by A.G. Howard*
Almost two years ago, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy after my husband found him having a seizure on the living room floor. That in itself was scary enough; but ration in the possible side effects of the drugs available to treat this neurological condition and it goes a step beyond terrifying. We researched and researched, and resigned to try the most benign drug out there.
His pediatric neurologist started him off at the typical dosage for a child of his weight. His body reacted with jitters and what my son thought was the beginning of a seizure — a racing heartbeat and a “scary feeling” inside his head.
We spent several nights those first few weeks at the ER, trying to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t until I remembered my mom having a bout of panic attacks a year earlier with similar symptoms that I made the connection. My son was having drug-induced panic attacks caused by the dosage being too high for his system. After they adjusted the dose, his body slowly acclimated to the meds, and not only has it controlled his seizures, it’s now a rare thing for him to have any reactions.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, the last night we spent at the ER — before the panic attack revelation — I grabbed my laptop on my way out the door in hopes I could get some writing in. I was working on Splintered’s first draft, and had a self-appointed deadline.
I’d already dallied away enough nights (my most fruitful time for harvesting wordage) sitting in the ER waiting room and watching pointless TV shows. I was determined to finally get the scene done that I’d been toiling over for weeks. What happened surprised even me.
In the three hours we were there, I managed to tap out all that was left of that chapter, even while worrying and wondering if my son was ever going to have a normal life again. My insides wound in nervous knots, my fingers trembled with tension, a mixture of emotions bled into every sentence, yet still I finished.
And not only that, I rocked that scene. In fact, when I had multiple offers of representation for this book, each agent commented on that particular chapter being the most “Lewis Carroll-ian” in the book. Why? Because I hadn’t held back. I put everything I was feeling into that scene, and it came across as wild and uncontrollable and absurd, which was exactly how life felt to me in that moment.
I always knew writing could be therapeutic to a writer, but I never thought about how good it can be for our stories if we write through the dramas in our life, choosing the scenes to match our situation. Had I tried to write something tender, maybe a romance scene, the outcome might not have been so good. But because I was feeling all of the confusion, angst, and bemused terror my MC was supposed to be feeling at that moment, it was golden, and the best thing that could’ve happened for my book, not to mention a great revelation for me.
So next time you’re having one of those days when everything seems to be going wrong, funnel that frustration into a scene where your MC is facing similar challenges in their life. Whether brought about by the same situations or not, the emotions will still ring true, and will add authenticity to your writing.
It's one of the perks of being writers. We actually get to broadcast our emotions while we’re working, as opposed to stifling them. (◕‿◕)
*Originally posted on Gennifer Albin's blog.