Saturday night I attended the launch party for my friend Kim Savage’s debut YA novel After the Woods. The bartender made signature drinks named after her characters. Posters celebrated her gorgeous cover. It felt like a movie premier party.
As we sipped our cocktails, Kim took the microphone and spoke about the long, seemingly impossible path to publication. I started tearing up. (For those of you who know me, this will be no surprise.)
She spoke about balancing a marriage, kids, and other responsibilities, with her need to write that book. She let the laundry slide. She wrote until 2 am. Her house was a mess. That’s when I started crying.
Because that’s me. Right now.
I won’t pretend my house was orderly before I started writing my first novel. But this past year, as I dedicated myself to finishing this book, my housekeeping dipped to new lows. So many emails went answered, phone calls not returned, appointments forgotten.
I wake up thinking about my characters. I sometimes get out of bed at 4 am to write down an idea that kept me up all night.
My sink is always full of dirty dishes.
Listening to Kim talk about how difficult it was for her, made me feel like maybe I’m doing something right. This book is consuming me. But maybe obsession is good. I’m starting to think it’s mandatory.
I pledge that my children will always be fed and clothed while I complete this novel. They will get to school on time. And I’ll always make time for a glass of wine with my best friend and supporter, my husband Sean. But beyond that, I’m not making any promises.
Except this one: I’m going to finish this book.
If you want to read more about my unfortunate habit of crying in public places, take a look at my article below. (Reposted from The Grub Daily: https://www.grubstreet.org/grub-daily/creative-crying-the-upside-of-getting-emotional-while-writing/ )
I sat alone in my local coffee shop, like I do so often. Large latte, 2% milk. A table near an outlet for my laptop. Twenty minutes in, tears streamed down my cheeks. If someone looked my way, I faked a sneeze, pretending I had a cold.
I had just killed someone I loved, and I couldn’t contain my guilt—or my grief.
Just to be clear, the deceased was a character in my novel. And I didn’t kill her because I wanted to. I had to. Her laugh, her ferocious loyalty, and the way she chewed on her hair as a girl were precious to me. Saying goodbye felt cruel, but necessary.
Every now and then, I find myself in this position: Crying while writing in a café, a library, or in my car, waiting for my kids. I inhabit my characters while I write, or maybe they inhabit me. They become real, and so their emotions and their personal histories feel raw and true. And sometimes it hurts.
Andi Rosenthal, who wrote her entire novel, The Bookseller’s Sonnets, in a café, knows the feeling well. When she tackled her most emotionally charged scene, a waiter took notice. “I wasn’t sobbing or hyperventilating or anything, but just silently, endlessly weeping. As I forced myself to keep on going, writing that scene and all the details I had just lived through, one of the café servers came over, placed a hot cup of tea on the table next to my laptop, and very gently patted my shoulder,” Rosenthal says. “I never forgot that kindness. I think it is what helped me write my way through that difficult, emotional scene.”
According to Lisa Borders, instructor for Grub’s Novel Generator program, the tendency to cry while writing in public isn’t so unusual. “I’d be surprised to hear of a writer who didn’t occasionally react to his or her work while writing,” Borders says. “Being in public doesn’t change the emotional involvement we writers have with our characters.” Lisa wrestled with a scene in her last novel, The Fifty-First State, that made her tear up every time she read it, no matter where she was. “I felt it was a good sign, that the book could still move me in, say, draft six, after I’d lived with it for so long.”
Getting emotional while writing in public can even have its benefits, suggests Amy Impellizzeri, author of Lemongrass Hope. She came up with the ending for her latest work in progress while sitting in a café. “I cried real tears over my computer in the middle of the coffee shop. I knew then that it was the right ending,” Impellizzeri says. “Plus, the man sitting next to me bought me another tall latte out of sympathy for my tears. So it was kind of a double win!”
It’s not only the heartbreaking moments that catch writers off guard. “Everything my characters feel, I feel thrice over. If they are serious, I find myself frowning so hard, I give myself a headache. If they are happy, I wear a strange smile that gleans sideways glances from passersby,” says novelist and essayist MM Finck. But it’s not always a bad thing, she adds. “My husband is never so happy as he is after I’ve written a certain type of scene. He’s never so unhappy as that point in my novels when the world has turned against my protagonists. He and everyone else better be on their best behavior or at least have a wine offering in hand.”
Like Finck, I also find myself juggling a range of my characters’ emotions. In addition to crying into my coffee, I also laugh out loud and sometimes get angry. Even worse, I blush. I once found myself in the back of a church writing a steamy scene. I’m certain the glow of my red face dimmed the candles around me, but I pushed through and finished the scene. I didn’t have a choice. It was what had to happen.
Just like when I killed off my beloved girl who chewed on her hair.
I’m trying to embrace the discomfort of public emoting-while-writing. I need to let myself cry, blush, and laugh because it gives me access to the layers of complex emotions I hope to capture on the page. I wish I could write in a cozy, private office where my passions aren’t always on display. But with four kids, two dogs and a farm to run, sitting still at home isn’t usually an option. I write where I can, when I can. And I cherish each stolen moment in the coffee shop with my latte and my work in progress.
Even when it makes me cry.
Julie Carrick Dalton is seeking representation for her first novel, The Poachers’ Code, which she wrote in GrubStreet’s Novel Generator class. Her journalism has appeared in The Boston Globe, Businessweek, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens of other publications. She holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, and her short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin and The Charles River Review. Mom to four kids and two dogs, she also runs a 100-acre family farm. Julie would gladly accept a sympathy latte or a supportive pat on the shoulder if caught crying in a café. But if she is blushing, you should probably leave her alone. You can find her atjuliecarrickdalton.wordpress.com or @juliecardalt.