One day last week my cousin was cruising along I-15 at about 65 mph during rush hour when the car in front of him suddenly darted into the next lane and Joe found a kitchen sink lying in the road right in front of him. Both lanes on either side of him were full, leaving him no way to avoid hitting that large ceramic sink. In seconds, he straddled it and it shredded a tire and tore pieces loose from his car's undercarriage. He had a fight on his hands to maintain control and avoid rolling or involving another car in an accident.
Other drivers and the Highway Patrol were kind, thoughtful, and helped him all they could, but there was no way he could have avoided slamming into that kitchen sink. They could only help him with the aftermath. Why do I mention this story? Recently someone brought up a hurtful remark aimed at a friend and it reminded me of a neighbor who came to me in tears following the discovery that I had breast cancer twenty years ago. This lady said she felt she needed to apologize to me because she'd had mean thoughts about me. She thought it was unfair that I had so much and she worked really hard and had so little. She assumed I made lots of money just writing little stories. She knew I had met a lot of famous people through my position on the Salt Palace advisory board and my years as a reporter. My oldest daughter had recently married the son of a prominent community leader in the temple; my son was serving a mission, and my younger daughters had college scholarships. I was thin then too (she added that!) It wasn't until my cancer diagnosis that she learned one of my daughters also had cancer and we were struggling to overcome the financial loss that came with the company my husband worked for going bankrupt, leaving him without a job and the disappearance of his retirement fund. Both of our mothers had recently died as well.
This lady had harbored a completely romanticized and false image of me, partly because she had glamorized what it is to be a writer. It was a shock to her to discover writers are like everyone else; we have highs and lows and we're certainly not immune to life's tragedies. We hit kitchen sinks just like everyone else. To be honest some of my writer friends have been dealing with some pretty severe problems in recent years, have found plenty of obstacles in their paths, and have had to fight hard to stay on course, keep writing, and protect their loved ones. Sarah Eden has a severe form of Rheumatoid Arthritis that causes her incredible pain, Kerry Blair has fought her way through MS and a bout of cancer, Gale Sears's son died unexpectedly from a disability he didn't know he had, Rob Wells struggles with extreme panic attacks, Anita Stansfield has Celiac that went undiagnosed too long and has caused her permanent health problems, Rachel Nunes spent years writing with a baby on her lap, Michele Bell was beside her son with his long scary ordeal with cancer, and the list goes on and on. Writers are wives, husbands, parents, etc., who cope with their children's school problems, with elderly ill parents, sometimes another full time job, illness, marital differences, accidents, difficult pregnancies, unexpected multiple births, and every problem that besets any other person. The only thing that makes writers different is that through it all, they still write. Just as a musician continues to make music even when the world turns dark and his heart is breaking, so the writer continues to pen stories.
Like Joe, who couldn't avoid hitting that kitchen sink someone failed to secure to his vehicle, all of us, writers or not, will hit some difficult obstacles in our lives from time to time through no fault of our own. These experiences aren't fun, but they do enrich our understanding and our compassion for others. Good writers internalize these experiences and they emerge as richer, more empathetic stories and more realistic characters. Most of us fantasize about a life where everything runs smoothly, but when we read a novel where there are no problems, we're soon bored and complain that "nothing ever happens" in the book. Just as we learn in Sunday School that there must be opposition in all things and that we can't appreciate the good if we have no understanding of the evil, so it is in writing. We won't appreciate a happy ending if the characters haven't struggled to overcome anything. Adversities or challenges in our lives not only make us stronger and more capable of appreciating good things, but from a literary standpoint they make us better writers and readers because we have personally experienced a wide gamut of emotions which have expanded our understanding.