writing the “perfect chapter”

Today, my editor told me that I wrote the “perfect chapter”. It was high praise from a woman I deeply respect and have relied on for the past several months as she has dealt with my sporadic writing progress. And when I say sporadic, I do mean that I’d go months without writing a single word and then submit 6,000 words in a single weekend. She has been nothing short of a saint in these past several months, gently encouraging me to keep working and giving me a host of tools to help feel inspired.

So today, as I hopped into a call with her and heard all the praise she had for my first chapter of my upcoming book, Fear & Grieving in South Africa, it was difficult for me to accept it whole-heartedly. As it turns out, nothing perfect is forged through anything less than at least one good mental breakdown.

I know a lot of people who are creating something they are passionate about, so I want to share a story of my writing process.

For some necessary context, my book delves deep into my grief surrounding the death of my grandfather, who had passed about a month before I left for my study abroad trip to South Africa. This is the crux of the book, as this trip was my first chance to truly process his death, and all of the emotions I was feeling came crashing down on top of me. I originally wanted to write the book as a love letter to South Africa, but it became more and more apparent that it was really just what I wished I could have said to Poppy.

I had been trying to work on writing the first chapter and the emotional climax of the book at the same time, and neither was getting anywhere. I had several different versions of the same two chapters with only a few paragraphs written, completely unable to even determine how I wanted to start writing. And the closer I got to important deadlines, the worse my anxiety got.

One evening, I went with a friend to see Little Women in theaters. I didn’t know anything about the story, so it was incredibly ironic that I was sitting there feeling guilty about my unfinished manuscript as Jo March was struggling with the same thing.

Towards the end of the movie, Jo’s younger sister Beth passes away from illness. This is surely a heart-wrenching moment for any viewer, but I was in shambles. Jo, spurred to inspiration by the death of her sister, is able to write a novel about their lives to honor her. Her novel, the titular “Little Women”, is successful and lends to the story’s overall happy ending. But I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling very happy. I walked out sobbing. I ran to the bathroom and choked back anguished cries and tried desperately to calm down before the rest of the theater patrons made their way in. I splashed water on my face, to no avail, and exited the bathroom, shaky and ready to get back home.

In the car with my friend, he asked me why I was so upset by the movie.

“Because…she was able to do what I can’t,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes all over again. “Her sister died and she could write her stupid story and I can’t even write a single chapter for my grandfather.”

He looked at me from the corner of his eyes, focused on the road but trying to comfort the wailing girl in the passenger seat.

“You’re going to write this book, Erica.” He said simply.

“I don’t even know if that’s true!” I held my eyes closed with my knuckles, letting the pain of it distract from the emotions for a moment. “I can’t write anything that feels good enough for his memory. He gave me so much. He gave the world so much. I don’t know how to get that across in my writing.”

My friend offered me simple platitudes until I calmed down, though with the tears gone, all I was left with was empty hopelessness at my situation. I wanted to be Jo March, and I wanted to write a story befitting of the incredible man I was lucky enough to have as a grandfather.

Even now, months after this breakdown, I still grapple with this feeling of not being able to write as well as I need to in order to honor my grandfather. But the truth of the matter is that my grandfather would have been overjoyed that I was publishing a book. He would have been over the moon to be able to put that book on his bookshelf. And truthfully, he would have been a little embarrassed to know that it was so much about him and how much he meant to me.

The truth is that the only person my writing doesn’t seem to be good enough for is myself, and that’s why I have a hard time accepting it when my editor tells me I’ve written a “perfect chapter”. But I had to crawl out of a hole of self-doubt to even be able to put the pen to page, so to speak. It took having that moment of confronting my fears to be able to move past them.

What I hope to impart by telling this story is that writing is an imprecise art. It happens however it needs to, but you have to promise yourself to write. You might have to go through a lot to get there; you might even have to break down into a full-on anxiety attack at the movies. But eventually, you will get there, and you will write your own perfect chapter.

Published by Erica Kriner

Enterprising and enthusiastic student with superior skills in leadership, research and organization. Eager to bring value to my employer through hard work and commitment to precision. Offering demonstrated success in self-driven research through a strong history of quality results.

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