Join Begin Again author Kat Jackson for an exploration of heartbreak and creativity.
Over the six years it took me to complete Begin Again, I had my heart broken. And if I’m being honest, it broke multiple times, in varying ways. Sometimes I did the breaking; often, however, the destruction came from outside sources. Heartbreak is a challenging source of inspiration. It can fuel poetic fires and feed surges of words. It can also rip through your innermost creative fibers like a hurricane and leave them dangling in its wake.
Heartbreak is a challenging source of inspiration. It can fuel poetic fires and feed surges of words. It can also rip through your innermost creative fibers like a hurricane and leave them dangling in its wake.
The journey of Begin Again began in 2012. From an outsider’s perspective, my life looked good: job, house, relationship, family, friends. All the boxes were checked. Because of these creature comforts, my creativity stepped in and said, “Hey, guess what? Time to write a book!” and I said, “Yes! The moment I’ve been waiting for since I was 11 years old.” And so the writing began, and it came on hard and fast. It poured out of me. I was actually going to do this: I was going to finally write a book.
Sure, the boxes were checked. But happiness was another matter. That little matter slammed on the brakes a couple chapters (okay, more like 50,000 words) into the book and my world as I knew it shifted gears. Maybe shifted gears isn’t the right term—that sounds too smooth. This time in my life was more like someone apprehensively trying to learn to drive stick shift. The driver couldn’t get the rhythm right and when she tried to switch gears, the clutch wasn’t pressed down so the transmission ground into an awful noise and the car stalled. Repeatedly. No one died, nothing was permanently damaged, but the driver was embarrassed and had to regroup. That gun-shy driver avoided driving stick for a while; over here on Bad Break-Up Island, I avoided even looking at those 50,000 words for a long while.
I’d love to say I bounced back quickly and so did the book. But no. You see, coming off of Bad Break-Up Island demanded a particularly awkward reentry into the world. I detoured directly into what I can only refer to as The Dark Period. In this delightfully horrible place and time, many questionable decisions were made and their partnered repercussions were just plain bad. I can say with confidence that writing was the furthest thing from my mind during The Dark Period. I was too consumed with making weak attempts at protecting my heart, which still hadn’t fully healed from that heartbreak.
As The Dark Period came to a slow close, Begin Again wasn’t beginning again; it had now been abandoned for a year and a half. Time to regroup! I’m proud to say that I didn’t throw myself into a new relationship in order to avoid dealing with the other love-scars. Oh, no. Instead, I threw myself into a second graduate program for a healthy distraction from both my scars and my writing! Genius!
The thing about a half-finished book is that it haunts you. I amassed an impressive amount of distractions over a four-year period: teaching full-time, taking two graduate classes per semester, training for and then running a half-marathon, completing an internship and taking on a part-time counseling job, meeting someone for the second time who would turn my world upside-down (funny how that parallels Emery and Burke’s path) … it was a lot. Naturally, that’s when my characters started kicking at the door once more.
This time, I didn’t run from them. I let them in. I apologized for abandoning them. Somehow, in all the busy chaos of my life from 2014-2017, I managed to work those 50,000 words to over 100,000 words. Suddenly, I had a completed manuscript. I’d done it. I had actually finished writing Begin Again.
In the fall of 2017, I was finishing up my Master’s degree in Clinical & Counseling Psychology. One of my final projects for my last class forced me to look at myself: my personality, my accomplishments, dreams, goals, and so on. As a side note, counseling programs love to forcefully nudge you to face your own grit and shit.
During this presentation, I admitted that I’d finished writing a book and it was sitting quietly in my drive, waiting for attention. There were gasps. That was a big deal? Okay, right, it was! My professor and classmates wanted to know why I wasn’t doing anything with it. Obviously, that’s where my self-doubt, another part of my final project, came into the conversation.
This isn’t to say that my self-doubt has vanished. It’s simply to acknowledge the persistence and confidence that bloomed within me after some trying years.
Because I beat back that self-doubt, I’m writing this essay about writing a book. Had I not put aside my ever-present fears of rejection, Begin Again wouldn’t have ever left my drive. This isn’t to say that my self-doubt has vanished—what a hilarious notion—it’s simply to acknowledge the persistence and confidence that bloomed within me after some trying years. It took six years for this book to become its own being, and another year or so before I allowed myself to take a chance on it.
Begin Again is not a true story. It’s not about Break-Up Island or The Dark Period. Its name, however ironic it has come to be, is representative of the second chances we allow ourselves in life. After all, what is life, what is love, without the chance to begin again?