Writing Through Adversity

JackandMe~ By Sandy James

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls when we expect a heater right in the sweet spot. Sometimes these surprises are fun. A new book contract with a tight deadline. A brilliant idea for a new story when you’re hip-deep in writing another. A bump up in your release date. Those can all be motivating, at least for me. I’m so Type-A, I thrive on needing to get things done quickly, so my writing flourishes.

But what happens when those surprises aren’t so much fun… Troubles in your day job. Money issues. Family squabbles.

Or cancer.

That’s the curveball that was recently thrown at my husband and me. I say “and me,” because although he has the disease, we are both in the middle of the battle. Anyone who’s ever been in a long-term committed relationship understands that quite well. The story of his diagnosis is an odyssey, and I’ve written about it on other blogs, so I won’t rehash it. Suffice to say, he was really, really sick and barely survived the surgery that discovered his colon cancer. What I do want to write about is whether a writer can stay productive during this kind of life-changing adversity.

For a week, Jeff was in a drug-induced coma as he fought sepsis. The days became much like the movie Groundhog Day, one blending into another with no change. Then the copy edits for Fringe Benefits that releases in April popped up in my email. My editor included a note that there was no reason whatsoever to push myself to get them done. She had no problem moving the release date, and she wanted me free to focus on Jeff. But since the only thing I could do for him was hold his hand, something that always made me smile because he always squeezed back, I brought my laptop with me, pulled my chair up to the only place on the bed without IVs or machines, and held his hand with my left while I edited with my right.

I’m not saying that to brag or to show what a tough b*tch I am. I was honestly thrilled to have something to pay attention to other than monitors for body functions. As soon as I finished those changes, I started on editorial notes I received from my agent on another book we’re hoping to sell. They gave me a focus, and they helped fill the endless hours.

Then Jeff was awakened. I put writing aside for the time he remained in ICU, but when he was transferred to a room in Geriatrics (No, we’re not that old. There was a flu epidemic, and it was the only open room that night!), I found a lot of free time as I sat on the sofa and watched TV with him. So out came the laptop again.

Despite this, I will admit I haven’t written much original material. Between the sleep deprivation, the worry, and taking care of him, it’s hard to get myself in a “romance” frame of mind. If you’re facing adversity that is affecting your writing, I’d like to offer this piece of advice. Forgive yourself and know that writing should be a haven not a chore. That’s why it was easy to tell myself that Jeff was more important and that writing could wait.

Now that he’s home and recovering, he still requires a lot of care, which doesn’t give me much down time. But I make sure I get something new written almost every day. It’s a refuge. I also found that writing about all of this disaster is cathartic. So you might want to keep a diary. Write short snippets about your observations. Who knows? Maybe one day one of your characters will need what you’ve learned.

Maybe one day, I’ll turn this cancer journal I’ve started into a book. For now, it’s keeping me sane and reminding me that no matter what life throws at my family, I’m a writer—and will always be—a writer.

Sandy James lives in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis with her husband. She’s a high school social studies teacher who especially loves psychology and United States history. Since she and her husband own a small stable of harness racehorses, they often spend time together at the two Indiana racetracks.

You can learn more at:
Twitter and Pinterest: sandyjamesbooks 
Facebook: http://facebook.com/sandyjamesbooks 

17 thoughts on “Writing Through Adversity”

  1. Best wishes, Sandy.
    I agree, reading and writing can be a good escape.
    Take care, and give that grandson lots of kisses.

  2. Hi Sandy,

    I’m sorry to hear about your troubles (and others have told me that your husband’s cancer is only the latest hit). I admire your strength and positive outlook.

    I just spent a couple of weeks (much of it sitting in ICU) dealing with my stepdaughter’s mother (also a friend of mine–weird extended family thing) who had a massive heart attack and cardiac arrest. Every day I brought my laptop with me intending to write and every day it went home untouched. I managed to do a few small things (writing up cover notes for the book I’m supposed to be writing now) but between the exhaustion and the stress, there was no creative juice at all.

    Things are a little calmer now and I’m hoping to get back to the refuge of writing. You know, tomorrow, after I tackle weeks of housecleaning!

    I hope everything turns out okay for you and your husband.
    Deborah Blake

    1. Yeah, I lost my mother in September and my father in January. It has been a very rough few months…

      I know exactly what you mean about hauling your laptop every day. There were lots of times it went with me, only to languish in it’s tote. 🙂
      Thanks for the kind words!!

  3. Dear Sandy,

    My prayers will be with you and your husband. I nursed my mum through cancer two years ago, and I just could not write, I was too exhausted. My local chapter were very much there for me and I couldn’t have managed without their support.

    Now I am back writing with a new depth, compassion and humility that I just didn’t have before.

    There are those who will understand exactly what you are going through and those who will support and love you even if they have never ‘been there’. What’s wonderful, I find, about RWA is that we don’t only write about love so many of us ‘live love’ with our friends and families especially at times like this.

    I don’t know you personally of course, only having been a chapter member for a short time, but we are part of a sisterhood (with some brothers) of Romance Writers, and I hope this message comes across in that spirit.


  4. This is a great post! It’s a nice reminder that writing is part of what can keep us sane and our hearts lifted. I am thinking of you and your family, and I hope for a wonderful healthy recovery.

  5. Sandy,

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring take on how to handle a difficult situation. I wholeheartedly agree that “writing should be a haven not a chore.” I’m so glad you found solace in your writing.

    With caring thoughts,


  6. Good for you, Sandy! What an inspiring story. Real life definitely plays a role in getting into the “romance” mindset, but you found other ways to keep going and be productive. I hope your husband is doing well!

  7. Prayers coming your way, Sandy}}}

    Stories like this remind me that whatever disasters are at my door right now (a frozen ceptic system and a husband with a broken wrist), things could always be worse. I applaud your positive attitude and diligence with your writing. Some of our best work comes when we are pushed to our limits. I’ve come to the same conclusion of forgiving myself and cutting myself some slack with production during this time when other things are drawing my attention. Life happens and sometimes we just have to roll with it and do the best we can. Hang in there and keep up the good work!

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