I didn’t write a word for almost three years.

It happened as a direct result of the single hardest job I’ve ever had in my thirtymumble years on this rock: personal attendant to a small screaming person who required round-the-clock attention and supervision, who cared less than nothing about my mental health or physical well-being.

Three years I walked the floor while the crying seeped into every corner.  Three years I dodged blocks thrown at my head and wiped every surface in my house twice daily.  Three years I barely slept and survived on a steady diet of black coffee and stale Cheerios.

Three thousand miles from anything and anyone familiar, I walked that floor and cried because there was absolutely nothing to be done but read board books and dole out saltines and wait it out, until he became a little person who could be reasoned with.

And I didn’t write.  I didn’t write because I couldn’t write.  Everything came out on the page garbled like a scrawl of pure madness given form, and I incinerated every last scrap of it in a vengeful little pyre in the shell of a burned-out hibachi.

I wish I could say I was like Peter, that I realized how bad it was and sought some help.  But I still hadn’t learned that asking for help isn’t weakness; it just means the world is bigger than you sometimes.  Instead I waited it out, head down, grinding out the days, and eventually the baby did stop crying and became a little person, then a bigger person, then a smart-mouthed but good-hearted teen with a haircut like the fifth Beatle.

But I’m not getting those hours and days and months back.  Or those lost words.  I’m sorry for that, but those hardscrabble years of early motherhood gave me the nerves, endurance, and grit of a combat soldier.  For good or ill, those years primed me to write for publication.

I learned there’s a crapton of hard work behind any tiny success.

I learned to take one more step, even when there’s nothing on the horizon.

And I learned that sometimes you have to pour your guts into something that won’t take shape for years in order for it to take shape at all.



Filed under Writing and Life

20 responses to “Health

  1. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    I’m so glad you found your steps, J. Sometimes it’s hard to find ourselves in that early haze of motherhood. Glad you found your way out and into the light.


  2. Peter Adam Salomon

    This one sentence is so overwhelmingly brilliant I want it on a t-shirt: “I learned to take one more step, even when there’s nothing on the horizon.”


  3. Cynthia Levinson

    And you learned to write gorgeously and fiercely.


  4. Reblogged this on A Writer's Notepad and commented:
    I just had to share this heartfelt piece by brilliant debut author J. Anderson Coats, whose already well-reviewed “The Wicked and the Just” will hit bookstores very soon. She speaks from the heart, straight to my heart. Thanks, J!


  5. So, there’s light at the end of this tunnel? 😉


    • J. Anderson Coats

      The other day he told me to leave him alone and get of of his room. It was blissful. I feel like I’ve been paroled.


  6. “And I learned that sometimes you have to pour your guts into something that won’t take shape for years in order for it to take shape at all.”

    Yes! So true for writing books and, as Anne Blythe would say, for writing “living epistles”.

    Thanks for this.


  7. P.S. That photo is pretty amazingly cute.


    • J. Anderson Coats

      He was a little packet of cute back then. You wouldn’t know to look at this picture how, ahem, “high-maintenance” he was.

      I like this picture because it captures one of his two default moods at the time: Getting Ready To Scream. (The other mood was Screaming.)


  8. This post sears to the core even though the insanity of motherhood is what drove me back to writing. For too many years, I traded away my writing dream for the busyness of school, work, life. But when my son was two and I was certain I’d snap from the frustration of having someone else so completely in control of my body and brain, I found solice in a notebook and pen. Finally, a scrap of my life that was MINE. It saved me.


    • J. Anderson Coats

      What saved me was going back to school. Being in a place where I was actually good at something dragged my eyes up off my feet. Made me shower, too.


  9. Mike Jung

    As the father of what they euphemistically call a “spirited child” these days, I hear you. Strength and honor, warrior, congrats on making it through.

    On a completely unrelated note, THE WICKED AND THE JUST is the book that’ll fill up my Books Inc. Frequent Buyer Card, which may or may not mean anything psychologically significant, but does at least mean I’ll get a free book to go along with your book, which is flippin’ awesome.


    • J. Anderson Coats

      “Spirited.” I remember this word. I get the need to put a positive spin on this set of behaviors, but it always felt trivializing, you know? I pictured someone else’s kid romping through fields of rainbow-colored grass and flying three kites at once, not my kid lying on the pavement next to the car in the parking lot of Shoprite and screaming his refusal to go inside because he’d bitten the head off his army men.

      And free books are always flippin’ awesome.


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