Reading and writing as a hospital visitor

My mother has been in the ICU for eleven days now following heart surgery. I’ve visited her every day; sitting in a hospital room watching a muted television stuck on the HGTV channel has not inspired me to write fiction. Reading–I have done a fair amount of that. Of squiggly lines and numbers, not words, a constant stream of changing numbers that I struggle to interpret.

The writing I’ve produced has been non-fiction, texts updating my family on my mother’s condition and progress, answering questions, explaining things that I don’t understand in a reassuring way that won’t set off any alarms. I try to wring the emotion out of my electronic updates using simple words and, often, emoji. (A picture is worth a thousand words, and I love my emoji.)

I don’t report when my mother moans, talks in her sleep, or the look on her face when she is awake and uncomfortable, tired, depressed, discouraged. A moan from my mother is more revealing than when she verbalizes that she is uncomfortable. A moan is just one sound yet I know immediately that there’s a problem. I don’t include that in my family updates, other than to report the extent of her pain, but as a fiction writer the opposite is true. I must convey pain through “showing not telling”.

I would like to work on that in my fiction writing: increase showing and decrease telling. Instead of saying “I’m tired of the drive to the hospital,” I could say “I feel like putting my head down on the steering wheel and going to sleep.” (If my daughters read that, I imagine I will generate a flurry of texts among them concerned about my well-being.) My intent is to convey weariness not tiredness. As a writer, my job is to insure that my writing is interpreted correctly—whether by my daughters or my readers.

I aim for clarity and brevity in my writing. Yet fiction writing is improved through the use of metaphors, similes, analogies, and emotion. In the above example, I would use “weary” in my family text, if at all, but in my fiction writing I would incorporate the steering wheel.

Writers glean writing material from every experience, whether through an overheard conversation between two nurses in the ICU or observing a frustrated woman help her elderly mother navigate the security line at an airport. Most of us can’t resist recording these tidbits so we can refer to them when needed. Some writers carry tiny notebooks. I prefer to record them in my phone. It’s always with me and less conspicuous. Who knows? I could be typing a text response to my daughters: “No, I am not suicidal.”

 

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About Karen Whalen

A contemporary fiction writer with an accumulation of incomplete novels and short stories, I consider NH "home," spending the summer through Christmas there with my husband. My youngest daughter and her family live nearby (as well as my mother and other family members). January finds us venturing to VA to visit our middle daughter and her family before we make our way to sunny AZ to live with our oldest daughter and family. We spend time in VA on our way home. I am fortunate that my daughters live in places I would have retired to all on my own! My 87 year-old mother asks if I will finish my novel (which one, I wonder) before she dies.....Even with that for a goal, I manage to excel at procrastination!

Posted on June 19, 2016, in blogging, Karen Whalen, reading, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you, Heidi. You and the others in our writing group provide me with the motivation to keep writing!

    Like

  2. If you ever entertain any doubt that you were created to be a writer, re-read this post. I hope (and believe) that writing will be your path through this hard time.
    Rooting for you!

    Like

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