You’ve heard me say this: Keep writing, no matter what.
But what if I’m sick as a dog, with a fever and a headcold and I can’t stop blowing my nose for fear of asphyxiating on my own mucus?
That was me last week.
Gross! Too much information! I hear you say. I know, I know. But every now and then, even we writers get deathly illl. How are we supposed to keep writing in the midst of this?
First of all, be reasonable. When your body is screaming for antibiotics and you keep forgetting normal bits of information because of the fever messing with your brain, it really might be the wise thing to lay back in the pillows and leave your scene sketching for another day.
But even in the midsdt of this physical malaise, the brains of the real writers’ don’t just switch off. I really believe this and I’m going to give you an example which I hope is encouraging.
I returned Sunday from a mission trip to Mexico with the organization Club Rust, a Seattle-based group that travels down one week each summer to build houses for struggling families just south of the San Diego/Tecate border. Prior to the trip, I was feeling weak and ill and I had some throat gunk going on but what I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t recover in time for our week of construction in sweltering heat and extreme circumstances.
My job on the trip was a communications organizer. I operated a walkie-talkie radio and oversaw how the house was going, checking in with people, making sure they drank their water, and helping remind the group that even more than building a house for a family, we’re doing it to show God’s love to them.
Except that I was so sick, I had to lie down in the back of a bus for several hours, hacking at times and crying at others because I felt so useless.
Needless to say, I wasn’t writing. To be honest, I was barely living, and living was a higher priority at the time. I kept praying, when I didn’t feel too weak to even do that, wishing God would show me why I was down in Mexico if I wasn’t going to be useful.
And then I started to notice things. I had a conversation with a father of twelve children who encouraged me about having the faith to raise children to adulthood. I spoke with a young man about an issue that was troubling his heart and making him lose sleep and we were able to talk it through and pray together. I reconnected with a cousin I hadn’t seen for many months.
And then on the way back home in the U.S., I was speaking to a woman over the deli counter in Albertson’s and she held my hand and looked me in the eye and said, “God lives in your heart” which really touched me. I had vomited on the bus ride to the store jut minutes and I had reached the end of my rope.
What is all of this to say? Great things can come from miserable situations. So don’t stop looking for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if that father of twelve children is going to become fodder for a character in another story.
Also in Mexico, I walked into a room where a friend was playing the guitar and singing softly. This is a very shy friend who doesn’t perform for others, and I knew this was a special moment. I sat down and listened, and I started crying hard, because the music was so comforting to me.
I don’t think he understood how much it meant to me, but my soul was soothed. I went out and a few minutes later I started a short story about a guitar player who heals people with his music.
You have to look for the stories, the characters, the things in life that strike you. The pieces of the story puzzle are there. Even when you’re not writing, you can be gathering them.
What precious story tidbits have you gleaned when you weren’t even looking for them?