Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What the ER taught me about writing




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.

30 comments:

Angela V. Cook said...

Loved this post!!! You are so, so right! I think this is why I love first draft writing. I don't let anyone read as I write, and I don't allow myself to go back and edit (while I'm still drafting). There's no pressure for it to be pretty and/or perfect; I just spill out onto the keyboard whatever is inside. Of couse, sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not, but at least it always feels real.

I'm so glad your son's seizures are under control--what a scary thing!

<3 to you, #goatqueen :o)

Anita Grace Howard said...

Aww, hi Angela! Thanks so much for the sweet words. And you're so right. Pouring out your guts might be messy and need some cleaning up later on, but it's the best way to have an authentic story come through. <3 you right back, #goatprincess ;)

Jessica Nelson said...

Great post, Anita!! I'm so glad those days are over though. May they never come again!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Thanks, Jessie! And hear, hear. Or is it here, here? I always get confused on that one. Hee

Jennifer Archer said...

I remember when that was happening. What a terrifying time for you and your family! I have never heard you tell this story before about writing at the ER. I'm so glad your writing was there for you and that you were wise enough to turn to it during a crisis. Great, insightful post, Anita!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Thanks Jenny! It sure helped having friends around, too. ;) BTW, next time we have crit, I'll tell you what scene I was working on at that time. Although you might already have a pretty good guess. Heh

Jordan Dane said...

Writers are weird. We understand this completely. Great post, Anita. Can't wait for your book & I'm glad your son has leveled out. What a frightening experience for all of you.

elizabeth seckman said...

Glad it all had a positive outcome. Can't wait to get the book!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Jordan~ It was terrifying. But things are so much better now. Thank you!

Elizabeth~ So nice to see you here! Thanks, and I can't WAIT until the book hits shelves,too. I'll be giddy just holding one in my hands. ;)

Bethany C. said...

It's sad to say that my favorite scene in that book is a result of such a stressful/scary time but it's true. That scene rocks!!

Last time I was at the ER (when my husband got the world's sharpest stick through his foot) all I accomplished was arranging a sleepover for my daughter. I have so much to learn...

Anita Grace Howard said...

Bethany~ LOL! Thanks girl. I KNOW you love that scene. Hee. As far as your ER adventure, you still made the time productive, so that totally counts. :)

Kerri Maniscalco said...

First of all, I'm so glad that your son's seizures are under control. Second, you are so right about writers being blessed with the ability to channel our feelings. It's amazing how emotions we're going through can fuel our scenes and elevate them.

Sometimes if I'm feeling particularly angsty, I'll write out a scene and save it to paste into my wip at a later date.

Thanks for a great post, Twink! :)

Cat Winters said...

Wonderful post, Anita! That's so true about our own frustrations and fears adding truth and vividness to our writing. I can't wait to read the scene you're referring to!!

I'm so sorry about your son's battle with epilepsy and the drugs involved. My daughter was diagnosed with severe allergy-induced asthma five years ago, and the medicine side of the ordeal has been frightening at times. She was on one drug that gave her vivid nightmares with actual pain involved. Others have induced jitters and rapid heartbeats, like what you were describing. So scary.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Kerri~ Thanks Twink. It was a little scary for a bit, but it's better now. That's a great idea to write a scene "when the mood it right" and save for later. I'll have to try that!

cat~ The adjustment period w/meds can be so gruelling. I hope she's doing better now! Thanks for your sweet words and for stopping by. ;)

Melissa said...

I'm so glad this story ends happy in every way! Great post--and I'll be wondering which scene that is while I'm reading...

Anita Grace Howard said...

Aw, thanks Melissa! I'll be sure and leak to the public which scene it was once the book is out. ;)

cherie said...

I so agree with this. When I have down moments, I turn to writing. Even if it's not part of my WIP, or if it's just a scene for a future short story, it helps me calm down.

I do feel you on the worries a mom has to face when their kid gets sick. How wonderful that you were able to channel your emotions into paper. I'm glad he's doing better now.

Lots of love and hugs to you, lovely! <3

Anita Grace Howard said...

Cherie sparkles~ Thank you sweet thing! Being a mommy can teach you LOTs of new tricks, can't it? :)

Kathryn Elliott said...

Yikes! Scary time. Isn't it amazing how our best writing so often stems from the worst possible situations? Glad your life is back to normal. (Or as normal as Mom-life ever can be.) :-)

Anita Grace Howard said...

Thanks Kathryn. :) And yeah, I've given up on life ever being normal. I'm settling for subtly unpredictable. Good to see you!

Katey said...

I wrote every heavy-duty scene in my second romance novel sitting in my mum's recovery room after a scary surgery on her spine. Anita, woman. I should've known you'd understand.

Thanks so much for sharing that with us!

Sarah Pearson said...

My goodness, what a scary time that must have been for you all. I'm so glad your son seems to have things under control now.

And how wonderful that you had an outlet to channel that turmoil into.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Katey~ Wow, that's terrifying about your mom. So glad she's better now! Isn't it great that writing can work as a cartharsis when our emotions become overwhelming?

Sarah~ Thanks so much for your sweet words. I'm very grateful that the meds have helped. :)

dan said...

Wow Anita, I had no idea. That has to be so scary. I get freaked out when my kids have fevers for too long. Thank you for sharing your experience. It's very cool how you were able to incorporate your feelings into your writing. Very inspiring!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Thanks Dan! It was terrifying. No one wants to see their kiddo go through something like that. And honestly, I think if I hadn't had my writing at that time, I might've teetered off the edge. It definitely saved my sanity. :)

LTM said...

OK, so first, that kinda made me want to cry that your son has a "scary feeling" in his head. :o|

But you are SO right about picking your scenes based on your moods. I've had sad times that translated into the most amazing sad scenes. Then I've had loving times that have translated into the most lovely moments...

Problem: Can't wait for those perfect times. Must keep writing.

But when they happen~ <3

A.M.Supinger said...

I'm glad your son is doing better. I've had a few panic attacks before, all when I was in high school, so I know that scary feeling leading up to one...not fun.

I love this post. Writers and emotion should go hand-in-hand, because, personal therapy aside, that's what makes a story. Happiness and anger aren't the only feelings a character can have, and it can be hard to write about anything else if you only sit down and start typing when life is bright as sunshine. Dark moments, in my opinion, bring out that uncontrolled part of us that allow us to rock a scene.

Great post :)

Anita Grace Howard said...

Leigh~ Thank you. ;-/ He's a sweetheart, and it really was hard to see him go through that. But he's a trooper and he's even stronger now himself. You're so right! We can't wait for the perfect emotional storm for our scenes. We just have to keep writing. :)

Owly~ Aw, I'm so sorry you had to experience panic attacks! But so glad you're better now. Great points all about moods=muse. Sometimes it's enough to just conjure up a memory from some past tragedy, etc... to get you emotionally ready to pour out your heart. Thanks for stopping by! :)

LisaAnn said...

I'm so, so glad to hear your son is doing better, and wow! Talk about a therapeutic way to help channel your emotions... I can't wait to read that scene!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Thanks Lisa! I'll make sure to tell you which scene it is, once SPLINTERED is on the shelves. :)