On not writing and writing again

As my husband’s illness escalated into a health crisis, it became difficult to write. As he was dying, writing became impossible. How could I pay attention to made-up people in my head when one of the people I cared about most in the world was suffering and fading?

And here’s another question: My protagonist is a demon slayer involved in a supernatural war. How can I write about death as entertainment now that I’ve held my husband’s hand as he died?

I’ve had writer’s block before, but nothing like this. This was a complete loss of any sense of purpose. After the agony and loss I’d experienced, how could fiction matter?

It wasn’t just my own loss, either. On any given day, when I scan the headlines, I routinely see that dozens were killed by car bombs in the middle east. Or a disgruntled worker shot former colleagues. Or an estranged spouse killed five people. Or three people died in a car crash. Or the civil war in Syria has caused several hundred more deaths. Or a drone strike had unintended civilian casualties. On and on. Place after place. Day after day. I am conscious now, in a way I wasn’t fully before, of how each of those deaths–every single one of the dozens or hundreds broadcast by each new day’s headlines–causes profound, unimaginable grief to the survivors. To the husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, friends left behind. Sometimes it seems like the world’s atmosphere is thick with anguished cries of “No!” and “Why?”

Mine are among them. They have brought my life screeching to a halt.

Still, when I think of Steve, I remember how much he celebrated my successes. He told me, many times, that one of his greatest joys in life was watching me blossom. He didn’t care what that blossoming entailed–he would have been just as happy if I’d been writing obscure monographs on medieval hagiography as he was walking into a bookstore and finding my mass-market urban fantasy paperbacks on the shelves. He wanted me to achieve my dreams, whatever they were. And he fully supported me in going after those dreams.

From that perspective, how could I not write?

So I’m making an effort to get back to it. I want to finish Deadtown’s story. I want the readers who have followed my series to get an ending that excites, pleases, and satisfies. As corny as it may sound, I want the blossoming that gave Steve pleasure to achieve fullness. I will not let him down.

Since I’ve been back home, I’ve been taking walks on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings with a local writer friend. On Monday, she suggested that we finish Wednesday’s walk by meeting another writer at a local coffee shop and spending an hour or so writing together. Not talking, not sharing, not critiquing–just writing together.

We did that. And it was great.

There’s something about being in the presence of other writers who are working that makes it impossible to procrastinate. No more letting myself be blocked. I read through the outline for Deadtown 6, looking for a scene I could draft. I found one. And I started to write.

To my surprise and delight, Vicky and crew were right there, waiting for me to give them voice. There was no awkward period of getting reacquainted. As soon as I turned my attention to them, my characters stepped forward. Vicky’s voice was still there, as strong and distinctive as it’s ever been. Mab, always a leader, gave me the first line, and off we went. Just like that.

It’s good to know I can trust my characters; they’re here for me, true to form, when I need them. It’s good to know that I can use fiction to explore some of the thoughts and emotions I’ve encountered in the past year. It’s good to know that my characters are ready and eager to deliver an exciting conclusion to the series. Most of all, it’s good to know I can continue to blossom in the way Steve so enjoyed seeing. This book–and whatever I accomplish in the future–is for him.

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11 responses to “On not writing and writing again

  • deborahblake1

    This is wonderful news to hear–both as a friend and as a fan. I can’t wait to read the end of Vicky’s story. When I was having some serious writer’s block (for less serious reasons, of course), I got a jump-start from doing a brainstorming session with two writer friends via Skype (no writer friends live near me, alas). I’m glad you were able to find something that helps.

  • sharonstogner

    Will be cheering you and Vicky on :) that gives me an idea about review writing… Would be cool to meet with some other reviewers and write in a group. So many times you know what you want to say, but can’t put it into words and explaining your thoughts to a person would help focus my thoughts. When I get stuck I pretend I am explaining why I liked a book to someone, it helps to find the words. I do this out loud so writing reviews in a public place by myself would not be advisable .

  • Keith Pyeatt

    Yay! Fictional friends are excellent at waiting without complaint. Glad you’ve reunited. Another step toward normalcy, not that “normal” is often used to describe novelists. *smile*

  • twimom227

    Thank you for sharing your struggles and joy as you make your way back into writing after your husband’s death. I cannot even begin to imagine the struggles and heartache. I am glad your characters are there for you… It a sign of how strong they are… How strong your fiction world is. You are a fantastic storyteller, and personally, I’m thankful you are able to start writing again. *hugs*

  • jacabur1

    “Onward and outward”, Nancy to continue on sounds like it is indeed the best way to honor the memory of just how much your work meant to your husband. Life does have a way of knocking us down, it is sure good to hear that Vicki and the others have helped you find a way to start getting back on your feet again so to speak. Hugs virtually and all the best to you and looking forward to hearing more about how things are progressing for you in a positive manner.

    Jackie B Central Texas

  • Cathy Reed

    I was going through my favorite authors looking for new books to lose myself in, and you are one of the top 10. I didn’t know about your husband, and after reading what you wrote I was compelled to write to you. I lost my husband March 29 2011 suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep. It has been very hard on me to think of all I wish I had said to him. But then again reading your story I wouldn’t have wanted him to suffer either. Conclusion for me is neither way is wanted, but it is how you handle it. I wish I had your strength. What I guess I am saying is I’m sorry for you loss and look forward to losing myself for a little while in your book. Cathy Reed

    • nancyholzner

      Hi Cathy,

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing the person you always thought would be there knocks the world sideways. Like you, I’ve wondered whether it would have been easier to lose him suddenly, rather than over the course of a long, drawn-out illness. I find the question impossible to answer. Both kinds of loss have their own difficulties, and of course both share that horrible emptiness at their core.

      I hope you’ll like Hellhound and that you’re able to get lost in Vicky’s world! (I kept having this weird thought during Steve’s ordeal that if I were writing this story, I’d wouldn’t take this or that plot twist. I definitely would’ve given it a happy ending!)

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Diva

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I lost my sister and best friend to cancer ten years ago and I recall being amazed that the world could keep going and that people were going about their lives as if nothing had happened while my world had been completely upended. Even now, all these years later when I hear stories of someone dying in a car crash, etc. I’m fully aware in a way that I never used to be that somewhere out there someone’s life was just turned upside down. I will not tell you that time heals all wounds because it doesn’t. The wounds remain…time just teaches us how to live with them. And as I told my family after my sister’s death, the best way to honor the memory of a loved one is to live the best life we can, but it sounds like you’ve already figured that out.

    Best of luck on your writing. I know that I will be here to welcome Vicky, Kane, Mab, and everyone else back into my home with eager arms. :)

    • nancyholzner

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. I’m sorry for your loss of your sister. You describe that stunned feeling of amazement so well–and it’s so familiar to anyone who loses someone close to them.

      My own loss still feels very fresh and raw, but I think you’re right about time. Sometimes I fight against it because each day takes me further away from him, but I do need to find that place where I can live my life despite the wounds. I know Steve would want that.

      Thanks for sticking with my series! I hope you’ll enjoy Hellhound!

  • rabbit on the run

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, and can’t even express the words, because nothing will ever make it any better. You have gone through/are going through something that I fear most of us valiantly try not to think about in our lives, or how could we get up another day? I sit here and cry for you.
    When I face adversity, I always try and remember that others experience this. All of a sudden you realise you’re not special. It’s horrible to feel that everyone else goes through this too, at some time in their life, but they don’t count, as it’s not you.
    I’m so sorry that you have this when you’re still young, and even through you might be hale and hearty, you wish to die yourself.
    Life can be really crap, can’t it… (that’s not a question).
    Try and take care of yourself, as we all cry with you.

    • nancyholzner

      I recall the first jolt of shock that hit me when I realized how commonplace the death of a loved one really is. Happens every day. I still read about a death (or group of deaths) in the news and immediately picture the web of grief that emanates from it. I can no longer skim the headlines and breeze right past accounts of people dying or being killed, near or far. So much pain.

      But I can’t stay in that mindset, either, because it’s paralyzing. I’m trying to look past the images burned into my mind of Steve’s last weeks in the hospital and remember him as vibrant and active and healthy, to remember the joy we shared and the fun we had together. Those things contribute to the tragedy of his dying so young, but they were what made our life together happy. I’m working now to make sure I don’t throw them away in my grief.

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

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