WHY do you want to write? Have you ever asked that question? If you have, did you stop to ask it more than once? With all the sacrifice that goes into writing and writing well, finding our WHY is critical if we hope to be successful.
I get it. It’s easy to get so caught up in the zillions of other factors that go into this ‘writing thing.’
In the digital age, there’s so much more authors are responsible for knowing, understanding, doing, and doing well. Things other than ‘the writing’…though the writing should be paramount.
Why do I care about us finding our WHY? Our why is what will keep us going even when we believe we have nothing left to give.
It’s what will keep us pressing when everyone else calls us a fool, and when even WE believe we’re a fool.
Without a WHY, being an author long-term is next to impossible.
Our WHY is the beating heart that keeps our muse ALIVE.
The burning reason, our WHY, is what separates writers from ‘normal people.’ Just so y’all know, it is NOT normal to sit alone and sit still and write hundreds of thousands of words.
***Just FYI, for all the writers. Forget about normal. The Normal Ship sailed long ago without you 😉 .
In all seriousness, though. Recently, I saw someone post a question on Facebook, ‘What motivates you to write?’ Now, I am being VERY careful here. I know the intent behind the question, but we’ll circle back to motivation in a moment.
What we do is largely amorphous. Until we’ve done enough to PRINT something substantial or make it into a book, writing is very much ‘in our heads.’
This means, since we don’t have a lot of tangible benchmarks (especially now), it is more important than ever to articulate WHY we are doing what we are doing.
Also, as a quick note, finding our WHY is something we’ll need to do repeatedly. Life changes, we change, and our WHY can/will change as well.
I returned home from speaking in Houston late Sunday. Since I put out a lot of energy when I speak, I had to slip into something more comfortable when I got home…like a COMA.
But, while I was in Houston, I had time to
whine and moan have a heart-to-heart discussion with one of my dearest friends Maria Grace.
For many authors, finding our WHY has drastically changed in the past fifteen years.
Last post, I asked a touchy question. Do some people simply lack the talent to become successful authors?
This, inevitably brings up an existential discussion about ‘success’ and how ‘success’ is different for every writer. Yes, fair point. This is part of what we’re going to discuss today in regards to finding our why.
HOWEVER, when I’m discussing talent and skill, we’re covering entirely different territory. Granted, fiction is subjective. There is
a bit a lot of wiggle room for what might be considered ‘good.’
Even books agents turned down that later became a raging success via indie or self-pub still hold some commonalities.
We can still can see that the author a) actually told a coherent story b) roughly understood the rules of storytelling well enough that the average person didn’t need a GPS and a Dungeon Master to get WTH was happening and c) took the time for basic editing and proofreading.
When EVERYONE Can Be Published
I’ve been a content/developmental editor for going on twenty years. Before self-publishing, the WORST samples I received were better than some of the BEST samples I see now.
What’s changed? The WHY. Before self-publishing, the vast majority of writers would have chosen death over self-publishing.
The only way to publish—and be a REAL author—was to publish traditionally via legacy press.
In other posts, I’ve explicated the ads and disads and the changing business model, so no need to go through that again here.
Point is, publishing has changed.
When I used to tell people I was an author, their first question was, ‘Can I get your book in a bookstore?’ Now, the first question they ask, other than ‘Who are you and why are you in my house wearing my comfy PJs?’ is ‘Can I get your book on Amazon?’
Suffice to say, when I began my journey, craft was paramount…to the point writers didn’t want to learn ANY of the business of their business.
THEN, the pendulum swung and suddenly it seemed every writer out there was far more interested in becoming an advertising and marketing expert than learning how to write.
Ergo why we now have over a million NEW self-published books added to the market every year (and climbing).
How Do We KNOW?
Alas, what was I
whining about discussing with a peer? Finding our WHY is much more tricky. When I was a n00b, this publishing success thing seemed so much simpler.
Write the book, finish, edit, land an agent, get a sweet contract, see your books in bookstores, and YAY! Then, have launch parties and book signings and strive for certain awards and titles.
I remember times I was so broke I was living on eggs and saltine crackers praying the power company didn’t shut my lights off.
Yet, in spite of all the people who openly made fun of me, who were even cruel to me, and through the weeks and months and years of work…I had a VISION.
I inhaled craft books, took every class, worked, sacrificed and grew rhino skin because ONE DAY I KNEW I’d have a
giant display of my HARDBACK books in the front of every Barnes & Noble so na-na-na-na-boo-boo-stick-your-head in favorable Amazon algorithms and genre rankings.
Anyway, so I relay all this to my BFF Maria Grace. How it’s so tough to define what ‘success’ is because the roadmap that existed for over a HUNDRED years is gone (or so different from what it once was we hardly recognize it).
I groused about not seeing my books in a bookstore where I could have a real bookstore signing and MG threw my own blogs back at me. Like how marketing, book signings, and ads don’t sell books and never have.
How (according to Book Expo of America statistics) as of 2004 (before self-publishing) authors had a 93% failure rate. As in of all published authors, 93% (almost all traditionally published) failed to sell more than a thousand copies.
And, of that 93%, over 50% sold fewer than 500 copies.
Only 1 out of 9 traditionally published authors ever saw a second book in print. MG reminds me of all these things and how, even though indie and self-publishing are far from perfect, they are still in a state of flux.
From all indications, authors can actually do better in the emerging publishing model. We just need to get through
a CRAP TON some birthing pains. Changing an industry that hasn’t changed in over a century in a little over a decade?
Serious suckage, people.
Friends & Finding Our Why
Did I want to hear my own blogs used against me? NO. Even though I KNOW the old big-box model was a terrible system for authors, DANG IT!
I wanted MY BOOK DISPLAY…at least before Barnes & Noble completely buggered it all up. Ergo this is how the following conversation took place:
Me: Is it WRONG to want a hardback? To see my books in airport bookstores or on displays? Whiiiiiiiiiiiine….
MG: Not per se. But Kristen, why are these things important to you?
Me: Um, because.
MG: *patient saint face* Kristen, ‘because’ isn’t an answer.
Me: *fidgeting* Cuz.
MG: *stern face* ‘Cuz’ is abbreviation of ‘because‘ and still NOT a real answer.
Don’t you just
hate love friends that make you own up to your own drama? Long story short, this discussion made me ask hard questions. Without the traditional benchmarks of ‘success,’how and when did I know when to celebrate?’
I needed a good friend I could trust to be blunt (in a loving way) to make me ask then answer the correct questions.
Sticking to old benchmarks that no longer exist or even serve us anymore is one of many reasons we need to find our WHY more than ONCE.
Finding Our Why the Hard Way
Today is October 9, 2019 and marks exactly twenty years since my father VERY unexpectedly passed away. For those who don’t know, my father’s death was particularly devastating.
First, no one had ANY idea he was even sick. He was an avid cyclist and he rode a bicycle literally forty miles a day. My dad worked in a high performance bike store and rode to and from work six days a week from Fort Worth, TX to Arlington, TX.
Seriously Google Maps that.
We spent weekends rollerblading and mountain biking together. My father and I were an extremely active duo.
My dad had never once called in sick to work in…decades.
Long Story Short
My dad had always longed to be a writer. He had notebooks full of poems and short stories all over the place. But, back then, computers cost about as much as a really nice compact car, so he wrote everything on legal pads and in composition notebooks.
It was about to be his 50th birthday, and I arranged a surprise birthday party. I’d managed to buy him a computer so he could finally live his dream.
Friends had the cake and food set up, and I’d fooled my father into believing I was coming to take him out to a nice dinner (which was pretty much what we always did for his birthday, so not a tough sell).
I’d NEVER been so excited for a birthday.
I was going to pick him up, take him to a party (he’d never had an actual birthday party in all my years growing up) and I was going to hand him the keys to his dreams. A PERSONAL COMPUTER.
Anyway, at the time, I lived about an hour away. I called his work and the guy there tells me my dad had called in sick (first red flag).
So I kept calling his cell phone and paging him to call me. I was desperate to know how sick he was, if I could help, and if I needed to move the party (or bring the party/his new computer to him).
Finally, I got him on the phone and his voice was very strange. I went from agitated about a party to scared that my dad was far sicker than I realized.
Dad, however, joked with me as was rabidly triaging him. Every time he spoke, however, his voice sounded stranger and weaker.
Then I heard the phone hit the tile floor. I yelled and screamed for my dad to pick up and nothing.
I hung up and tried calling back but the phone gave a busy tone. He also wasn’t answering my 987 pages.
My at-the-time-fiance walked in the door minutes later, and, shellshocked, I told him, ‘I was just on the phone with Dad, and I think he…I think he died.’
Since DENIAL is the first stage fo grieving, and people don’t actually DIE on their BIRTHDAYS, do they? I called my grandparents who lived only a few minutes away.
SURELY he was just super sick and I was being a drama queen.
I was too far away, so I begged my grandparents to go check on my dad and force him to go to the ER even if he refused. Call an ambulance if need-be, and I’d pay for it.
The next call back was from my grandfather to let me know that my happy, joking-literally-ALL-THE-TIME father was dead and nothing could be done. He was gone before they’d even arrived.
So I, of course, felt like the world’s BIGGEST JERK because I’d never even realized he was SICK. Not only THAT, but did I call 911? Nope. I sent his parents to find their eldest son deceased…on his birthday.
***Yes, this has required a lot of therapy and probably will require more.
Finding Our Why When There Isn’t One
Suffice to say, a surprise birthday turned into a surprise funeral. What I didn’t know until after the autopsy was that my father had esophageal cancer, which was one of the hardest cancers to detect (like you LITERALLY had to be deliberately looking for it).
There’s nothing inherently OBVIOUS about this kind of cancer, and it’s commonly misdiagnosed.
Usually, by the time doctors find it, the cancer has spread everywhere, so esophageal cancer has an extremely high fatality rate.
The reason my dad’s voice sounded so strange was his esophagus was closing off his air, and he was slowly suffocating (while talking to me…INSTEAD OF TALKING TO 911! *takes calming breaths*).
Anyway, I take some comfort knowing that I really couldn’t have known he was sick. As I mentioned, esophageal cancer masquerades as a lot of other common/benign ailments (sinusitis, acid reflux, etc).
It alleviates my guilt that, due to his advanced stage of cancer, there would have been no way to save him even IF I’d called emergency services.
I find some solace that our last conversation involved us cracking jokes, me telling him I loved him, and him being able to tell me the same.
This makes it a bit better.
Maybe I took his mind off his fear, because he HAD to know something was horribly wrong and chose, instead, to spend those final moments with me.
No way to know.
Finding Our WHY: Re-Gifting the Gifting
The strange thing is that, because of my father, I had always wanted to become a writer. We dreamed together from the time I was old enough to hold a pencil. How we would both be famous writers one day.
To be painfully honest, I really didn’t take the dream seriously. Instead, I went into corporate sales. Writing was something relegated to a back burner of ‘later.’ Finding my why had nothing to do with my life.
All that mattered was proving myself with a paycheck (which is likely why I was sick every day on my commute to work).
Then my father passed away. This taught me a brutal lesson: Tomorrow is promised to NO ONE.
And I took up the torch. My dad not being able to fulfill HIS dream was a huge impetus to pursue MY dream. In a strange way, his death gave me permission to step up and dare to dream big. Why me? Well, why NOT me?
This said, sometimes the WHY that’s meant to get us started isn’t designed to be our WHY forever.
I’ve accomplished most of the goals my dad never got a chance to even attempt. I started with finishing the book. Okay so it was 187,000 words long and an unreadable, unsalvageable mess….
But I FINISHED. That was/is still a HUGE deal.
Finding our why is critical because it helps clarify our goals and define our benchmarks for success.
If our idea of success is making money, then we’ll approach this business very differently than if success is writing simply to have fun WRITING (or something in between).
Just so you know, not every hobby requires monetization to be valid.
Finding Our Why Involves Change
Seasons change and so do we. Finding our why is something we should do regularly, because, if we’re operating off a motivation that’s older than our favorite yoga pants? It might be the reason we’re burned out and hate turning on our computers.
ESPECIALLY THESE DAYS.
In the digital age publishing world, we can easily become SO overwhelmed by all we should be doing (social media, platform, SEO, branding, tweeting, blogging, vlogging, clogging….) that we lose our WHY.
WHY did we start this writing thing to begin with?
Because we wanted to tell incredible stories. We LOVED books.
Start THERE and THEN everything else can fall into place. Most of us didn’t become authors because we dreamed we’d one day have b$#&in’ SEO, favorable rankings, or so many clicks on an ad.
Are those things GREAT? Sure! But only if in their proper place. Otherwise? Welcome to Burnout Land.
Life is short. And, since I’m speaking primarily to writers…
What’s Our Legacy? Check Our WHY
Our children won’t remember our Google rankings, but they CAN read and reread our stories. Friends can’t pass on or share our ‘favorable newsletter open rates,’ but they can enjoy our ‘imperfect’ novels long after we’re gone.
My father left me an amazing legacy—a powerful WHY. I’ve had the privilege of passing part of this legacy on to you guys. Not only through my books, but through every one of these blogs.
Twenty years later, it still hurts that I lost my father. But, I know if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here posting today. I wouldn’t have been through enough to tell you we NEED to find our WHY.
I’d likely still be in sales, because I never would have had a strong enough WHY to even dare to become a writer in the first place.
I’m pretty sure I never would have lasted as long as I have had I not been carrying my father’s torch. I wouldn’t have been able to push and grow and learn and reevaluate and come back time and time again….
…no matter how many bumps, bruises, failures and black eyes.
I cannot count how many times I’ve had comments or emails from authors who nearly gave up, who’d lost their way, or gotten so bogged down they nearly gave up.
Then they read one of my posts.
My father may have passed one torch on to ME, but I’ve made it my mission to use the torch I picked up off that lonely tile floor to and use that flame that nearly flickered out to help keep each of your lights burning.
So much light they can see us from SPACE, BAYBEE!
And it has been the greatest honor of my life.
I might not be able to measure success with my book in hardback (apparently those phased out with Jeggings *rolling eyes*). OR a fancy title (other than ‘Benevolent Overlordess of the Red Pen Society’???? Still working on that one).
Don’t yet have a the worldwide tour or the paparazzi….though when you’re stuck in Houston traffic you can pretend, right?
Like that ALL those people behind me were blaring their horns because they wanted a picture with me and NOT because they somehow think honking makes us…GO FASTER?
Alas—five successful published books aside—I CAN say I can say a little bit about finding our why.
I’ve been posting on THIS blog since June 11th, 2009 and Y’ALL ARE WORTH EVERY SECOND OF HARD WORK. I have the most fabulous, intelligent and strangely good-looking fan base.
Almost 2,000 blog posts and 77,000 comments and hundreds of millions of unique visits later? Fair to say I think I’ve got a few wins.
If nothing else?
I’m still here. Which, in the digital age ,says A LOT.
Still HERE, in your corner. Here to give you tough love, more love, hard truths, more laughs and let you know that you matter. Your writing matters—regardless the reason you do it—so do yourself a huge favor and take time finding your WHY.
Then once you find it, always keep searching. The world needs more dreamers, more storytellers and more stories.
Happy 70th birthday, Dad.
What Are Your Thoughts on Finding Our WHY?
*cues Mom’s NY accent* Aside from I am a horrible, horrible person for making you wreck your mascara.
Did you start writing because of something BIG that made you rethink what you wanted to do? Was it something smaller?
What are the day to day things that keep you going? The benchmarks you celebrate? Was finding your why easy? Or are you STILL finding your WHY?
***Mine might be in the unfolded laundry *hangs head in shame.*
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
In the meantime, treat yourself to a class! Since I am on the road speaking, I will be loading the upcoming LIVE classes in a few days but take advantage of these sweet discount codes.
The Art of Character: Writing Characters for a SERIES ON DEMAND
Use Binge10 for $10 off.
How do we create characters that readers will fall in love with, characters strong enough to go the distance? Find out in this THREE-HOUR class that also comes with detailed notes and a character-building template. Again, use Binge10 for $10 off.
This class dovetails with my previous class:
Bring on the Binge: How to Plot and Write a Series (ON DEMAND). Use Binge10 for $10 off.
Need some help with platform and branding?
Branding: WHEN YOUR NAME ALONE Can Sell (ON DEMAND)
Use brand10 for $10 off.
Come join all the nerdy fun! See y’all in class!
THIS WEEKEND! Ever wonder if I am THIS weird IN PERSON? Spoiler alert! I’m weirder. Come see for yourself. I am keynoting in the Permian Basin so come join the fun!
***Bail money for getting kicked out of Home Depot not included in conference fee.
Your father would be proud of you! Thank you for sharing your why with all of us.
Thank you for sharing your why with us! (Couldn’t tell if first comment went through so repeating)
thank you for such a wonderful, heartfelt blog, I am a big fan and open every one of your blogs. I lost my father when he was 62, again, too young. But he retired early from a teaching job and spent ten years touring and making travel films with my mother. They were happy productive years – his dream job that he quit work early to pursue. That was our take away and my husband and I learned to not postpone joy or in my case, any weird writing project that inspires me.
thank you for your industry insights and encouragement.
Fantastic blog, Kristen. Amazing, touching, heartbreaking, and inspiring.
The pain of loss compels us to find joy, because we know it’s there. It must be there.
Thank you, Kristen. For sharing your heart, and sharing the flame of your torch with the rest of us.
I really (like, REALLY) needed this. I’ve always found it hard to celebrate my achievements properly. And this year has been particularly difficult in regards to my WHY.
My current WIP is the final book in a fantasy series I’ve been working on for over 15 years.
Since 2013 (when my first book released), I’ve published 4 books, 2 illustrated companion guides, created 25 illustrations-to-prints as part of the series merch, along with keyrings and bookmarks, yadda yadda yadda. Heck, I was so driven and inspired by ‘possibles’, I designed custom DRAGON PLUSHIES and got a small production run made!!!
It all sounds so wonderful and great, achievement-wise, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. My WHY, wounded by something I’m still in the process of diagnosing, has been avoiding me all year. I keep working on my creative projects, trying hard to stay diligent, even though I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. Six years with my books and my brand “live” and I feel like, instead of walking up a mountain and finally reaching its peak, I’ve walked out into a desert with … nothing around for miles and miles.
I’ve been asking what’s the point. Why am I still doing this? Why do I still feel I can make it, when I keep sending up flares and all I get back is the chirping of crickets?
Agh, I’m not even sure why I’m prattling on like this. I never whinge on other people’s posts. I guess I feel comfortable enough to do so with you, since you’re so open, raw and real to us, your readers (and fellow writers). And this post was something I needed to read, and has given me a lot to think about. Thank you for that.
I still remember what my original WHYs were, but like you said, WHYs change with the seasons. I’m going to keep going, just as I’ve always done, and keep chasing after my WHY until I catch up to it.
Um… because I’m only good at two things and I couldn’t find a job reading Agatha Christie novels?
More seriously, it’s what I believe God wants me to be doing, so I do it. That, and the rush I get when the story puts out a bud, or unfolds a new leaf – whenever I can feel life stirring in it. (Side note: God must have been having a GREAT time when He created the universe.)
Thank you so much for this post, even though yes, smeared mascara. It seems to me that the best thing would be to spend my last minutes cracking jokes with my kids. Anyway, thanks for the rest of the post too — about the why and keeping motivated. Really motivating.
I found my WHY at the age of seven when I wrote my first short story. In the white-hot pain of losing my father to the land of divorce (I wouldn’t see him again for eight years), I scribbled a story about a girl my age who wanted more than anything a horse for her birthday. Her parents couldn’t afford a horse, anymore than my parents could afford what it would have cost them to stay together.
With a writer’s instinct, I knew to sublimate my aching desire for my family to be whole again into a work of fiction.
When I read my completed story from my pencil tablet from start to finish, I knew I was meant to be a writer.
Debbie, you’re awesome. Just sayin’.
First I wrote (when I was about 10-ish?) because I didn’t like how the sci fi book about the strange kids from the lost planet ended. I rewrote the ending. That was on an old mechanical typewriter. Then a whole lot of years happened and I didn’t write much of anything. Some songs. A boatload of irrefutable posts on hotly debated topics. And the occasional killer interoffice memo. But then one night I was trying to entertain my granddaughter. Nothing less than a story full of excitement and wonder would do. So I borrowed an idea I had for an academic book, a time traveler from the distant past comes to the modern era to set the record straight (soooo boring), and transformed it into an adventure a six year old could enjoy. It was so much fun I just decided to keep going with it. Now I’m writing because this is my legacy to her. I have to finish it. And it has to be good. She’s waiting for the movie. 🙂
I signed up for your emails years before I actually started writing, when I was only dreaming. Less than two years ago, I finally closed our business so I could write. I too have lost good people. Life is too important to waste. I don’t want to live or die with regrets and now after taking the plunge I’ve become addicted to writing. These reasons are some of my why. You words always inspire but this was poignant. Thank you, Kristen for sharing about your father.
I so enjoy your posts. Thank you for sharing a painful part of your history and how you continue to rise from those ashes. Thanks for your wisdom about the industry, craft, and the spiritual side of this writing ‘”thing” we do. For me it’s like breathing; I have to put something to paper every day because I navigate the world. But my first published novel came from a why that was more powerful than my habits and ways of seeing: it was deep grief and anger at injustice. I had to tell a story of a survivor. That reason still fuels my work today. My other why is, well, I hear voices. Characters talk to me all the time. (I know you won’t think that’s weird.) I’ve got to get their version of the world down on paper. Again, thanks for reminding us of the important things and how to make it through this.
I think we all hear the ‘voices.’ When they stop talking is when we know we are in trouble. Thanks so much for the comment. I tend to be a ‘Suck it up, Buttercup’ kinda gal so being raw isn’t easy for me. It was even a hurdle I had to overcome in my fiction.
I started crying while reading this. I lost my mom when she was 48. A lot of what you said brought back those memories. It did have an impact on me. After she died, I realized time was short and that there is no time to wait in doing what I really wanted. I pursued dreams and took risks I never would have had she lived longer. I miss her and am looking forward to seeing her again, but there’s always something good that comes from every tragedy if we look for it. I’m glad your passion on the torch! For years, I’ve found your posts very inspiring. They’ve kept my focus on the right area when I was tempted to give up.
It was brave of you to share the story of your Dad’s passing. I think we all felt your pain, but loved the message. Thanks for all your words of inspiration that keep us going. You rock, Kristen!
My grandmother wanted to be a writer. She wrote a few personal essays she shared with me and she paid for me to take my first writing classes. But she passed into her Heavenly reward before I ever published my first story.
Needless to say, proving her belief in me was my original why. Since then, I’ve realized it is my gift and calling to write stories that encourage others to KEEP ON going. These are fictional stories, but last year it seemed clear God wanted me to write something different.
And it’s killing me to finish what I started there. But in a few weeks the third book will be with my editor. Early in 2020, the series will be indie published. But I have NO CLUE what to write after that.
Thanks for reminding me that the first step to solving this dilemma is finding my WHY. As usual, reading your blog gets me back on track. Thanks.
A brave post, thank you, Kristen. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions you went through then. I believe your lovely dad decided to spend those moments with you. To go surrounded by loving words from the one you love so much, not many have that blessing.
My ‘why’ has changed over the years. Now its to try and make sense of my world and what I’ve experienced, even though I write fantasy/fairy tale retellings.
Thank you for this post. Just a couple of days ago I was updating my autobio by adding something for 2019. In it I mentioned my writing, feeble as it is, and reported that it was just something to do. I have always enjoyed reading and have admired the story telling of many authors of books and journalistic articles not to mention the impact these writings can have on the reader. Looking back I have often wanted to be a writer/author and felt that perhaps I could have made the world a little better as a writer rather than toiling away programming computers.for a living. So in retirement I try hard to write and learn the craft but sadly in the end I’ve come to realize it is just something to keep me busy. Does this count as whining? 🙂
Nope, not whining. Just lovely and authentic 🙂 .
Thank you for sharing your story about losing your father and how the impact of his loss still lingers at the edge of your emotions. I feel that same kind of pain and helplessness. My father died six years, six months, and four days ago…not that I’m counting. He went in for routine out-patient surgery and didn’t come home. He was 82 years old and had been diagnosed with early stage bladder cancer. It was supposed to be an in and out, easy-peasy surgery with full recovery. Sadly, it wasn’t.
What I still struggle with is that I had decided to retire from a career in education a week before my dad died. We had plans to drink coffee in the mornings and spend a lot more time together. He and my mom liked to take day trips here and there, and I was going to go with them. I’m still flipping angry about not being able to do that. In fact, I’m angry-crying as I type this.
As for writing… Although my dad didn’t read my work (not a fan of western historical romance *wink*), he and my mom always encouraged my writing endeavors. My writing/creative takeaway from losing my dad is that I’ve been able to apply my grief and anger to a scene in a completed, but yet-to-be-published historical family saga novel in which the father of the female protagonist dies in her arms as a result of sustaining fatal injuries. I was at my dad’s side when he died, so I was able to draw from that experience. The scene is brutally heart-wrenching, but so was my dad’s death. I’d written this death scene years ago and then put the novel aside for various reasons. When I’d actually experienced the deep, soul-crushing sorrow of my dad’s death, I was able to re-write and add that raw emotion into the scene. I’ve put that novel aside again. I’m not ready to revisit it to make the final proofread for publication.
This was a beautiful post; thank you for sharing it with us. My first “why” was also my Dad, although not nearly so traumatic. It was a casual comment he made when I met him for dinner to tell him I had gotten engaged. Instead of talking about the engagement and coming marriage, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and suggested I should be able to write books because I had read so many of them. I did not take him seriously at the time, but it was a little seed that began to grow. By the time I finished college, three years later, I was writing fiction and I’ve never quit.
Thank you so much for your faithfulness to this blog and your readers. It is my favorite writing blog, and I am always excited when I see a new post show up.
I never meant to be a writer. It’s something that happened to me when I wasn’t looking. Our family lived in Mexico developing a horse ranch for kids with difficult backgrounds. Some of them were from a battered women’s shelter our co-workers ran– 14 and15 year olds carting around their own toddlers and infants. Just babies themselves. Some had been in destructive relationships, others had those relationships thrust upon them, through incest, trafficking, those kinds of horrible. When the shelter’s security was breached, the girls had to go home–home to the nightmare, and there was nothing we could do about it. One day, while I was shoveling horse corrals, I had a story. It came out of nowhere, and I started to write. Furiously. I thought it would be just about an underdog kid who breaks the odds, never realizing I desperately needed a story to end another way. With hope and healing and redemption, so unlike the ones I couldn’t control. So, I started… finished… published… and started again. Now I can’t stop! I guess that’s my “why.”
Your article resonated with me. Just two weeks ago, I wrote this article:
Do you Know Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms?
My sweet, loving niece – an inspiration to her friends and family – known for her creative mind, enthusiastic nature, kind soul suffered a fatal heart attack three weeks ago. It shocked everyone. Suzanne was active and vibrant, in excellent health, and had no symptoms that seemed heart related. In her last few days, however, there were a few distressing G.I. symptoms which she was going to get checked out.
Suzanne’s situation is not unique.
• “I have some acid reflux and stomach pain; must have been something I ate.”
• “I feel short of breath; I must get to the gym more often.”
• “I have a pain in my back, I’ll take an aspirin.”
• “I’m so tired and I didn’t even do that much; I must be getting old.”
• “I wasn’t feeling well, aching all over; I thought I had the flu.”
These are the thoughts that many women have when they’re actually having a heart attack. Why do they think this way? Because women’s heart attack symptoms don’t always mimic men’s, which is depicted in movies as crushing chest pressure on the left side of the heart, radiating down the left arm, falling to the ground and yelling out for help.
Though women can indeed experience those dramatic symptoms, they often simply feel:
• Chest pain anywhere in the chest, not just on the left side. The pain may feel like a severe tightening. It may go away and then come back.
• Pain in the upper back, jaw, neck, stomach, one or both arms. This is confusing as we expect heart attack symptoms to be on the chest and left arm. The pain can be gradual or sudden. It may feel like discomfort. It may wax and wane before becoming intense.
• Stomach pain or severe abdominal pressure. This may seem like heartburn, a stomach ulcer, acid reflux, nausea or the flu.
• Shortness of breath, lightheadedness or trouble breathing for no apparent reason.
• Nervous, cold sweat and/or extreme fatigue, even when you haven’t done anything to feel so sweaty or tired.
As you can see, the signs of a heart attack may be subtle or severe. What’s happening is that the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart is severely reduced or may be cut off completely. So, what should you do if you are experiencing these symptoms? Better safe than sorry. Call 911. Get to an emergency room as soon as you can. The stakes are high. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States.
I, along with her family, friends and the community of Mt. Kisco will forever miss Suzanne Grant – her warm smile, her enthusiastic energy, her gracious gestures. She was a great mom, a loving wife, a pillar of integrity who worked tirelessly for her community. Her leadership was vibrant, her enthusiasm was contagious, her dedication to improving the lives of other was genuine. Needless to say, she will be missed by many.
The information in this article about heart attack symptoms in women was obtained from WebMD http://www.webmd.com and American Heart Association http://www.heart.org websites.
I would like to add a beginning comment: Your writing about your father’s death reminded me of an article I wrote just two weeks ago about my niece’s death. I’d like to spread the awareness of women’s heart attack symptoms.
http://PsychWisdom.com I believe I didn’t put in the correct URL for my website. Please change
My father lived long enough to see a story of mine in Analog (SF zine) and a story in an SF paperback anthology, after making sure I grew up reading the SF he collected and inhaled. I like to think he would have enjoyed the ebooks I’ve published since.
What a sad and beautiful story. I am so sorry about your losing your dad. I love “your kids won’t care about your Google ratings, but they can read your stories after you’re gone”. It’s a kick in the butt for me to get those stories done and readable. Thanks!
I would have to say that my WHY is so that I can leave behind in this world a work that may influence, or at least entertain, others. There. I said it.
Can you offer your blogging class again? I just took your branding class after reading this moving and motivating post, and now I am DESPERATE to take your blogging class. Thanks so much!
Hey, Kristen, thank you for sharing your beautiful story about your Dad and the influence he had on you to become a writer and never give up. You continue to inspire me to keep going too and I thank you for this. I have been writing most of my life, and wrote my first book in the 7th grade. Then I went into Engineering in College as many girls were being channeled into the field at that time. But I never gave up my love for writing. My “why” was front and center and I had a firm grip on it in 2010, when I sat down and wrote my first book series. Then I lost it for a while with the death of my mom, followed soon my the death of my brother, all happening just a few years back. I had an enormous amount of guilt over my brother’s death for not helping him more (although my defense is that I did not know how dire straights his life had become until after his death). But should I have known? Probably. He was always “conflicted” and had not been kind to me and my sister growing up. Finding out that he led a heart-wrenching double life up until his passing was tough but not surprising. Getting his body up North so I could give him a respectable burial was one of the hardest things I’ve done (both personal and logistical). Understandably, my sister did not want anything to do with him. But I felt obligated, almost driven to give my brother something good in death that he hadn’t been able to obtain in life…and still figuring out why I felt this so deeply as the good memories of him are few and far between. Now, my writing is back front and center but my “why” has certainly evolved, even matured. Before, my “Why” was an entertaining perspective for the ya reader encompassing issues that resonate with many young people. Now my “why” has taken on a broader, deeper perspective. I want my writing to inspire young people to rise above their deep rooted fears, to “break out” (if you will) of their own problems and to reach for something bigger in the larger world. I hope my stories will be more thought-provoking for the effort. Sometimes, we go through gut-wrenching events (as writers), it enables us to put these feelings from pen to paper. It is most likely my strongest connection to writing about my own character’s inwards feelings, visceral reactions, sensory description, tension etc. Thank you again for this awesome post. My deepest sympathies for the loss of your father. Lots of love.
This post hit close to home. Fortunately, I don’t wear mascara since I work from home so you didn’t ruin it, but there were tears. I lost my dad to esophageal cancer too–fifteen years ago when he was 53. His passing wasn’t a surprise, but he declined rapidly and we lost him less than three months after his diagnosis. What was a surprise, however, was my own cancer diagnosis two days after my 38th birthday just last year. Mine was caught early and things are great, but since then I’ve started making all the changes in my life I’d been waiting until “the right time” to make.
I quit my high-stress, low-pay job and stared my own business as a virtual assistant. I have more time to spend with my kids as I work from home and have a schedule that I design. I’d already been writing and publishing since 2004, but was working myself to death struggling to fit my writing time between the stressful full-time job and parenting three kids. Now I make time to write in between clients and my clients are all authors so they absolutely “get it”.
So, thank you for your post and for sharing your why. This blog is one of the few I follow regularly. Your advice is always insightful. I’m sorry for your loss, although I know a stranger’s words do little. But please know that you do a lot for the writing community and we appreciate it … and you. Thank you.