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Writing Through It All
By Ann H. Gabhart
From the time I was old enough to read, I’ve wanted to be a writer. So at about the age of ten, I picked up a pen and began writing my first novel. It was a mystery starring me, or at least the me I wished I was. Cute and smart and able to catch bad guys. Writing those chapters was probably the most fun I’ve had writing. No deadlines. No editors to please. No worries about readers liking my story. The only readers were my indulgent family members. My biggest worry was using up all the eraser before I ran out of pencil.
Then, with a few more years under my belt, I began to dream of being published, one of those writers who actually got paid for their words. So, while writing was still a dream, it also became a job. Not one with any regular paychecks, to be sure. Still, the occasional checks for this or that bit of writing encouraged me to keep going until at last, in 1978, my dream of having a published novel came true. I saw my book, my very own imagined story, on bookstore shelves. You might think having a book published would make the publication road easier to travel, but that didn’t happen for me. Through my writing years, I’ve bounced through plenty of potholes along my writing road, but I kept writing. More books were published even though I had to re-invent myself as a writer a couple of times in order to adjust with the market.
After having thirteen books published, a few years went by where nothing I wrote found any loving editors. So since I was struggling to hit market trends, I forgot about markets and editors and wrote the story I wanted to write. That book, Scent of Lilacs, about a preacher and his family opened the door to the Christian fiction market. (By the way, Scent of Lilacs, is a free download right now if you like reading e-books.) This time, since perhaps I had finally found the genre that best fits my storytelling style, my publication road did become smoother. For the first time in my long writing career, I had contracts for future books. That meant I had deadlines for getting the story ideas I’d pitched to my editor actually written, chapter after chapter, from the beginning through the middle to the end. I was in writer heaven. I didn’t mind deadlines. Deadlines were good because that meant somebody, that loving editor, was waiting for me to get a book written with the promise of publication if I could tell the story I had proposed. It had taken me a lot of years to get in that position, but I liked finally being able to say I was a writer with a certain confidence.
But isn’t it the way, that just when you think things are going smooth, life throws you a curve or two? My mother began to have declining health when she reached her late eighties. At first, it wasn’t too noticeable. Just little things. But then it became obvious she was suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. She could no long stay alone but needed 24/7 care. I have two sisters and my mother had resources. So we hired a couple of caretakers and split up the rest of the hours. Then both my sisters lost their husbands, one to cancer and the other to congestive heart failure. We had to fire one of the caretakers, but the Lord brought two other wonderful women with caring hearts to help care for Mom. One of my sisters was unable to handle the way dementia was stealing our mother’s mind and also had health problems that kept her from sitting with Mom. So, the other sister and I filled in the hours. It was like having a full time job. But I still had my deadlines too. I didn’t want to give up writing at this point in my life when I finally had achieved a small measure of success. So I found time to write.
At first I could do some writing while I sat with Mom, but as she steadily declined and became more agitated, I could only fire up my computer if she happened to fall asleep. As I was generally there in the afternoon when sundowner’s came into play, that didn’t happen often. Those deadlines loomed as the days slid past without enough hours. All my life, I’ve been one of those people who think they can do it all. Cook, clean, keep the grandkids, garden, write, take care of whoever needs taking care of. I found out that wasn’t true. I wasn’t Superwoman. One year, my beautiful, loving daughter came home and stayed a week with Mom in my place to let me finish one of my books. Other times, my editor gave me deadline extensions.
But my daughter couldn’t come to the rescue at every deadline crunch. My editor had to meet deadlines herself so couldn’t extend my deadline forever. So, as each new deadline neared with not enough words written, I had to figure out priorities. I had to take care of Mom. No choice there. I had to cook meals for my husband. No choice there. I had to have time for the grandbabies because grandkids grow up so fast and they are too wonderful a blessing to not take time to enjoy them. But I also had to write. Sleep, optional. Dust didn’t matter. Spot cleaning works on floors. I did keep canning beans and freezing other vegetables from the garden, but thankfully that was usually in the summer after I met my deadlines which generally fell in July. I had a new deadline but in July the next July seems far away.
My mother moved on up to heaven this summer right after I met one of those July deadlines. With her resources running low after more than three years of hiring part time caretakers–there are a lot of hours in a week–we finally moved her to a memory care home. She adjusted well, but steadily declined during the six months she was there. She was ready to go home. She had wanted to go “home” to see her mother and father for years. But I miss her. It was hard giving up her care when she moved into the facility. It was hard giving her up when she died.
I’m still thankful for deadlines. I’m still thankful that I’m able to live my dream of writing stories that find a way into reader’s hands. But I do know that writing is not just a dream. It’s hard work and life happens to sometimes make that work even more difficult.
Without challenges, we don’t get stronger. And without life happening to us, maybe we wouldn’t be able to write about life happening to our characters. While all my Rosey Corner books are about family and life happening, Love Comes Home perhaps focuses around how the unexpected in life can change what we do and how we feel even more than the other two Rosey Corner stories, Angel Sister and Small Town Girl. My characters face challenges. Good things happen. Bad things happen as they do in every life. But what stays constant with my Rosey Corner characters is how they trust God and depend on their family for support.
My journey with Mother was that way too. I had to lean on family and trust God to give me the strength for the journey. In Philippians 4:13, Paul says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That verse often came to mind when I was staying with Mom and wondering how I would make it through some of the hard days. The Lord answered my prayers and helped Mom be calmer and helped me be stronger. And who knows? Maybe the hard journey made my stories stronger too.
Thank you for reading. I know many of you have walked similar caretaking roads with your loved ones. How did you find strength for the journey?
ANN H. GABHART, the author of several bestselling novels, has been called a storyteller, not a bad thing for somebody who grew up dreaming of being a writer. She keeps her keyboard warm on a farm in Kentucky. She and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren. To find out more about Ann’s books visit www.annhgabhart.com. Check out her blog, One Writer’s Journal, www.annhgabhart.blogspot.com or join her on Facebook. www.facebook.com/anngabhart