Nov 4, 2013

Can Stella Get Her Groove Back?

(photo courtesy of Bob from the

A Creator’s guide to surviving the winter of our discontent when tragedy strikes.

 “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand.” – George Orwell, Why I Write

My four year old is in a blocks phase. Actually it’s a tower phase. She’ll build a tower with almost anything that presents itself – those jelly collections at the pancake house, vegetable cans from the pantry, the new pile of library books…

I admit that this is an OCD game I can get behind. I love to see how tall we can get the tower before it starts to wobble, before the architecture cracks at the bottom and causes the top to finally topple.

Several weeks ago my family experienced the unexpected, tragic death of a close family member.  As regular readers know, I was already in the middle of a major life transitionwith a cross country move and change in employment, all of which are on every top “life stressors” lists for a reason.

Since the funeral, I understandably haven’t been myself. It was enough to send my creative balance toppling.

The emotions of creative types often live at the surface and run deep. That’s a good thing, serving us well as we channel it into whatever creative endeavor we’ve chosen.

This latest event was a reminder of what a delicate balance the whole thing is - too much emotion and we are blinded, unable to produce or produce at our best, cascading into a spiral where we end up chopping off our ears or obliterating ourselves with cocaine (no worries, my ears are still attached and I'm not in need of rehab. And, no, that's not the denial talking).

So what’s a girl in mourning who typically writes lighthearted, funny mysteries to do?

For me what’s suffered most is my social media “platform building”. This blog for instance which hasn’t had an update for weeks. Anything even remotely twitter related…I want people to go away. At least for a minute. I need time to process, to get back into balance.

My writing (thankfully) hasn’t suffered. I’m not writing comedy, but I’m writing. A new WIP I’ve had churning for a while. I won’t know if it’s any good until I get past my current funk, but words are hitting the page and that means there’s at least a foundation to edit against.

In the meantime, I’ve been contemplating others in my situation. I’d previously posted 25 things to do when you just can’t write.

But this is different. This is how to get writing again. Or what to do when you shouldn’t  be writing because that balance just isn’t quite there. Because tragedy. Or life.

What follows isn’t one of those “you should do this” list. Managing emotion, grief, sometimes depression, for any creative type is such a personal thing, often cultivated over years. But if you're recovering from a tragedy or even an all around snapping turtle blues rough time, it might give you just one new idea, one different perspective, one extra thing to try that might help re-balance your stack. 

Here’s what’s been helping me get my way back to center:

·         Be PhysicalScientifically proven to be better than antidepressants. A lot of writers find walking a big comfort. Me, I demoed my bathroom. Nothing like a five pound sledge smashing into porcelain tile, followed by the revving sound of the saws-all as it clears the drywall. Seriously, better than therapy.
·         Lower ExpectationsHappy is not the goal if you want to be happy says the geeks. Productive, good goal. Not sad – I’ll take it. Out of my pajamas earns stickers on the star chart.
·         Create Anyway – Writers write. It will probably suck. It will feel awkward. You’ll know it’s not your best work. But, magically, it will help. It will heal. It will be a release.
·         Mixed Media therapy – If you’re a writer, paint. Painter? Sculpt. Your insides are probably longing to create still and doing something in a media outside your norm will give your ego permission to suck and do it anyway which will allow for the above bullet to do its thing. I’m currently experimenting in pumpkin and candy corn.
·         Routines Help – eat, sleep, work, kids, write time…the same thing, every day. Routines allow the body to function so that the mind can work through its stuff unburdened by having to make every day decisions.
·         Meditate – Every day for 20 minutes. Whether you manage to do it well or not, the act of trying, the act of practicing stillness, will allow the soul to take a timeout
·         Purge – find a friend you can unload to, write a letter that spews it all out, join a support group…find a way to get it out in a safe place. See writing as a healer link above
·         Give Yourself Permission - Tragedy is supposed to suck and grief moves at its own pace. Get off your own back and give yourself permission to feel like awful for a while.
·         Ask For Help – I don’t know many people who are good at this. This comes with being a Type A with a bunch of Type A friends. But sometimes we have to realize it’s our only option for moving forward. Whether it’s something small, like asking those around you to carry a bit more until you’re back on your feet, or spending some comfy couch time with a pro, you owe it to those who love you not to let your balance issues get too far out of control. Asking for help isn’t weak. It’s what gets strong people through tough times.

Many of you have sent warm wishes and good thoughts. Thanks for that. Those help too. So does your patience while I’m working to re-balance.

Creative friends – what’s your go to for restoring your balance when life knocks you down? 


  1. Melinda, I'm so sorry to hear about all you're going through. I did notice your absence, both on your blog and on social media, but assumed you were busy.

    I think your list is perfect. Most of them I use myself when life beats me up. The only thing I can think to add is animals--hug an animal, preferably one you know won't bite you. Animals love unconditionally and always understand. There's something about a cat's purr that can't be beat. I hope you have this kind of love around you right now.

  2. Thanks so much Holli. I am the proud owner of a princess tabby cat named Twilight (pre the book and yes she's suing for name infringement) and a cocker spaniel puppy named Devo - he is not men, he is Dvo


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