Reasons NOT To Be A Writer

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I am late today. Sorry for that. Actually, I thought today was not my day because I’ve lost track of time. That sounds lame, even to me, but unfortunately, it’s true. For many reasons, I am in the doldrums of the year, part of the ebb and flow of time and emotion and family. First, it’s fall. I adore fall, with the lengthening of night and the shortening of day. It feels as if time slows and gives me more moments to reflect, to snuggle in early, to pile up on the couch with the dogs and the Hubby. Night becomes a reason to push away work and not think of deadlines. I love fall, but this year it’s not so lovely, and because I’ve become friends with so many of you, I have decided to share the reasons why with you, and how life has changed  my writing.

On July 24, my mother-in-law became ill and was hospitalized. After that, she went into rehab, and was eating and drinking and laughing. On the tenth day of rehab she became ill again, this time with a much worse illness that not only resulted in a physical disease condition, but caused altered mental status—a fancy term for hallucinations and a case of the crazies. The docs got the infection under control after many, many days, and her mind started to come back, but her physical spiral down was slow and horrible as her body began to fail. She passed away in hospice on Monday, Oct. the 8th and was buried on Wednesday, Oct. 10th. I was at her bedside with my hubby when she died.

During all her final days, a lot was going on. My mother became ill and still is, my father (blind and mostly deaf) was under my care for 20 days, and I had lab job to keep going. I requested and was given extensions on my deadlines for Blood Trade, which I finally turned in on Oct. 10, the day of the funeral. Had a book release—Death’s Rival—on Oct. 2, hit the NYT and USA Today on Oct. 9 (between death and funeral), did a launch party, took a class at the hospital, paid bills, did laundry, worked at my lab job, and last week I flew to New York Comic Con for four days (Oct. 11 – 14). I came home to my still-grieving Hubby.

I love fall. I really do. I understand why the seasons change and why people die. I also love writing. It is my life for so many reasons. But because it is my life, I have to weave it into the warp and weft of living and dying. That is hard. It is one major reason why commercially published writers say, “If you can do anything else with your life and be at least moderately happy, do it. Don’t be a writer. It’s too hard.”

I didn’t say all this to depress you, but to share with you a writer’s life. And to share with you a scene that started while MaeNell lay ill. In it, you can see how my personal life became part of the scene. This scene is *very* rough. Believe me, I know. It needs a lot of work. But it is a view into my own mind.

***

WIP

It opened silently, not with the hair-raising creak I expected. Nothing jumped out at me. Nothing moved. Nothing made a single sound.

The smell from the crawlspace was the fetid stench of a mass grave. I aimed the flash down to see bare, sandy ground and what might have been ankle bones with two leg bones sticking out of it. The angle wasn’t good enough to see anything more, but I was just happy not to see hundreds of rats squealing away. Dead bodies, I was getting used to.

Seven small steps led down, like attic access steps, open and rickety.

I got a firm grip on the weapon and the flash and paced carefully down. The steps were more solidly built than I had thought. I stepped onto the ground, finding it firm and dry and sandy. The floor above me was not insulated, just pare boards, and I could hear people up there walking around, muffled voices through the wood and sheets of old linoleum.

I flashed the light around the crawl space. I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. Then I realized it was a head. Human. Sticking out of the sandy earth. It was also alive. The head was female, upright, and I could see a slow pulse in the neck, maybe forty beats a minute.

I scanned my light to the right, and saw another head, this one less buried, with a neck and shoulders and one arm free from the ground. Female. She was wearing clothes over her thin skeleton, skin and bones showing at wrist and collar, and her hair was matted into a slimy mess. She had a chain around her neck, and an amulet hung from it. A little farther to the right was a another woman. Only her face was visible, the rest of her buried, her head tilted back, her mouth open, like a drowning victim, gasping for a last breath. Witches, all. All glowing with witchy-power in swirling, oily, foul shades of energy, like the death energies of everything that had ever been alive.

I moved the light again. And again. The seventh woman was Misha. She was sitting up, her legs buried in the sandy soil, her hands free. She had gone blond as an adult, and still wore traces of lipstick and mascara. Black gunk was smeared below her eyes in the bruised hollows. She had put up a fight. She had a black eye, and a puffy lip. That was not like the passive Misha I had known as a child. “Good for you,” I whispered.

The light caught the gleam of metal. A cell phone rested on her lap. The amulet on her chest was hanging open. I wanted to rush to her but I had no idea what to do for her, and no idea if I would kill her if I tried to pull her from the dirt. I moved the flash around the rest of the circle. All of the women were buried to some extent or another. None of them were the Hampton women.

The floor was low and I bent, studying them. All were alive except the ones at my feet. I shone the light down and saw a skull with some connective tissue left, some hair, her teeth showing the black of old fillings and metal dental work.

Beside her was another skull, less well preserved. They appeared to be laid out in the beginnings of some pattern I didn’t yet understand.

I showed the light around the witch circle and realized that the witches and dirt they were buried in looked . . . wrong. As I watched, something moved over Misha’s knee. And I realized that the women hadn’t been deliberately buried. They earth of the circle was, instead, swallowing them. I picked out the women who had been buried the least amount of time. And I studied the witch who was most buried. She didn’t have long. The dead witches at my feet were the ones who had died in service. And been replaced, though I didn’t know if someone had dug up the dead and dragged them here, or if the earth spit them out when it was done with them. I figured the Hampton witches were intended as replacements for the ones nearly buried. But the Hampton women were not here.

***

When we write, we put our souls and our lives into the work. It is both a reflection of us and our lives and a work of art all on its own. It is blood and spit and piss, it is birth and glory and joy, and it is the grave. If you cannot do anything else but write, then pour yourself into it. Or, rather, throw yourself from the cliff face and give it your all. And as you fall, remember that the writing life is supposed to be that. All or nothing.

Today I have lunch with a friend. Tomorrow is Hubby’s birthday. Yesterday we took Hubby’s father to the gravesite. Today I start the next book, still untitled. Life and death still go on. Would it be easier if I was not a writer? Yes. Will I stop writing? No. I can’t. You see, I am already falling, hard and fast, and it is dark and cold and terrifying and wonderful, and I have no idea what lies beneath or how far away it is.

Faith Hunter
www.faithhunter.net

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20 comments to Reasons NOT To Be A Writer

  • Gorby

    And I thought I was in a slump… Thank you for these words. Now I’m going to throw myself off a cliff.

  • Would that I could give you a hug from four hundred miles away.

    I have nothing to add. The excerpt is beautiful and haunting and powerful, and some of the best writing you’re done. That’s the alchemy of writing — turning the crap life throws our way into gold.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Deb S

    My condolences, Faith. I know how mentally, physically, and emotionally draining family death and illness can be. Yet instead of letting grief and exhaustion grind you and your writing to a numbed halt you poured the pain into your work and actually added layers and emotion to the scene. That’s pretty amazing.

  • Sending you virtual hugs. Take care.

  • Faith> My condolences for all you’ve been through. I get what you mean. I love fall, too–esp. after living in Ohio where it actually happened and was pretty. But fall is also when my mom died, and so it always sneaks up on me, and I end up thinking “Really? That long?” This year is 15 years ago. I also find my life in my fiction. I sometimes read someone else’s work, and, esp. if I know them well, I think “oh, that’s so his committement issues!” or whatever. And I think “I’m so glad I don’t do that.” Then I go back and read something of mine and think, “Oh. My characters all seem to have dead/missing mothers. Hrm. Coincidence right?”

    You post was powerful and moving, even if a bit sad, but sad is good sometimes. And I agree. If I could be happy doing something else, I would. But I’m happy writing. Even when I’m sad. 🙂

  • Thank you for this moving post. I feel honored that you are willing to share this with us. You also remind us of the beauty and wonder of language and creativity, and the special magic that results when they combine to illuminate our lives even in the darkest times.

  • Gorby, I hope you love the fall. Happy sailing.

    David, long distance hugs backatcha.

    Hep, Deb, and Daniel, Thank you. 🙂

    Pea, yeah, all my characters have bits and pieces of me in them too.

    SiSi, yes, words can be a light in the darkness. Thank you.

  • Faith, I’m sorry for your loss. My hubby just lost his much-beloved great-aunt on the 5th and we laid her to rest on the 11th. Stressful times, especially with SIWC starting tomorrow, but I had to, wanted to, be there for him and his family. Positive thoughts for your parents.

    And thank you for this reminder. I like falling into the beautiful darkness of creation, letting its arms wrap around me and drag me down. Says the girl known for *actually* throwing herself off cliffs, who can knows that the feeling of leaping into story can be just as exhilarating. 🙂

  • Julia

    Faith, thank you for sharing this — and for offering us insight into not just your craft, but also into your heart. Wishing you and your family strength and comfort during the seasons of grief.

  • quillet

    What a sad and truly beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing this with us. Sending condolences and virtual hugs your way.

  • Razziecat

    “…I am already falling, hard and fast, and it is dark and cold and terrifying and wonderful, and I have no idea what lies beneath or how far away it is.”

    That’s one of the most haunting things I’ve ever read. You could start a book with those words. Or end one. Or both.

    My deepest sympathies for your loss and your grief. You’ll come through it. Blessed be.

  • Faith, as dark as it may be it is often good to hear that other people have their own troubles. It is easy to go through life thinking everyone else has it easy. You’ve done well and it speaks volumes for your character that you’d share both some new writing and some of your personal life. Last month my mother in law had a heart attack (at only 57!) and underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Then my father in law had a heart attack too. Probably because with his wife in recovery he had to learn how to use the washing machine himself. (They are both doing fine, all things considered, so a little humour is not out of order.)
    I love the image of the witches sunk in the sand. It raises so many questions and fills my head with so many possibilities. I know that confronting the spectre of mortality profoundly affected me as know doubt it has you too. Perhaps under those conditions being a writer is easier than not?

  • Ken

    Thank you for sharing that, Faith. My heart goes out you and yours (along with all of the virtual hugs you need).

    I can see how everything that is going on in our lives can influence what comes out on the page. I don’t see how anyone can keep it from happening…and I don’t think that it would be a blessing to anyone that actually managed it.

    I really appreciate you sharing what you’ve learned and I admire you for being strong enough to share how it got learned. Those lessons are equally valuable.

    It may be dark and the wind may be howling past our ears as we plummet, but we’re all here with you.

  • *hugs*

    Faith, thank you for sharing this. I truly admire your strength in the face of everything these last few months.

    And the images and emotion of the scene hit me in the gut. Well done.

  • A haunting post. Perhaps to be subtitled: ‘And the one reason TO write.’

  • Laura, yes, leaping into the unknown is exhilarating. Sooo. Do you skydive? Bungee? Kite?

    Julia and Quillet, thank you for the kind words.

    Razzie, I didn’t think of that, but I have now pulled them into my file for cool stuff to use later.

    SJohn, The fifties is a scary decade. So many things go wrong—bodies wear out, a lifetime of bad habits catch up to us, and genetics kick in. Thank God and science for modern medicine!

    Thank you Ken. Falling with friends makes it easier.

    Thank you EK. No bruises. Promise!

    Widder, you have a point!

  • sagablessed

    I know I am late in this.
    I have to say, it shows trust for you to share with us. I hope you grieved properly and remember the good things. Yet it seems to me many of we who write, whether for a living or just us share this common denominator: our writing can be therapy as well as joy. I hope your writing leads you to peace.
    I do know how life gets in the way. What you said about one’s personal life becoming part of the writing….agree. A little while ago I was in the midst of a rage against someone who assaulted and battered me years ago. After I vented, I made a post on FB (later taken down for privacy), and realised the words I used gave me insight to my BBU.
    I have decided to channel my anger (as well as other emotions) into my writing, and let those feelings give me a connection to my characters.

  • Saga, I have used pen and paper (okay, lately it’s been the computer screen) as my psychotherapist for years. It really works to clean the dust bunnies and cobwebs out of ones head and to find peace.

  • Faith – no, just actual cliff-jumping at the local canyon. The water’s deep enough that you’re safe as long as you’re smart about it. 🙂