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 Twitter, Facebook, or at Sleuths, Spies & Alibis, where she blogs with other YA & MG mystery authors.