Thursday, February 2, 2017
I once asked a fledgling novelist if he would serve as a judge for one of the fiction categories in a competition. He fixed me with a sad puppy dog look and said, “I’ll be working on my next novel then, and I’m afraid that would distract me.” Writers tend to live in the world of the novel they’re working on and let the story dominate their lives. On the other hand, we live in the real world, and life happens. If life always distracted us from writing, precious few would ever finish a work. I thought he should buckle up.
I had written almost 40,000 words in the still-untitled second Shady Grove Mystery, featuring Susan Hogan and taking up where The Perfect Coed left off, when life hit me with a biggie. After recovering from a break in my right leg, my left hip bothered me more and more until walking was almost impossible. An x-ray showed a fractured hip so bad that nurses said, “We’ve never seen a hip that bad,” and I wondered if I should say thank you. I resolved to write on—surgery was not going to slow me down.
On January 19, I had replacement surgery, a longer and more complicated operation than the usual hip replacement. I didn’t write much if at all in the hospital, though I kept up with emails and Facebook and maybe one or two posts in my blog. But the days were not conducive to much writing—someone was always coming in—pills, blood pressure, etc.
On January 24 I moved to a rehabilitation center. I have therapy, occupational and physical, once a day and small exercises to do myself throughout the day. The most important thing is to walk. So I have time to write—but I haven’t done it. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. The work-in-progress is much on my mind, and I have made some good notes. I keep thinking “tomorrow” I’ll incorporate those notes into the manuscript, but I don’t. I do blog almost daily and keep up with social media. And I tell myself when I get home next week I’ll write like a house afire. I am reading mysteries, which is a form of research for anyone who writes mysteries and counts as work in my mind.
Two lessons from this experience: Don’t try to write when your body and/or your mind tells you it’s not a good idea. We writers tend to be hard on ourselves for not being more
industrious, working harder even when we don’t feel well. These days I tell myself it’s okay to relax and listen to my body. Granted, that could become a whining excuse if you let it.
Find out where you write best. I know writers who can work anywhere—train, bus plane, etc. and others who do best in familiar surroundings. I’m doing pretty well at blogs etc. on a hospital tray table, but I expect to get my stride back when I’m home at my desk. A warehouse worker wouldn’t expect to load trucks right after major surgery; writer shouldn’t expect to be their best either. It takes the body a while to adjust and recover. If I don’t publish a novel next fall, you’ll know that my grand plan fell flat.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of almost a hundred books, fiction and nonfiction, for adults and young readers. Six Kelly O’Connell Mysteries mark her recent debut into the world of cozy mysteries: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and Murder at Peacock Mansion. With the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries and in 2016 she returned to love of historical fiction and her Chicago roots to write, The Gilded Cage, which uses one unusual woman’s life to examine social structure and labor relations in the late 19th Century.
Judy’s books are available in print and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other platforms. The single parent of four and the grandparent of seven, she lives in Texas with her Bordoodle, Sophie.