Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On grief and writing

Different people handle grief in different ways. The seven stages of grief can be helpful to writers whose characters are undergoing a great change or loss in their lives.

But real-life grief in a writer's life can often derail the best of intentions and dampen creativity. I used to rail about this, force myself to work through the loss as if there were a wall between my writing and my real life.

And then I'd have to throw out most of what I wrote because it was terrible. Maudlin, rambling...I just couldn't concentrate on any aspect of writing, not even editing or writing non-fiction. I'd sit and stare at the computer screen, oftentimes re-reading the same paragraph over and over again, unable to move forward.

I find myself in just such a position now. It's been a distressing several days. Without going into too many details, let's just say we're glad the lake gave back its dead within a few days. Dealing with the loss of a teaching colleague has been...stressful. When you're a teacher you deal with not only your own grief, but that of the kids' as well. For some of them, this is their first time through death. For others, they're far too familiar with the Grim Reaper for comfort.

So what do you do when Death comes to visit? Me? I make feeble attempts at writing before I realize I'm going nowhere and need to do something else. Anything else other than stare at that screen while scenario after scenario plays through my mind, each one worse than the last. Heart attack? Slipping in the snow? Hypothermia? Drowning?

And then I give it up. Forget trying to be a writer and just be a human for a few days. Watch a movie to get some relief from the images my over-active imagination conjures up, read a book and get lost in someone else's world for a while.

And it's okay. My characters will wait for me. They squeeze my shoulder and tell me to take care of myself and that they'll come out again when I'm ready. They bow before Death and leave the stage--and me--to my grief.

So this week's workshop isn't really a workshop, but a bit of advice. Don't feel guilty if sometimes life throws something at you that knocks your creativity off its block for a while. Write if you must, but let your true emotions bleed out onto the page, words that are for you alone. Take time to heal, to work through those stages. You'll know when its time to pick up the pen or sit before the keyboard again.

Play safe - and give a loved one a hug.


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