The Importance of Writing with an Open Heart

Yesterday, I sat at my desk and cried. 

It was the twenty-four-year anniversary of my brother Joe’s suicide. He was twenty when he died. I was twenty-two. His death is now older than both of us—a fact that continually blows me away. 

I’ve dealt with this grief for over half of my life, but this year stung a little more. 

On January 29, 2021, I finished the agent-ready draft of my memoir, How Not to Die: From Death to Life on a Heavy Metal Tour.

After reading the final words, I danced around my office while listening to Europe’s The Final Countdown.

If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s a cheesy ‘80s anthem my brothers and I used to rock out to when we were kids. 

After the song ended, I cried tears of joy. 

I’d done it! 

After three years of hard work, I’d finished my book.

Those who’ve met me know that I’m a fiery person who likes to get shit done (like sending off recently finished manuscripts). 

I’d even set a deadline for myself. On January 29th, come hell or high water, I would send my manuscript to interested agents. I was certain that any other choice would be a letdown. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that many of my hurry-up-and-get-it-done messages come from ego. So, I meditated to figure out whether the twenty-ninth was indeed the right day to send out my manuscript. 

Even though I was excited to move forward, my True Self said wait, at least for a little while. 

Reluctantly, I listened. 

It didn’t take long before grief blanketed my enthusiasm.

I wasn’t surprised. My brother has been gone for a long time. The years since our last touch sometimes make him feel more like a dream. When I started writing this manuscript some of that changed.

Over the past three years, we’ve laughed and cried about all that happened to us. With each revision, he’s become a little more three-dimensional.

Now that it’s time to say goodbye to this manuscript, I feel a profound sense of loss that’s led to some snot bubble cries and more than one good sniff of his leather backpack. My heart aches with an arthritic pain that’s steady yet manageable.

But it’s also okay. 

You see, I signed up for this gig. 

If step one to being a good writer is to listen to your True Self, step two is to live with an open heart. 

To do that, we have to make room for our feelings so they can flow through us. As they do, we need to take care of ourselves. That means crossing things off our to-do lists and resting more than we’d like. Sometimes, it also means waiting before sending off a manuscript for feedback or publication. 

This advice is as true for fiction writers as it is for memoirists.

In both genres, you have to write to the bone of your material, which can take you to some achy places. 

In a world that tells you to go, go, go, waiting might not feel like the sexy option. But giving yourself time to honor the weight and power of your story is a sign of self-respect that can ensure you’re not sending out work from an overly vulnerable place.

Having lived through many anniversaries, I know my grief cycle. Every year, as this anniversary approaches, grief rushes in like the tide. On February 9th, it sweeps back out to sea and the world looks a little brighter. 

I know the urge to cry will subside. 

The aches will disappear. 

When they do, I’m confident my True Self will greenlight my querying process. 

When that happens, I’ll share that journey with you.  
In the meantime, take care of your precious hearts and keep writing on.

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