If reading and writing are therapeutic, then my friend Jessica Handler is well on her way to healing the world.

I met Jessica a few years ago, after taking her wonderful workshop, “Writing Through Grief.” After the class, I devoured her memoir Invisible Sisters– Jessica’s gorgeous, yet heartbreaking story about the early deaths of her two sisters from two different terminal diseases. Have you ever cried your eyes out over a book because it shifted your thinking about the fragility and power of life? That’s how I felt after reading Invisible Sisters.

Jessica’s workshop and book helped me to write more fearlessly about the complexities of grief in my own personal essays. But they’ve also helped me to become a better fiction writer. If there is a common language between fiction and nonfiction, it is certainly the expression, through words, of pain from loss. And when I sat down to write my first novel, Secrets of the Sari Chest, I channeled the fearless truths from Jessica’s workshop and her memoir through my characters.

Which is why I can’t wait to get my hands on her new book, “Writing Through Grief,” to be published next year. Because the made-up characters in my next novel have a lot of grief to work through, too.


Like you, I revel in the “writers’ camp” experience; the artists’ colony, retreat, or residency. It’s alternately exciting and appalling (and exciting again, because I can dig in that very minute and fix what I wrote) to be face to face with my work for weeks at a time. But that’s a rare and generous break in the “real” life that I also love.

The more realistic answer to “when do you write” is “almost every day, sometimes to the detriment of being on time for other things.” I’m currently on deadline with a book and my teaching schedule is intentionally light, so I’m at my desk in my very messy home studio, five to six days a week from about mid-morning until it’s time to make dinner, and sometimes for a few hours late in the evening. On a good day, that adds up to a full eight hours or more. Other days, family responsibilities, teaching, errands, or the value of a good day off mean that I write for an hour or two, and that’s okay, too.

At conferences, I’ve grabbed an hour with my laptop between leading workshops. I write on airplanes, on Amtrak, in hotel rooms, and make notes about bits and pieces at times in between if I feel the need to.

And sometimes, I don’t write, and instead recharge my batteries; the laptop one and the emotional/mental one. I’ll be the better for it the next day. 

BIO: Jessica Handler is the author of the forthcoming Writing Through Grief  (St. Martins Press, 2013.) Her first book, Invisible Sisters: A Memoir (Public Affairs, 2009) was named by the Georgia Center for the Book one of the “Twenty Five Books All Georgians Should Read.” Atlanta Magazine called it the “Best Memoir of 2009.” Her nonfiction has appeared on NPR, in Drunken Boat, Tin House, Brevity, Newsweek, The Washington Post, More Magazine, and elsewhere. Honors include 2011 and 2012 residencies at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship from The Writers Center, the 2009 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, and special mention for a 2008 Pushcart Prize. www.jessicahandler.com.


3 thoughts on “When Do You Write? JESSICA HANDLER

  1. I appreciate that Jessica advocates taking time off to recharge her batteries. Although I think I may have gone a little overboard with that one. 🙂 Her memoir sounds very powerful.

  2. Recharging is always a good thing, Jocelyn. I’m willing to bet that even when you’re recharging your batteries, you’re thinking about your writing projects!

  3. Wonderful “When Do You Write” post, Anjali and Jessica! Jessica sounds so balanced in her approach to writing, family life and personal time – something we could all learn from. I love that her writings inspire you with your own characters, Anjali … that’s a huge compliment to any writer. And thank you for introducing us to another fascinating writer! ~ Julie 🙂

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