Tag Archives: grief

Monday Musings: Writing What We Have To

I need to work through the memories and regrets, the guilt and love, the unresolved conflicts and incomplete conversations. Not because I want to, though I do, and not even because I might actually have a home for it when it’s done. I have to write it because NOT writing this story is keeping me from doing my best work on other projects.

As the year began, I found myself in the unusual position of not knowing what to work on. I have one book under contract, but it’s already written and I’m waiting for revision notes. I have the anthology submissions to read and I had to write my own story for Galactic Stew (a new Thieftaker story, for those of you who are fans of the series). After that, though…

I have ideas –projects I intend to take on this year, and I’ll get to those. But there was and is another factor at work.

Some of you know that we lost my oldest brother a couple of years ago. The truth is, I have struggled with everything I’ve written since then. I’ve put out some of the best work of my career – the final products have come out well. But my initial drafts have been far rougher than usual, and the actual process of writing, which I usually love, has been painful.

I didn’t make the connection at first. You might think I would have – it seems so obvious to me now. I suppose, though, that sometimes when we’re in the middle of an emotional storm, it’s not as obvious as perhaps it becomes in retrospect. The fact is, I’m still grieving, and I hadn’t processed my brother’s death.

Until now.

I am working on something new, something utterly different from anything I’ve written before. I’m writing essay-length memoir, a family history that touches not just on my complicated, loving relationship with my brother, but also on parallels between our relationship and the relationship between my father and his brother, who died in World War II. As it happens, an editor has expressed interest in working with me on the project, so I might even wind up selling it.

Honestly, though, the possible sale is secondary.

Sometimes we write what we’re supposed to – a book that’s under contract, a story we’ve promised to one market or another, the next book or novella in a series we’re publishing ourselves. Sometimes we write what we want to. We have nothing under contract or required of us and we dive into the idea that has captured our heart, maybe one that has been percolating in our thoughts for months or even years.

And sometimes we write what we have to, as in the case of this non-fiction piece. Even if it doesn’t come out well, even if no one ever wants to publish it, I need to process these emotions creatively. I need to work through the memories and regrets, the guilt and love, the unresolved conflicts and incomplete conversations. Not because I want to, though I do, and not even because I might actually have a home for it when it’s done. I have to write it because NOT writing this story is keeping me from doing my best work on other projects.

My art is my work, and it’s also my livelihood. Creativity is an expression of will and vision. It can be cerebral. It can be whimsical. It can be calculatingly commercial. That my professional work provides as well an emotional outlet is both a blessing and a burden. Often I am able to process personal issues and confront personal demons as I write. This time I couldn’t. This time I actually had to write about me and my life.

It’s been weird writing this piece. At times it’s incredibly hard. I usually try to write to a certain word count each day. I haven’t with the memoir. I don’t want to force it, and I’m not sure I could. Memories have come to me while I write, some painful, some happy. All of them have enriched the essay. More to the point, each evening when I finish work for the day, I feel just a little lighter, a bit more at peace. I don’t miss my brother any less, but I’m certain that writing about him is helping me heal. Finally.

And that’s what I hope you’ll take away from this. We write to be published. We write because it’s what we love to do. We also write because we have to – for peace, for love, for solace, and for the clarity we need to do our best work.