The Five Stages of Grief In Writing
By Deri Pryor, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio
We all know the feeling. We spend quite a substantial amount of time writing a piece. Maybe a poem, a short story, a chapter, or even a whole novel.
Maybe we blaze through it with fingers on fire, sure it’s the best stuff we’ve ever written ever EVER, and our momentum is so great, we can’t even stop to fix even the most naggiest problems.
Or maybe it is a slow and steady pace, a few hundreds words at a time, but always moving forward.
Then we do what we’re constantly being told to do: put it aside for a while. Let it steep a bit. Give ourselves some distance, so when we reread it’s like a whole new experience.
When we think enough time has finally passed, be it a week, a month, or five minutes (it’s all relative, folks), we pull it out, ready to be dazzled by our own genius, only to be faced with the horror of reality: It’s not perfect.
Anytime we are faced with loss, there is a cycle of emotions we all go through. It’s normal, and it’s healthy. These are the five stages of grief in writing. (Note: not all writers will follow these stages in order or experience all of the them)
This first wave of shock brings with it unbelievable pain; it’s normal to want to deny the reality of the situation. As you read, it dawns on you: This is pure rubbish. What even is this? Who wrote this? I didn’t. Did I? It can’t be. No. Noooooooo.
Its normal to get angry when something doesn’t work out the way you want. But what happens when you are the sole cause of that happening? You end up yelling at yourself. It’s not fair. You worked hard on this. Then you project. It has to be someone else’s fault. If only my spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/dog/cat/hamster weren’t so demanding, I wouldn’t have been interrupted so many times. Why do I constantly have to do petty things, like pay bills or feed my children? Why is Facebook even a thing anyways?
The next stage is the need to regain control. You wrote this. There is no way around that fact. This is when you start trying to explain what happened or salvage the piece. If only I had done more research. Perhaps if I make the wise old man on the mountain a small talking rat. I’ll make the whole thing a dream sequence. It’s normal to also find religion and try to make a deal with God(s) at this point.
This is the point when we feel the most hopeless. All our belief systems have been challenged. Nothing seems quite as it should be. We don’t really want to keep the piece as is, but are not quite sure we can move on. Writers deal with this stage in different ways, but most often are found in the fetal position in front of the TV, takeout boxes and empty ice cream cartons nearby. Sometimes Adele is playing through headphones which long ago have fallen to the floor.
We could have had it all…
This is the stage that separates the writers from the wannabes. The wannabes wallow, sulk, become professional dog washers, or worse, accountants. Writers get up, wash their hair, find clean underwear, eat a vegetable that’s not a variety of fried potatoes and get to work doing the most heinous thing of all: editing. They hack at the manuscript, each cut as sharp as a knife to their tender soul. Yet with each stroke of the delete key, the light of hope shines through. Yes, this can be saved. Yes, this can be great. No, I can’t let my protag be a piece of cheese. Or can I? No, it all has to go…
At this stage, it’s not that everything is ok, but rather we have hope that it will be. And so we come out the other side, a little bruised, a little more wary, but smarter and stronger.
Published on November 17, 2015