Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Writing After Loss

This week on the Lucky 13s blog we continue our focus on writing through loss, blocks, and other challenges.

News of a book sale—let alone a first book sale--should be cause for jumping up and down, champagne, with possibly some gleeful shouting mixed in, for those so inclined.

Unfortunately, when THE WIG IN THE WINDOW sold, I crawled into bed, stared at the ceiling, and wondered how I’d ever be able to tap back into the silly middle school mindset I’d need to revise my manuscript. I wondered, in fact, if I’d ever be able to write another word, let alone rework what I had.

I wasn’t crippled by fear of failure. I wasn’t stunned by success. The matter was simpler—though far more horrible. Just days before the offer came in, my father had choked to death in front of me and my family while we were out celebrating my husband’s and my 14th wedding anniversary.

We couldn’t save him. The table of nurses next to us couldn’t save him. Our waiter, fresh from a CPR course, couldn’t save him. It turns out that only in dark comedies and sitcoms does the Heimlich work every time, a fact I desperately wish I’d never learned. “It’ll be all right,” I remember reassuring my mom as the first nurse leapt from her table to help us. “Someday this will just be a story we tell.”

It was a story we told. One we had no choice but to tell, starting with twenty times that night alone. To the coroner. To family. To friends. It was, suddenly, my only story. Would there ever be any other?

It didn’t feel like it. I didn’t write for months after my father died. At first I could pretend it was because I didn’t have time. An unexpected death brings with it a startling number of logistics to manage. Memorials to plan. Calls to make. Letters to write. Hours on hold waiting to cancel credit cards. Yet even when the details were all taken care of and there was little more to do but continue to comfort my mom and deal with my own shock and grief, I still couldn’t bring myself to write a word.

I’m not sure when the fog started to lift. It was a gradual process. All I know is that, in the meantime, forcing writing didn’t work. Word count goals, morning pages, and timed writings might loosen up a writer feeling a little fearful or lazy, but they left me feeling guilty and even more empty.  It was only once I let go entirely—and for a good long time—that I started to feel the desire to create again.

Sometimes I curse the lost writing time, especially as other debut authors put their finishing touches on their second books. Then I remember that I’m in this for the long haul. Writing isn’t a race — and sometimes life makes it impossible to slog forward. The trick is being honest about when we’re using life’s challenges as procrastination tools and when we need to be kinder to ourselves.

My editorial letter for WIG arrived six months after my dad died, a good month after my grief had become an excuse for procrastinating. Entering the mindsets of two tween sleuths who think their plastic-surgery-enhanced school counselor might be a fugitive wasn’t easy, exactly, but once I was in the swing of things, what glorious distraction! It felt fantastic to find my inner silliness again — to know, too, that I was bubbling over with many, many other stories to tell.

Speaking of bubbling over, I’m happy to report that I greeted my recent sale of the (unwritten) sequel to WIG with all the champagne and fanfare it deserved. With all the challenges bound to come our way, we have to relish the good times, don’t you think?

Kristen Kittscher's debut mystery THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (Harper Children's 2013) follows the comic misadventures of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous fugitive -- and just might be right! A former middle school English teacher, Kristen lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband, Kai. When she's not writing, you'll find her running her after-school tutoring business or taking orders from her hopelessly spoiled pets. You can find her  on TwitterFacebook, or at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis, where she blogs with other YA & MG mystery authors.


  1. I just want to HUG you. Thanks for writing this (and for writing at all, and when you were ready).

  2. This made me cry. I'm so sorry for your loss and the pain your family's had to walk through. I love that you were able to find your inner silliness again over time. Sometimes in the middle of grief we forget it's even in there. Excited for your success and future success. Thank you for sharing so honestly about the hope of moving through grief and writing again.
    Catherine Denton

  3. Oh, Kristen. I remember talking about this issue last summer when we first met. Your loss is an immense one—so painful. But I am glad you have been able to find some solace in writing again. It's easy to forget, in all of these public conversations about the writing life, that we are real people with real, private struggles that have nothing to do with our work. The personal issues don't take away from our professional successes but they're not necessarily healed by them, either.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I admire your persistence in finding the strength to keep writing.

  5. Thank you for sharing this, Kristen. I'm happy you were able to write again when the time was right. I think so many people forget there's far more to being a good writer than writing X amount of words per day. Passion needs to be involved, and I'm thankful yours returned.

  6. I can't wait to give you a big hug the next time I see you. <3

  7. Kristen, thank you so much. I'm so glad your stories are bringing you joy!

  8. Kristen, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing this. Seriously.

  9. Oh, Kristen. I just. No words. Other than thank you for persevering through the dark times. I look forward to purchasing your book.

  10. Thank you for sharing this. That's some guts. And I'm really looking forward to this book!

  11. This was so beautifully written! It made me cry. What an incredibly hard thing to go through! Thank you for sharing this. I think it's something that touches everyone to some extent.