I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Writing Through Adversity. Ten Ways to Nourish the Writer’s Soul

Congratulations to Jeanne T., the winner of the Amazon gift card! Woohoo! The gift card will be sent via email, so Jeanne please message Melissa Tagg on Facebook or at melissatagg@yahoo.com to confirm your email address.

Hi, I'm Roxanne. Today would have been my wedding anniversary—only a tragedy stripped away the future I'd dreamed of halfway to my happily ever after.

What's keeping you from achieving your dreams?

You may be staring at a blank page or dealing with characters that have hijacked the story. Maybe, the plot that sounded so promising has unraveled.

You may be overwhelmed with a difficult job—or no job—a wayward teen, a special-needs’ child, an off-track marriage, a scary diagnosis. Or worse.

You may feel you’ve received more than your share of trouble. Sometimes, living is so painful that it’s a struggle to string words into sentences, scenes into stories. It takes emotional energy to write, but stress and grief drain energy from your well of emotions. In fact, writing may be difficult, nearly impossible.

Believe me, I understand.

Nearly four years ago, on my twin daughters’ 17th birthday, my husband, Jack, had a heart attack. He was only 45 and seemed in perfect health, but he didn’t survive. I was left alone to raise seven children, ages 1-20.

Our four older children had jobs, so it was nearly impossible to juggle five different work schedules to find time for this picture. This photo, taken six months before Jack’s death when our youngest was only six-months old, is the only picture of all nine of us.

For weeks afterward, each time I’d fall into a fitful sleep, I’d wake up gasping from pain as I remembered (as if for the first time) what had happened. Writing was impossible.

Every time that I’ve put my writing aside, I’ve struggled to re-learn my characters’ lessons or discover where I left them hanging. I’ve lost so much ground.

Still, in the nearly four years since Jack’s been gone, God’s given me plenty of opportunities for personal growth. I’m doing all the things other moms do, and I’m doing them alone. My family has had the Swine Flu, ear infections, debilitating seasonal allergies. One child has a serous disease. Another child has autism. Some career paths that haven’t worked out. A relative with major problems impacted my family. Four cars were totaled in accidents. Thankfully, only minor injuries occurred. (BTW, you can ride with me. I wasn't involved in any of the accidents.) Then, there was the water damage. Three incidents. In one year. To the same house. It’s easy to see how I’ve been overwhelmed, but with God's grace I’ve also persevered.

Pearls. Butterflies. Adversity.
God uses a grain of sand within an oyster to produce a pearl. Just think what God—who loves you infinitely more than He cares for an oyster—can create through the adversity in your life.

If a butterfly is helped from its cocoon rather than emerging by itself, its wings won’t develop the necessary strength to fly. God uses adversity to strengthen us.

Frankly, I’d prefer a life without adversity—at least, without losing my husband. But we aren’t given choices. We can only go on learning the lessons that God gives us.

I don’t know what you’re facing today, but we need to learn to write through adversity if we’re going to be successful in this business.

My Family Today - Looking for Silver Linings
photo by Amy Smith Photography
Writing Through Adversity. (Or 10 Ways to Nourish the Writer’s Soul.)

1. Take care of yourself. During airline safety presentations, adults are warned to secure their own oxygen masks before taking care of their children. Generally, we’re so busy taking care of others that we neglect ourselves. Take time to heal and become whole again.

2. If you can’t write, then read that craft book everyone’s raving about.

3. Meet with other writers, online or in person, to keep a writing connection. My Book Therapy is a wonderful community for writers.

4. If you can afford it, attend a writing conference or a retreat. You may feel guilty because you’re not writing as much as you (feel you) should to justify the expense. Think of it as an investment in your future. Or consider it therapy. I honestly believe I’m emotionally healthier when I write. Aren’t you? The opportunity to rub shoulders with authors who share your passion aids your mental health.

5. Critique someone’s work, or better yet, judge a contest. It will strengthen your writing. Plus, you’ll feel good to be able to give back instead of being on the receiving end all the time.

6. Make realistic goals. If you can’t write a chapter, try to write 100 words. Or develop a new character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Or figure out your next plot point.

7. Use this opportunity to learn more about social media, networking and marketing.

8. If you’re published, communicate with your editor and agent about your situation. Don’t wait until you’ve missed a deadline.

9. One day, you’ve got to decide if you’re still a writer. Then, you’ve got to get into the chair and write. Muse or not.

10. Look for joy in unexpected places. A fresh outlook restores energy.

Joy. (I wrote this almost three years ago, but it still applies today.)
Last night, I snuggled with my sleepy two-year-old in a plush chair as we watched a DVD. My lips brushed my son’s soft hair, smelling deliciously of baby soap. I savored the moment. My life isn’t what I’d dreamed it would be, but there is joy, if I’ll open my eyes to discover it. Today, my nearly five-year-old delights me daily. Give me an hour and I’ll tell you how. ;-) If you need a fresh perspective, look at the world through a child’s eyes.

In fact, with that new found joy, that fresh insight, we need to look for the silver linings in our lives. They're all around us. Drop a vase? Less to dust. Gained five pounds? There's more to love. Award-winning Author, Allison Pittman showed me a silver lining with all that water damage. (Yeah, it surprised me too that she could find one.) But she was right. I'm grateful it all happened when I was in the house to take care of it properly. I know mold isn't growing untreated within my home. Our characters also need to reflect joy and hope.

God, the Author and Finisher of our faith, is adding an entirely new chapter to my story with a happily ever after I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. (And, I write romance!) In 94 days, I will marry Steve, the man who is perfect for me--and my kids! Check back for details.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear the ways you’ve learned to write through adversity.
~ Roxanne Sherwood

When the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.
Daniel, my oldest child, (shown here with my youngest) was born on my second wedding anniversary. For the past four years, I’ve quietly grieved my loss, while trying to celebrate Daniel's birthday. Now, I'm concentrating more on what I have than what I've lost. (Though Daniel was born on our wedding anniversary and Jack died on the girls’ birthday, I could never write that in a story because it would sound too contrived.)

Happy 24th Birthday, Daniel! Thank you for all the ways you bless our family!


  1. Oh Roxanne, once again you've given me some perspective. Your amazing smile makes it so hard to believe you've been through so much in such a short time. And I just can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for your girls! And yet, you are smiling in the recent picture. What an inspiration!

    I am so blessed to know you, and to know your remarkable story. I appreciate this great list too, and I think I am going to print it out and hang it on my bulletin board to remind me. I need to make some goals and then put my bum in a chair and write! Something else that has really helped me is to join the MBT Monday night chat. Not only do I learn something about writing (for free!!) but I am inspired by the questions of others, and I am encouraged to touch base with some of my writer friends. I come away from those chats ready to write.

    Thanks again, Roxanne, for sharing your story, and for giving us tangible ways to keep moving. I am so excited for your "new" happily ever after!! Love you! =)

    AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY DANIEL!! I hope you have a wonderful day!!

  2. Wise words, Roxanne! Wise words I needed to hear at this point in time. Isn't that just like God to place what we need in front of us? Thank you for sharing your insight and lessons learned. It blessed me this day!

  3. Roxanne, Do you supply a box of tissues with your posts? Beautiful post - written by someone that has walked through the valley and is nearing the next mountain top!
    Thank you for sharing your story and the words of writing wisdom.

  4. My friend, you've mined gold from your life--and shared the wealth with others.
    I confess, there were tears in my eyes as I read this post.
    I still have the photo of you and Jack and the kids on my fridge door. But I'm eager to celebrate your upcoming wedding day--and all God has waiting for you and Steve!!

  5. Wonderful post, darling girl. I'm so excited to see what the Lord has done in your life. AND you'll have your hand outstretched to help someone else along in this life!

  6. Thank you, Friend, for your transparency. You have allowed your pain to be used for God's glory and have blessed and encouraged many in the process.

  7. I've been with you through many of these trials. I know all your stories. I know the complete backstory to your life, and yet when I read this I am still moved. You bring so much depth to your writing. I am glad you have found a way to continue to write amid the demands and stresses of your beautiful familiy. I was thinking of you and Jack today on your anniversary. I miss him, too. But I am so thrilled to welcome Steve into the family in June. I wish the best of blessings for you both. You deserve a HEA ending. xoxo

  8. Wow, Roxanne, I've had the privilege of hearing your story in person...I'll never forget sitting in that restaurant in Florida last year when you told us about Jack...then I saw you a few months later at ACFW, and you practically glowed with happiness over Steve! Even having heard it before, though, reading your story again brought tears to my eyes. You've been through so much...the fact that you can, like Beth said, "mine it all for gold," is an inspiration. Thanks for sharing! HUGE congrats on your upcoming and happy birthday to Daniel!

  9. You are living proof God can turn the most painful experiences into examples of glorious hope and joy!!! I'm so eager to read more as you continue to write masterpieces but first let me get my dancing shoes on. Still dazzled by His plans for you. <3

  10. Heidi, I'm so inspired by you. It's humbling to know I inspire you. I'm honored if you post my list!

    M'Lynn, Great to see you here! I hope to see you again in SA before I move.

    Jennie, Your own life has been quite an adventure lately. I believe God is giving you a future and a hope. I'm exited to watch your story unfold.

    Beth, I treasure you as my friend. I'm thankful to have people in my life who still remember Jack. Thanks for holding my hand over the years.

    Eileen, I am so thankful for our lunches and board meetings. You've helped nurture my dream.

  11. Sometimes we heal by sharing our grief. Thank you for sharing. Praying God continues to grant you healing.

    I lost a father to cancer a few years ago. It was the drive I needed to put some of those lessons we learned into a fictional story. When it came time, though, I couldn't allow the father in the story to die. It hurt too much.

    God teaches us so many different truths through adversity, but one truth remains constant. He's always there, loving, caring. Praying your family is able to celebrate Daniel's birthday with great joy!

    Thank you for sharing.

  12. Mommyofmany, I so appreciate your words. I know God doesn't waste our pain. My desire is to submit so He might bring beauty from the ashes. I hope that as you nurture your many children, you're also able to make time for yourself.

    Jeannie, I'm excited to hear that, although you know the story, you're still moved. If that's the case, then God is indeed able to work through my writing.

    Melissa, Thanks for sharing this journey with me! I am so excited to be marrying Steve, but there's so much to do. I'm praying for your story.

    Cindy, We'll dance together! I'm dazzled by His plans too. Both Steve and I almost want to pinch ourselves. How did we get so fortunate!

  13. Christine, I'm sorry for your loss. The great thing about fiction is that we can give our character a happily ever after if we want to. I'm sure God will give you opportunities to use your grief and how you've healed, both in your fiction and through the people He brings in your path.

    To everyone, I'll pass along birthday wishes to Daniel. Thank you!

  14. Roxanne, thank you so much for sharing your story, and for your transparency! I cannot honestly fathom going through all that you have, and yet, I can see how you have allowed the Lord to minister to you and bring you through those darkest days. You truly are an inspiration! How beautiful to see some of your lessons written down for others to learn from. Thank you. I'm praying for you as you and Steve begin the next chapter of your lives together!

  15. Jeanne, Thank you so much for all your support. It's been fun to share my journey with you. I can't wait to marry Steve. We're both so tired of this long-distance relationship. We're both so much more grateful going into this marriage, so I believe the best is yet to come.

    Don't forget to contact Melissa about your Amazon gift card. Congratulations!

  16. Roxanne, you are truly an inspiration. So thankful God has allowed our paths to cross! Steve is so blessed to find you. God has gifted you with an amazing talent. Like Heidi, I will print your list and put it where I can see it every day.

  17. Roxanne, I'm way late in rdg. posts because of being away, but this and you are totally awesome. So glad to know you, and I'm cheering you, your family, and your writing on. You're definitely on my "favorite authors" list.