Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Nano Day 2: Special WrAHM edition

Today I have the lovely and talented A.G. Howard, whose book Splintered just sold to Amulet.  I think her WrAHM story offers an important lesson to all of us out there NaNo'ing as well.

Two years ago, my (then thirteen-year-old) son was diagnosed with epilepsy after my husband found him having a seizure on the living room floor. That in itself was scary enough; but ration in the possible side effects of the drugs available to treat this neurological condition and it goes a step beyond terrifying. We researched and researched, and resigned to try the most benign drug out there. His pediatric neurologist started him off at the typical dosage for a child of his weight. Unaccustomed to medicines (this is a HEALTHY child, having never had any medication other than the occasional dose of antibiotics his whole life), his body reacted with jitters and what my son thought was the beginning of a seizure—a racing heartbeat and a “scary feeling” inside his head. We spent several nights those first few weeks at the ER, trying to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t until I remembered my mom having a bout of panic attacks a year earlier and talking to her that I realized her symptoms had been similar. My son was having drug-induced panic attacks caused by the dosage being too high for his system. After they adjusted the dose, his body slowly acclimated to the meds, and not only has it controlled his seizures, it’s now a rare thing for him to have any reactions.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, the last night we spent at the ER—before the panic attack revelation—I grabbed my laptop on my way out the door in hopes I could get some writing in. I was working on SPLINTERED’s first draft, and had a self-appointed deadline. I’d already dallied away enough nights (my most fruitful time for harvesting wordage) sitting in the ER waiting room and watching pointless TV shows. I was determined to finally get the scene done that I’d been toiling over for weeks.  What happened surprised even me. In the two hours we were there, I managed to tap out all that was left of that chapter, even while worrying and wondering if my son was ever going to have a normal life again. My insides wound in nervous knots, my fingers trembled with tension, a mixture of emotions bled into every sentence, yet still I finished. And not only that, I rocked that scene. In fact, when I had offers of representation for this book, each agent commented on that particular chapter being the most “Lewis Carroll-ian” in the book.  Why? Because I hadn’t held back. I put everything I was feeling into that scene, and it came across as wild and uncontrollable and absurd, which was exactly how life felt to me in that moment.

I always knew writing could be therapeutic to us, but I never thought about how good it can be for our stories if we write through the dramas in our life, choosing the scenes to match our situation. Had I tried to write something tender, maybe a romance scene, the outcome might not have been so good. But because I was feeling all of the confusion, angst, and bemused terror my MC was supposed to be feeling at that moment, it was golden, and the best thing that could’ve happened for my book, not to mention a great revelation for me. So next time you’re having one of those days when the baby won’t stop crying, the twins won’t stop fighting, or your husband won’t keep his side of the bathroom clean, funnel those emotions into a scene where your MC is feeling similar frustrations in their life. Whether brought about by the same situations or not, the emotions will still ring true, and will add authenticity to your writing.

Don’t avoid those feelings. They’re normal. Just tuck them away temporarily so you can draw them out later and use them constructively. We writers are of a rare breed. We actually get to broadcast our emotions while we’re working, as opposed to stifling them.

Thanks for stopping by today! And happy, bewildered, grievous, and angry writing to you all. 

As a longtime resident of the Texas Panhandle, Anita Grace Howard is accustomed to flat plains with sparse growths of shrubbery and spindly trees—not always the best terrain for inspiration. But she’ll be the first to admit this unobstructed horizon allows for some of the most breathtaking sunsets in the southwest.

When she began writing, this desire to find beauty in unlikely places started to seep onto the pages of her novels. In each story, she found herself utilizing the loveliness of the most simple human conditions and raw emotions to color her stories.

Married and mother of two teens (as well as surrogate mom to two Labrador retrievers), Anita now divides her days between spending time with her family and plodding along or plotting on her next book.
When she’s not writing, Anita enjoys rollerblading, dirt-biking, and snow skiing, and one day plans to try her hand at something a bit more aesthetically and spiritually gratifying, such as landscaping and gardening—the perfect venue to complement those spectacular Panhandle sunsets.


  1. Anita, I've always been a writer but didn't take to seriously drafting a novel until this past year when I spent endless nights up with my toddler. She's since been diagnosed autistic, and one of her biggest issues is sleep regulation. But back then, before her diagnosis, I would stay up at all hours with her and search for answers to her problems and really that just made me nothing but depressed. When I began to use that time to write, it was extremely therapeutic. I found something else to drown myself in besides the awful things that might be wrong with my daughter and found more strength overall.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Anita, I'm so sorry about your son. I hope your family feels better soon. Thank you for sharing this personal story, I've always found writing to be therapeutic too.

    Brittany Roshelle

    The Write Stuff

  3. Laura~ Oh, wow. My daughter is Asperger, so I can really relate! I'm so glad writing came to you when you needed it most. Bless you and your daughter.

    Brittany~ Thank you. We're fine now. We've made the adjustment and thankfully he's responding well to the meds. Just goes to show something good can come of even the most chaotic circumstance. :)

  4. Great post! You're right on about funneling life emotions into writing. It's a lesson I needed today. Can't wait to read SPLINTERED. I will recall this post when I get to that scene... :)

  5. Anita Grace HowardNovember 3, 2011 at 5:51 AM

    Aw, thanks Melissa! I'll be sure and leak to the public which scene it was once the book is out. :) Have a great day of writing.

  6. Wow, Anita, you have your hands full! Thanks again for the post :)