Where Do Your Characters Go When You Can’t Write?

Short answer: They natter about in your brain, prodding you to get off your lazy arse and write because they have interesting things they want to do.

“Why didn’t you say this a week ago when I wasn’t proscribed from working?” I asked.

“Because it wasn’t convenient for us.”

What arrogant snots, but I love them. Most of the time.

Back Story

Everyone has a back story, right? Even authors. Mine is that for several years I’ve had a heart rhythm issue. Not particularly life-threatening at first; more than annoying though. I’d go years between episodes, but that narrowed to months, then to weeks. Two years ago a cardiologist suggested a particular surgery might alleviate it.

It wasn’t “let’s crack open your chest” kind of surgery, but it was heart surgery. Two years ago, I had it, felt deceptively fine afterwards, and went off to my annual writers workshop less than a week later. Still, all seemed well.

Until last December, when the rhythm issue returned–with a vengeance.

Just a Little Biology

I promise the lesson will be brief. The problem with an abnormal rhythm in your heart is it’s inefficiently pumping, leaving blood to pool in the chambers. That blood can coagulate somewhat and break free as a clot, and you take a trip to stroke city. Not something I want to do. Ever. So medication to thin my blood is necessary. It’s a good thing people know I’m single now because given the bruises that pop up unbidden at times, they’re sure to think some guy is beating the crap out of me. As if.

Anyway, the key is to “fix” spots on the heart that are misfiring electrically and causing the abnormal rhythm and before the heart gets accustomed to the abnormal rhythm and decides that’s the only way to go.

Biology lesson over.

With a Vengeance

One day last December, the abnormal rhythm returned, but this time my heart rate soared to well over 120 when I was not moving. To add to that, it wouldn’t lower, so off to the ER for a round of different drugs administered by IV to control the rhythm. It took overnight, but one of the drugs or a combo finally got me back into normal rhythm.

A month later, it happened again, but returned to normal rhythm after only a few minutes. Per the cardiologist, that meant the new pill I was taking daily was working.

However, this abnormal rhythm-rapid heart rate scenario occurred almost monthly. Two more trips to the ER and several tests later, and another surgery like the first one was scheduled, the difference being technology had improved over the past two years. The scans of my out-of-rhythm heart were more detailed, enabling more accurate pinpointing of the misfiring areas.

Now, no one wants surgery, especially to one of the most vital organs in your body, but this thing had started to hang over me like a sword of Damocles. I hesitated to leave the area for long periods because what if it happened when I was away from my doctor and hospital where all my records were? What if it happened when I was watching my grandchildren after school?

Of course, stressing about going into an abnormal heart rhythm isn’t helpful in trying not to go into an abnormal rhythm. In truth, it was an easy decision.

Under the Knife

Which seems kind of silly to say because all it involved was three small incisions for various instruments, but, hey, I’m a writer. A certain amount of drama is always involved.

In the pre-op discussions, the cardiologist emphasized following the post-op instructions of “limited activity” for two weeks after the surgery. That would be followed by a month of moderate activity until my follow-up visit to him.

Limited activity, he said, meant no work. None. Now, my work is sedentary. I’m a writer. But it’s work was the reply. And the sitting for long periods of time wouldn’t be good for the incisions at the femoral veins in my groin.

And guy friends, I will now admit I understand groin discomfort a whole lot more than I did before and can empathize.

Being a Lazy Slob

So, no work. I pre-scheduled one set of my usual social media posts, and another writer friend took care of the others. My sister came to stay with me. She used to teach 7th grade, and I got a glimpse of what it was like to have been in her classroom. I said “Yes, ma’am,” a lot. The folks at my UU fellowship brought food, and I binge-watched several series on Netflix, Prime, and Hulu.

I felt like an utter lazy slob, and my characters would. Not. Shut. Up.

I’d been struggling with the final book of a trilogy due to publish the fall of 2021. I’d gotten it to a certain point but didn’t know how to proceed, but the nattering characters and I “discussed” it. Voila! The path cleared, and I saw how the story needed to go.

Not that there was anything I could do about it, of course, other than make notes, which I did, and yesterday I sat at my writing desk for the first time in more than two weeks and wrote the first scene from those notes. And felt as if I’d been released from prison. I felt like me again.

I’m back!


Writers debate odd things and not only whether to use an Oxford comma or not. (Use it.) Many genre fiction writers will talk about characters “taking over” a story and “forcing” the writer to do it their way. Literary writers most often scoff at such heresy and proclaim they control their characters’ behavior and anything else is utter nonsense.

I have a foot in both worlds: I write genre fiction, and I’ve had many literary short stories published in journals and anthologies. Certainly, I know I control my characters’ actions and choices, but at times having an imaginary conversation with them is wonderful for plot development.

So, natter away, characters. Just tone it down a bit because I’m busy. Writing.