What Writers Can Learn From Charlie Sheen

The writing life comes with moments of desolation. As if God chose a two-for-one special for writers—“Here, take a dash of creative ability and a soupcon of despair.”

I’ve been writing fiction for over 15 years. My first novel, THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE, was published this February, a miracle that took a decade to arrive. Along the way, the dark forces of doubt, uncertainty and isolation prowled around me in a tight circle demanding one thing. Surrender. In 2002, I quit my job to write the draft of what would become LOST SAINTS. A home equity loan financed a year devoted to writing. I worked on the book three days a week while my daughter Georgia attended preschool. I was also pregnant again. By the time Gracie was born in February 2003, the first draft was almost complete.

I went back to work full-time and the strain of balancing career and parenting left no energy for the book. There seemed to be no hope of finding time to write. Ever.

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Guest column by Amy Franklin-Willis, who was born in Birmingham,
Alabama and is an eighth-generation Southerner. She received an
Emerging Writer Grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation in
2007 to complete THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE, a novel
inspired by stories of her father’s childhood in rural Pocahontas,
Tennessee. The book was selected by Independent Booksellers as
an Indie Next Pick. She currently lives with her family on the West
Coast. This is her first novel. Connect with her through her website,
on Facebook and in the Twittersphere.



Driving home from work one night I made an impulsive detour to the mall, intent on ninety minutes of cinematic therapy. I parked in the garage but found myself unable to get out of the car. My writing journal lay on the passenger’s seat and the weight of never again being able to return to the book in a serious way crashed over me.

I knew two things for sure. The book needed work, lots of it, and the time to craft it would be impossible to find in my current schedule. I also knew that I wanted to have one more baby. Just one. I loved being a mother and reveled in the noisy chaos of my growing family despite its negative effects on writing production.

Sitting in the car with Georgia’s car seat looming in the rear view mirror, I decided I had to choose. The babies or the book.

I felt the writer part of me–that small interior version of myself who could never read enough and never stop the stories clamoring for their turn to be made real—wither.

I drug out the clunky cell phone from my purse and dialed the only person I could think of who might see possibilities where I saw none. My father is the best career counselor in the world. He has advised hundreds of graduate students through his work as a university professor.

He asked where I did my writing. I used to write at a desk placed in a corner of my bedroom but now the baby’s crib sat a few feet away. With no door between us.

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“Can’t you take your laptop to a coffee shop or library?” Dad said.

“I only have a desktop computer,” I said. “And we can’t afford anything extra right now.”

I began to cry in earnest.

The line was quiet for a minute or two, just the sound of my short breaths punctuated by nose-blowing. At thirty-one I was a washed up former writer with barely a publishing credit to her name who indulged in breakdowns at the Bay Street Emeryville Shopping Center.

My father came back on the phone. “I went on-line and just sent you a used laptop. It should be there in a few days.”

The laptop arrived by the end of the week.

And somehow, I created slivers of time to use it. The book found a place in the crowded spaces of my calendar, often wedged between toddler gymnastics class, conference calls and back to school nights. After three years of revision the book garnered a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Daughter number three arrived in 2007. Two more years passed before I got an agent. And in 2010 two publishing houses made offers on The Lost Saints of Tennessee.

Giving up is a constant temptation. It lures us when we are struggling to find the time to write or suffering because it has been so long since we saw our words in print we no longer believe them worthy of the privilege.

Here is where we must be more like Charlie Sheen. When the highest paid actor on television gets fired after a public psychotic break, which he then turns in to a concert series, which then lands him a new television deal, we must conclude that any of us can have our dark night of the writer’s soul and still stage a comeback. Or to quote Mr. Sheen, “Can’t is the cancer of can’t happen.”

Invoking his “#winning” spirit, I’m starting a new Twitter hash tag–#winningwriters. Get your pages done for the day? #winningwriters. Figure out your novel’s ending? #winningwriters. Reader sends you a glowing note of thanks? #winningwriters. The hope is to create a small, tiger’s blood-free spot in the Twittersphere where the isolating, lonely work of writing is celebrated.

It’s easy to forget that writing is important. Books can bring comfort to those who feel more alone than they can bear. They can save a marriage, save a family, inspire a new peace accord.

And the writing of them might even save us.

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5 thoughts on “What Writers Can Learn From Charlie Sheen

  1. amy franklin-willis

    Thanks so much, Annabelle. I think MOST of us are struggling to balance work/home/writing! The myth exists that it can all be done “perfectly.” But the only way I’ve found to “balance” is to juggle it all messily and with as much heart as I can muster.

  2. annabelle2024

    Loved the article. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one struggling to balance home life with a writing life. Best of luck on your future writing projects.

  3. KarenLange

    Thank you, Amy, for sharing this. I’ve been trying to squeak out extra writing time around a family commitment lately, so I appreciate the encouragement. Wishing you all the best with your book!


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