your memoir? All the more reason to do it (as Anne Lamott would say, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”). Traumatized by firestorms (like me)? Write a story about an arsonist. Terrified of jumping off a cliff? What the heck, do it! (No, no. DIY MFA holds no liability for following any of the directions herein.) Writing about what scares you will help you conquer the beast with the almighty pen!
This one is a little tougher. Grief is different for everyone. I myself have struggled with bottling emotions inside until they become physically painful. Grief is more of a lurker who may even convince you that he isn’t still staying at your house, but in the morning you’ll find all your bacon confiscated (Nooo! Not the bacon!).
Even for those who have trouble expressing their sorrow, there are still ways to write through it.
- Let it hurt. Writing about what makes you sad, like I did with my cuddle buddy, is going to hurt worse even than all those rejection letters you get as a writer. I know, impossible, right? Good. Write about how much it hurts, too; write about how it feels to crumble. And while you’re at it, try to balance the sadness with the brightness: From good times you spent with a person, or the hours of work your hard drive allowed you to accomplish before it crashed.
- Try poetry. Poetry doesn’t have to make sense. Poetry doesn’t have to mean anything except to you. Poetry can include all images that express how it feels to grieve (for ideas, check out this article on the image from Danielle Mitchell). When my 18-year-old neighbor, my brother’s best friend, passed away in a car accident four years ago, I cried every day for weeks. I still grieve, but I began to move forward the day I wrote a poem:
Trembling low and
confidential to a voice I
didn’t care to hear,
he blew a
to his girlfriend
I wouldn’t be disappointed if
that was my last word.
- Get help. A lot of time we blame our profession instead of seeking to see if there’s something deeper going on. Oh, those depressed artists! It’s okay to be sad, but it can really help to reach out to both friends and professionals who know the tricks to avoiding chronic sadness.
It’s hard to move forward, whether from tragedy or fear of failure, from painful memories or from something as seemingly “simple” as avoiding writing for weeks on end. Fear compounds fear, and grief gets worse the longer you hold onto it, but you are a writer. You can write through it. Write and weep every day if you have to. Only you know which methods help you. I hope that, whoever is hurting out there, you take comfort that you are not the only one and that you can and will write through this.
Got a question? Tweet me @beccaquibbles with the hashtag #askbecca, email me at becca [at] DIYMFA [dot] com, or just leave a comment below! You could see your question answered right here at Ask Becca!
Rebecca Ann Jordan is a speculative fiction author and artist in San Diego. She recently won Reader’s Choice Best of 2013 for her short story “Promised Land” at Fiction Vortex and has published poetry and fiction in Flapperhouse, Yemassee Magazine, Bravura Literary Journal and more. Becca regularly columns for DIYMFA.com. See more from her at rebeccaannjordan.com.