Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Through It

by Barbara D'Amato


Quite a few years ago, I was about 70 pages into a new novel when one of my children, then ten years old, got sick. Now, young children get sick a lot—colds, flu, stomach upsets, it’s a fun time for parents. But this was different. He was totally tired, and this was a kid who could have a bad cold and still be up and running around. He had a headache, chills, a severe sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes, symptoms that could easily have been leukemia. I took him to the doctor.

[Don’t get too worried. This has a happy ending.]

The doctor was worried, too, and wanted to do a blood test. Oh. Oh, gee.

Now why do they send in blood on Thursday or Friday, and the stupid lab can’t get to it or get it done right away, so you worry all weekend, and then the results get to the doctor after he’s left the office on Monday so you don’t hear until Tuesday? But don’t get me started.

Something went wrong with the first test. They needed more blood. I hoped there was no more sinister reason. My son wasn’t pleased. Another three days went by. Results!

The good news was that it was mononucleosis.

So, I went back to my book in progress. Mind you, this whole event took only two weeks. But the book was dead. I couldn’t remember who the characters were or why they were acting this way. I didn’t care what was happening to them. I started a different book.

I am mentioning this experience because it was one in which work didn’t help. There have been other times with other problems when I was able to write through them. The major book-killers, other than this one, have been when we were moving. Moving is ghastly.

Sometimes writing helps you get through difficulties; sometimes the problems triumph. I’m wondering what experiences other people have had in writing through problems. How did you deal with them? I’d like to hear.

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25 comments:

Wilfred Bereswill said...

This is a really timely blog, Barb. Right now, my day job employer is in the middle of a buyout, the result of a somewhat hostile takeover. You may have heard of it, I work for a small beer brewer headquartered just south of Chicago.

Nobody knows how things will shake out or how many jobs will be lost, but I'm finding the uncertainty can suck the creativity right out of you. The release of my first novel almost coincided with the announcement that there would be a hostile takeover of the company.

I'm trying to push through the negative thoughts and focus on my work in progress, but I'll be watching here for suggestions from those that have gone through it.

Martel said...

I am 13,000+ words in to a novel and have been sidetracked by a similar (sick child) incident.

I haven't been able to write much since this started. But what I have been doing is a lot of research on the particular crime that my story is focused on. Learning more about the crime is telling my all sorts of things about my victim, my villain and my hero.

I've been thinking about how to apply what I've learned to the story I thought I was writing and now see where adjustments are needed.

And I've also been catching up on my "to be read" pile. Seeing what other crime writers are up to these days is helpful in terms of making my story different from what's out there already.

Although the word count hasn't grown much in the past couple of weeks, I feel like I'm making progress and haven't had the urge to throw in the towel completely.

Martel

Barbara D'Amato said...

Wilfred and martel, I wish you well. In my experience, the book comes back as the stress lessens. The incident I wrote about was the only one where I've had a complete book failure. That you for writing.

Picks By Pat said...

I once started a novel which I thought was ingenious, about dinosaurs killing people in modern times (time travel was involved). I had a great detailed outline and was 50 pages into it when Jurassic Park was published. I was certain that if I finished the novel, people would say I was just a copycat, and I abandoned it in frustration.

Dana King said...

I had finished a draft of a short story that was well received by my writers group when a close friend died. The story had nothing to do with him, but I've never gotten around to finishing it. I thnk there's a subconscious association in my mind. I have ideas for using the main character in another story or venue, but I think the original story is on permanent hold.

ab said...

Writing can help you through some things, but problems in the family and worries for loved ones - that's more difficult.

I am at page 505 of my new book, very very close to the end, but I am procrastinating, because when this book is done, there are hard things I'll have to address and quite certain a lot of heartache will come of that. So not writing can help too, and give you the time for yourself that you really need.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thank you for your stories ab, pat, and dana. It's good to know both that a writer can drop a dead project and still forge ahead, or finish a project that was threatened by outside events. Best wishes.

ab said...

It's my experience that dead projects can come to life again. Once you have "found" the characters, the story is sort of already there, even if you haven't written it down.

So it can hide somewhere in the hidden regions of heart and brain for a period of time, and then - boom! - one day it surfaces once more, alive and kickin'.

David Terrenoire said...

I hope I'm not too late to weigh in.

Last year my daughter tried to kill herself.

Twice.

She's 27 and had been living in New York. She came home and lived with us and we watched her go from a beautiful, incredibly talented, funny young woman to someone we were afraid to leave alone.

I was called from the ER, twice, and those were just the peaks of a slowly unrolling tragedy.

She's doing better now, but it could go south any day. We know that and we have steeled ourselves, as much as we can, for that phone call.

I didn't write a word for almost two years. Now, I am closing in on the end of a novel that is bigger, richer, more complex and serious than my first book. Concidence? I don't know.

But there it is.

All of life is a mystery to me.

Barbara D'Amato said...

david, I feel horrible for what you have to deal with. We've had a somewhat similar case in a family member. I suppose your daughter has a doctor who is trying another -- and another and another -- antidepressant if one doesn't work. Sometimes there is just one out of the whole bunch that works very well. I send you all my good wishes.

ab. Your positive note is very welcome.

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