Good morning! I love visiting Seekerville. I enjoy chatting with you and catching up with Tina. This is my third blog here and I’m always challenged to write something different. The first was about looking back on my long journey to publication. In the second, I explored subtext, a subject I knew nothing about. Today’s topic is writing through pain.
I’ve gone through two terrible times in my life. One was when the young man who used to be our son disappeared into the pit of drug addiction twenty-five years ago. He’s still alive, I think. The other was the loss of my husband of forty-seven years last March. The first was a tragedy. The second was to be expected but was even more difficult because George was truly half of me, the one who’d always supported me during hard times.
I’m not looking for praise or sympathy as I write this. I’m not saying, “Poor little me” or “Aren’t I wonderful.” But I know this: if you haven’t gone through a loss, you will. I write this to explore what such loss means to us as writers who want to keep writing.
Loss changes us: emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. Actually, in every way imaginable, in ways we can’t control. For example, when George died, my blood sugar levels decreased by 20 points because I’d been so stressed as a caregiver. At the same time, another physical condition worsened. Spiritually, we attempt to fit loss into our faith and beliefs. Mentally we struggle to accept our new duties and identity. We change in so many ways. In fact, we’re truly different people as we grieve and after the healing than what we were before the loss. We’ll be writing as different people and from different brains.
When we lost our son, I was teaching. Those days in the classroom meant that my brain was busy with teaching 150 students a day to conjugate irregular verbs in the preterit tense. For seven hours a day, I was distracted, I had something else to think about, and I knew my subject so well, it was almost automatic.
When I lost my husband, I was writing full-time. I’d just turned in the final edits for the third BUTTERNUT CREEK book. At that time, the creative center of my brain turned into a turnip. It was woody and hard. Or a huge puff of cotton candy—no texture or depth.
George’s death was terrifyingly painful. In addition, within a few weeks of that loss, marketing passed on the fourth book in the series and my agent, who’d steered my career for four years, died. I felt adrift. No, I WAS adrift! All I’d counted on for years was gone and I had to come up with an idea for a series with a brain that was alternately turnip or cotton candy.
So, how does one write through pain? I don’t know. I’m still working on that. I’m hoping some of you can chime in with ideas.
In this blog, I’m not going to address faith. If you’re here, you’re probably a person of faith. I don’t know how a person without faith makes it through difficult times. I’m not going into other tips such as “exercise and eat right” which are always good for whatever ails you. No, my goal is to find ways to renew creativity by working through and accepting the mental pain.
So here are some thoughts;
1. Keep writing. No matter what you decide to work on, keep writing. It may not be the novel you’d planned. You could write a story for your granddaughter or a terrible poem.
My counselor asked me, “Do you journal about what you’re going through?” I said, “No, I’m a writer. I blog.” But I didn’t just write about loss, I wrote about life and funny things that happened. I discovered that by writing a 300-400 word post twice a week, I didn’t lose the spark. I also started five really terrible novels that didn’t make it past ten pages but I started them.
2. Stop writing. Yes, a contradiction but valid. I tried NaNoWriMo and made it through five pages. I’d thought if I made a pledge, I’d force myself to write. Not true. There wasn’t anything in the tank. My brain was empty and forcing myself to write made me angry and frustrated. Don’t push—unless you find that helpful.
3. Ask for help and advice. I talked to two writing friends about my frustration. Both said, “It’s okay. Take the time you need. Give yourself a year or two.” Thank you, dear writers, for suggesting I do what I felt like doing without feeling guilty.
I also made a good friend. Valerie Hansen’s husband died a few months after George. We’ve supported each other and shared our journeys in ways only writers can.
4. Turn the pain into a novel. This isn’t easy advice for me because I write light, humorous novels but over the years I discovered my books are better if I include emotion. My first efforts at reaching into pain was having a dog die in an LI. For me, that was tough. In November, 2013, I blogged on a Writers’ Digest site about “Voluntary Masochism”, using the joy and pain we experience in our lives in our books. It makes them better.
5. Don’t compare what you’re writing now with what you’ve written before. That way lies lunacy and defeat. A few months ago, I was sure I’d never write anything as good as the BUTTERNUT CREEK series. That’s depressing. Why even try? I’m still not sure I will but I’ve come to realize competition with oneself is futile and pathetic.
***In A Grief Observed C.S. Lewis wrote, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” It takes a long time to recover from an amputation. Life changes. New skills must be learned. Time must be spent in physical therapy to recover. It takes a while.
After a loss, we’re writing out of a different brain and changed experience, living in a greatly altered world which, quite frankly, stinks. But it’s what our reality is now. We have to exercise our brains to regain our skills. We need to open ourselves to new ways of creating and build new channels to write the best we can at this moment.
I asked Val Hansen if she’d like to add something. She graciously accepted.
"I have found that getting started on a new book is much harder than it was before my husband died. Part of that is probably because he and I used to brainstorm plots and part is undoubtedly because it's harder to concentrate on anything besides the gut-wrenching pain of loss. Don't let anybody tell you it's time to get over it and move on. It's not like that. For me, it's been more of a coming to terms with his absence and choosing a new path, new ways to do things if necessary, and looking at life with a lot more appreciation and thankfulness. I do not know how anybody copes without faith in God. I could not. Many elements are confusing and may always be, but beneath the tears and wondering, "Why me?" is the assurance that the Lord is with me."
If you’d share, I’d love to hear how you’ve coped with writing while facing the really difficult times in your lives.
Today Jane is generously first two books in the series: The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek and The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek. One winner. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
RITA-nominated writer Jane Myers Perrine has worked as a Spanish teacher, minister, cook, rifle instructor, program director in a state hospital, and been an active volunteer but she always wanted to write. Finally, she found time and has published books with Avalon Books, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, and FaithWords, a division of Hachette Book Group. Her short pieces have appeared in the Houston Chronicle and Woman’s World magazine.
Jane’s Butternut Creek series is about a young minister serving in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas and is filled with affection and humor. The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek is the first book in the series. Published in April, 2012, it was nominated for the RITA award, the most prestigious honor for writers of women’s fiction. The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek was published November 20, 2012. The third book, The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek is now available.
Jane lives north of Austin where her life is controlled by two incredibly spoiled tuxedo cats. When not writing, she spends her time swimming or cheering for University of Louisville and Kansas State football and basketball.
Website and blog: JaneMyersPerrine.com
FaceBook Jane Myers Perrine
The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek
Publication date: November 5, 2013
The path of planning a wedding is never smooth. However, Adam and Gussie find that task even rockier when the Widows step up to help. Filled with confidence because they played an important part in getting Adam to propose and helping Gussie set a date, choosing flowers and invitations does not scare them. Then Adam’s sister Hannah shows up, and amid all the planning and activities, they must take up the task of matchmaking again.
REVIEWS From ROMANTIC TIMES MAGAZINE “An utter delight”
From Kirkus Reviews “ The third installment of the Butternut Creek series . . . allows a continued glimpse into the quirky, eccentric citizens of this small Texas town. Perrine offers a pleasant, meandering glimpse at love and courtship in Butternut Creek . . .that combines humor and emotionalism.. . well-crafted and engaging . . . with funny, authentic characters.”