Sunday, August 03, 2008

SAVING THE LEMONADE :: Knowing when NOT writing is the best thing to do

Writing isn’t like other jobs where you can take sick time, bereavement leave or my old favorite, mental health days. When your world swirls down the toilet, you’re stuck with blinking cursor, mocking you and your attempts to feel something other than horrid.

Last summer my life and career as an author hit a crossroads. I’d been struggling to work with a new editor, had two grandparents in the hospital, and needed to move to a bigger house. For once in my life, I decided to put myself first, opting to use the money we’d saved for a new home so that I could attend the RWA conference and work out some issues with my editor. I thought the choice was the right one for our family long term.

Except my editor and I didn’t seem to understand one another better after meeting face to face, and I returned home to find both of my grandparents had taken a turn for the worse. I spent the month of August trying to be a mother while traveling to southern Oregon and central California to connect with and care for people who I knew didn’t have much time left.

Oh, and try to figure out how to write a new story when I didn’t comprehend what was wrong with the last four.

August ended with a sonic boom. We took the boys to my grandfather’s funeral in Stockton, and then stopped in Medford at my parents house for the night on the way home. It was then and there, on the day I’d buried my grandfather, that my grandmother also passed. Thankfully I got to hold her hand.

Writing took a back seat as I mentally healed from the shock, only to find out a few weeks later that our family would be expanding unexpectedly. I knew this would change my writing goals for the year, but after the previous month, even my latest rejection didn’t phase me. If anything, it gave me the courage to go to my former editor and ask for her intervention in the problem.

I seemed to be keeping my head above water. Until my aunt died.

Six weeks, three deaths, one baby on the way. My creativity shut down, my mind set on permanent stun. And then we got some scary test results about the pregnancy. (No worries now, she’s genetically perfect.) I tried to write. I made every effort, tried dozens of writer’s block techniques that had done well for others. But what I write – light and flirty contemporary – didn’t flow with how I felt. Dark, scared, unsure.

And so I did the one thing all the ‘get over writers block’ tips tell you not to. I stepped away from the keyboard and gave it time. I read and walked and people watched until my mind started spinning again, until I began reworking endings to stories I was reading in my head.

Just like an athlete must rest after a physical injury, writers need to take a break after an emotional crisis. Yes, writing can be cathartic, and you can channel all that emotion into your work. But what we do as authors gives so much of ourselves, we need to make sure we have enough to give away before we push to the brink.

If I had pushed, I don’t think I’d even be writing this now. Writer’s block can be worked through, but emotional block takes time and patience. Don’t berate yourself when you miss opportunities because you need to heal.

When life hands you lemons, they will keep until you’re ready to make the lemonade. After all, romance writing is about the healing power of love, and we must love ourselves first.


Michelle (MG) said...

Absolutely awesome post and so true. I missed you at Nationals, but can't wait to see you again in Seattle.

Fiona Lowe said...

Jenna, I have been awol from blogs but wondering how you were and today I called by in the first time in forever to find you had just written everything I would have asked you in an email. How spooky is that! What a year for's to a much better one and yeah, write what you want to write not what you feel you should.
ps we took the kids to Borneo...I have some pics for your boys:-)

Jenna Bayley-Burke said...

It's official. I'm going to win the lottery and start vacationing with FL!!

Dara Edmondson said...

Great post, Jenna. It's got to be tough to get through everything you did. Good for you for making that lemonade.