Writing Through Grief


by Bobbie Christmas

Q: My ten-year marriage is ending. I don’t feel like writing. Do you have any advice on how to fight through the pain and write?

A: As a veteran of two broken marriages, I feel your pain. I’m sorry you have to go through it. Depression often leads to immobility. Many people need time to go from “overwhelmed” to “productive.”

Any loss results in grief, and grief that goes unresolved can lead to mental and physical problems. Instead of thinking of the issue as fighting through the pain to write, think of the fact that writing helps you fight the pain. While immobility keeps you in a depressed state, doing something–almost anything–can get you out of that state.

When I was going through a divorce at the same time my mother experienced gastric bleeding that doctors said might result in her death, I read On Death and Dying, a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I hadn’t thought about my divorce as being a loss that would result in grief, but the book made me realize I was going through a double loss. Kubler-Ross defined the stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Give yourself time to experience your emotions and progress through the stages toward healing. Do what you need to do to work through the stages of grief. I hope writing will become one of those things, but do not be hard on yourself for not being able to write right away.

Journaling helped me a great deal, and it might work for you, if you can find a place and time that is conducive to writing. I started with “Day One” and wrote down what my then-husband said to our son about our separation and what in reality my husband and I had said to each other. I recorded my surprise that the information differed greatly. From the moment I started my divorce journal, I experienced relief that I could write my darkest thoughts without fear that my husband might read them. Writing my divorce journal did not make me want to write creatively right away, but I unintentionally recorded material I might have forgotten, otherwise. Years later, I returned to the journals and resurrected conversations, events, and emotions to use in stories and memoirs. No doubt that later I would not have been able to rely strictly on memory for all the details, fears, and feelings I suffered through. After time passed, reading those journal entries made me smile, because I was far past those feelings and fears. I could enjoy my triumphant recovery and the fact that my life had become much better than it had been.

If journaling does not work for you yet, don’t push it, but sit for a portion of each day with pen in hand and see if anything happens. I mentioned finding a place conducive to writing, and I will reveal mine. I keep my journal in the bathroom. I have to sit on the potty awhile each morning anyway, so while I wait for nature to takes its course, I write down my thoughts, dreams, plans, fears, aspirations, conversations, experiences, or whatever else comes to mind. I like the confined space, the quiet, and the solitude, while I write and take care of my morning constitutional. See if the same ritual works for you.

You might also sign up for a class of any kind, but especially one that gives writing assignments. Taking one or more classes can provide a happy diversion from grief and add to your social life when you most need it. You can look for places, even online places, with regular competitions to see if assignments and competitions inspire you to write. Join an organization for writers. Hearing other writers talk of their experiences may inspire you to write, but even if not, at least you will be mingling with other writers. Blending with others often helps elevate a person from the depths of grief, even when the person experiencing grief doesn’t want to socialize.

As for me, deadlines inspire me. See if giving yourself a deadline helps, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You may set a deadline such as “I will write ten pages by the end of each month.”

Of all that inspires me, though, critique circles take the lead. When I am a member of an active critique circle, I must bring five new pages to each meeting, so I not only have a deadline, but I also receive encouragement and helpful feedback that keeps me going.

Try any or all my suggestions and see what works for you. On the bright side, your distress about not writing means you definitely are a writer. As a writer, you will get back to writing at some point, either by using some of my suggestions or by finding your own inspiration.

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.


Leave a Reply