For me, writing has always come with lots of side effects, most of them good. These have included self entertainment (because I write the kind of novels I would like to personally read), a sense of fulfillment in sharing the truths I've discovered in life, a sense of personal success in turning some of the worst moments of my life into scenes that hopefully move and inspire readers, and of course that thrill that comes with writing a story and the achievement of finishing it.
But over the last two weeks while writing my latest YA romance, I've also discovered two new side effects from writing...intense feelings of gratitude. And utter yet blissful exhaustion.
First, an explanation about the exhaustion. My latest YA contemporary, code named GB, took only 2 weeks to write, yet clocked in at a final tally of 136,000 words. Not my longest rough draft ever (that would be The Clann Series #2: Covet at around 160,000 words for its rough draft). But considering I wrote that 136K words for GB in just 2 weeks, that's one heck of an output level, even by my personal standards! In fact, on the last day of writing GB, I beat my personal daily word count record (previously 13,000 words) in a 21 hour writing marathon that resulted in a crazy, eye crossing daily total word count of 32,000. That's in one day, not the entire length of the novel! (And by the way, I really wouldn't recommend that kind of daily output to my fellow authors out there, because afterwards it took me 3 full days to recover and I felt as exhausted as if recovering from the flu!)
And yet that exhaustion was pretty blissful because I'd finished a YA novel that I feel covers some pretty gritty, intense and important issues that too many teens face and yet aren't getting enough guidance or inspiration from the trenches on how to handle.
Which leads to the second new side effect I discovered while writing GB...intense feelings of gratitude, and not just for being a writer (because I always feel that while writing a rough draft, which for me is the reward of being a writer). Nor did that gratitude come from discovering that I could in fact write a non paranormal novel without much trouble, despite my worries to the contrary (it's the first non paranormal, non science fiction, straight contemporary story I've written in years).
No, the real reason I discovered this new side effect of gratitude from the writing process was from the issues GB focuses on, which were inspired by fairly severe real life challenges I faced during my own teen years.
Let's face it, it's human nature to put the dark times behind us, to focus only on the present and immediate future, and to lose track of how far we've come. It's how we cope and survive. But in that moving on, we also risk forgetting to be grateful for what we have now and to appreciate the lessons learned from those challenges we've overcome.
One of the top things that make me love being a writer is the ability to take the crappy moments life has thrown my way and turn them into something that might become useful to others facing similar situations. So when I first came up with the initial premise for GB, I knew from day one exactly which issues I wanted to spotlight in this story...serious, currently incurable health problems I faced for years starting the summer before my senior year of high school, health problems that caused me to miss so many days of school that I nearly didn't get to graduate and that even changed my plans for college. But in choosing to write about those personal challenges, I also was choosing to mentally relive some of those terrifying experiences so I could try to capture them on paper. And that's when I realized just how far I have come health-wise since then, and all the reasons why I need to remember my past so I can be grateful for my present no matter what it's currently like.
...I used to never know whether I would be able to walk to the bathroom, or have to crawl.
...I used to never know when a minor ache in my hands or knees might turn into my being curled up into a semi paralyzed ball for hours or even days.
...I used to brush my hair and be terrified that my hair would come out in handfuls.
...I used to be sick every time I dared to drink a glass of orange juice, and I was forced to pop chewable antacids on a daily basis like they were candy.
...I used to be unable to trust my own short term memory...whether I could keep up with my keys or my shoes or even remember what I was doing from one minute to the next. And forget about trusting me to go into a craft store alone...I would get lost in there for four hours at a time and never even realize it.
...I used to have to sleep for twelve hours at a time just to feel even halfway rested.
...I used to go for hours and sometimes even days without being able to open even preopened jars. Or medicine bottles. Or type. Or hold a pen to write with.
...I used to have to take blood pressure meds just so I wouldn't have a stroke.
But for the last thirteen years, my life has been quite different from all of that. And I sincerely believe it's due to my awesome husband and kids (which is why you'll see them frequently mentioned in my novels' dedications). That's why I'm sure I couldn't have managed to finish writing GB at a more appropriate time, because it was around this time of the year fourteen years ago that I met my husband. And while I have had minor health challenges since that momentous day, they have been few and far in between. For instance, I've still had to take ibuprofen occassionally and am on prescription stomach meds for high acid levels, but I haven't had to take Celebrex or Prednisone in at least ten years, nor have I had to take blood pressure meds again so I wouldn't have a stroke. And while I do still have to be accompanied into Hobby Lobby so I don't lose half a day in there without realizing it, at least I can remember where my keys and shoes are!
Is all this health progress just a coincidence in timing? I don't think so.
Love is truly a powerful thing.
And so is gratitude...which is precisely what's going to help me move on to writing the next novel for my latest deadline now that I've had a few days to recover from that writing marathon for GB!