Writing while grieving.

Tuesday, August 29th 2017 • Mom, Writing

My life was dramatically changed on June 24, 2016. I was on my honeymoon in Kauai with my husband. We’d spent the first part of the week traveling around the island in awe of the beauty around us. On that June morning, I woke up unaware that the day would radically alter my life. Yet from the beginning, something in our day seemed off. I had tried to call my mom the night before but had gotten her answering machine. I called again that morning, and again, and again. I found out that my mom had died the night before of a heart attack, and my life lurched to a stop.

My mom was my hero and best friend and inspiration. I called her almost every day and would often drive from Los Angeles to San Diego just to see her. There was (and is) an absence in my life that I cannot begin to put into words, and I will spend the rest of my life missing her. She was my champion, and so much of who I am is because of her. With her gone, I felt lost.

Writing has always felt natural, more natural than anything else. I feel most alive when I’m writing. Following my mom’s death, however, I felt hollow. I sat at a computer screen or carried a notebook, but the only words that came were the ones about my mom and our memories and how much I missed her. Meanwhile, I had been in the middle of writing a new book with a self-imposed deadline. I’d always been able to write quickly, but now, I couldn’t produce. The sense that I’d lost both my mom and my purpose in life settled in, and fear consumed me.

How do we write when grief and loss weigh over us? It’s a question I asked again and again, but no one seemed to have any answer other than to tell me to take my time. That wasn’t good enough for me. I pushed myself to write more, but it still took longer than it ever had. I felt lost.

I had to learn how to write again. Before, I gave myself extreme word limits to meet. Now, I gave myself more freedom. I released myself from ridiculous, self-imposed deadlines. I forgave myself.

And here, for those of you struggling in this space, I give my learned wisdom for writing while grieving to you.

Try new methods or strategies.
Before, I would give myself word limit goals like “write 5,000 words today” and would work on them diligently. Now, though, the word limit number paralyzes me. So, I tried to Pomodoro Technique and instead gave myself 25 minute increments to work in. For whatever reason, this was less stressful on me. The freedom helped me produce more, better words than the word count had. I even found an app called Forest that would block out my phone applications and force me to work for the 25 minute time frame. I can’t explain why I suddenly needed a new strategy, but just know that trying something new may help shake you out of your grief-induced spiral.

Get help (professional help, if possible).
I love my therapist. She has helped me climb grief mountains that I never thought I could face. She’s also great at telling me when my goals are too extreme and/or likely to lead to failure because they are unrealistic. She’s a fantastic cheerleader, too, and great at reminding me that grief is the worst. Just getting through it is an achievement, and it’s important to recognize that in myself. If you can’t seek professional help, then try to find a friend that can remind you of how much you’re going through and how difficult it can be. You will get there, but it will be harder than you can imagine.

Remember that grief is sneaky.
Grief likes to come at me when I think I’ve conquered it. I’ll be having a great day, and then, out of nowhere, I’ll be sobbing in my car. A day of writing might seem totally possible at 8 a.m. that morning, but when I’m elbow-deep in a grief bubble at noon, it’s suddenly harder. Even when I don’t actively feel like I’m grieving, I know that I still am. It makes everything just a tiny bit harder, and it’s brought on waves on anxiety that are still hard to predict. Again, be kind to yourself. Have a plan ready for sneaky grief attacks and don’t force the writing during these times.

Realize that writing is not just writing.
Before, writing was when I was at the computer typing away. Now, my writing time is anytime I’m actively or passively working on my craft. Reading books (any books!) is part of my writing time. Listening to audiobooks is part of my writing. Watching films is part of my writing. Living life by getting out and experiencing the city that I live in is part of my writing. I knew this before my mom died, but I didn’t give myself credit for these activities. Now, I see that these are just as essential to my writing as actually typing.

You can see that this blog post was a long time in the making. I felt that I needed to have something truly important and earth-shattering to say here to make up for the lost time. But, I know now that surviving the past year or so is achievement enough. Through it all, I’ve been writing. I’ve finished projects. I’ve had success. I’m still grieving, and there are some mighty obstacles ahead. But I will overcome. I will continue to do what I love, for grief has not taken that away from me–though it sure as hell tried.

Until next time,

2 Responses to “Writing while grieving.”

  1. I am so sorry for your loss <3. I am so proud of you for taking these courageous steps to overcome grief. Stay strong, and I am always here if you want to talk.


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