If you're a writer, what do you do when you have contracts to produce written material and you run smack up against one of life's tragedies? Someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or dies. What do you do if you're under contract for a book or freelance work?
Writers Suffer Losses
I guess I'm thinking about this today because I've heard of several writers who have lost their primary job and/or their husbands have, and I know a writer who is struggling with grief because of the rapidly declining health of a loved one.
When all you want to do is weep and wail, having to be creative is sometimes more than we can handle. Worry about your career can be the final devastating blow that breaks you. In the outside world, if you have a job, you get so many days off as a kind of bereavement benefit. When your time off is over, you return to work, saddened, but still able to function in some minimal way.
Creativity Vs. Devastation
When you're a writer, you can still take time off, but what happens when you return to work? Are you still able to function? Is your creativity unaffected or does it too suffer as devastating a blow as your heart? How can you go back to your fictional world, perhaps writing a humorous manuscript, when your heart is breaking or when you're worried about economic survival?
The solution for one writer may be entirely different for another. Some may find escape in the fictional world of their work in progress. The manuscript may offer sanctuary from thinking about loss. I know that was what happened with my first novel, Summer's Fortune.
Individuals React Individually
My dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The only time I was free of thinking about the devastating prognosis was when I was writing. Slipping into my make believe world rather than dwelling on a sad truth that just wouldn't go away was one way to survive.
A few years after that when my husband's company merged and he and so many others were left without a position, we had a child in college who had significant health problems including several surgeries. I was so worried I couldn't sleep, much less write. Eventually, those problems corrected themselves. I'm a more disciplined writer, and I love writing even more now than before, so I think if faced with similar problems again, I'd use writing as my escape from a disconsolate reality. Writing makes me feel good.
People mourn in many different ways. Some weep. Others rail at life. Some keep plowing ahead. Some curl up in a fetal position. The way we deal with sadness and loss, whether a job or a loved one, is individual.
Do What Works
If there is any answer for those of us in the creative universe, it's to do what works for you. Be kind to yourself.
If you can't write, or if you can only write black, roiling anger, bitterness, and grief, then contact whoever is waiting for your words and ask for an extension. If worse comes to worse, be ready to terminate the contract and pay back the advance. Sometimes, just getting the pressure off will save your sanity.
If you haven't been faced with this before, you will be at some point. Perhaps, you need to think about it and be prepared. Don't denigrate yourself if you can still keep writing, and don't berate yourself if you must take a vacation from words.
One thing I've learned is that everything you experience will find its way into your work somehow if only in using that well of emotion when writing difficult, emotionally wrenching scenes of loss.
You have to do what's best for you. Trust your instinct. If you love writing, the words will return.