~ 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.
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.