How Brain Surgery Kickstarted My Writing Career


(Clockwise from top left) Pre-surgery MRI (that white cluster is what they removed); pre-surgery electrodes attached all over my head; post-surgery incision staples, one-week post-surgery scar; day before surgery with M)

Four years ago today I was up at Duke University Hospital having my head cut open to remove a cluster of leaking blood vessels from my brain. I spent the night before with family crowded in my tiny hospital room eating dinner and pretending like nothing major was about to happen. Then M and I watched episodes of Pinky and the Brain on his computer until the medicine in my IV burned so badly up my veins that I would’ve sworn Edward Cullen himself had tried to turn me into a vampire. (Which was fitting since the second movie was set to come out the following month and having staples in your head is a good way to get in the theater before anyone else at the midnight showing. Just sayin’)

We hadn’t talked about what would happen if I didn’t make it or if something went wrong (I mean, people don’t make jokes about brain surgery because it’s fun). So, when I finally brought it up and asked Mark if I needed to write out a quick will, he asked if I thought I needed it. I thought for a couple seconds at most and then said, “No. I don’t think God would kill me before I get my first book published.”

And I was 100% serious. I’m not a religious person. At all. But I honestly didn’t feel like my life could end before I accomplished the one thing I’d been working to achieve since college. That just wouldn’t be fair.

And when I came through surgery with all my motor functions and brain activity in tact (well, with the exception of my stupidity on stairs that doesn’t seem to want to go away), I promised myself I would do whatever I had to, to get published. Since then, I finished the draft of Love And Cupcakes, deleted too many words to count and rewrote even more words and sent it out for betareading, revised again, queried, revised and resubmitted, took agent feedback to heart and revised some more, entered pitch contests, and finally found a home for it at Swoon Romance last summer.

I’ve also written three and a half books (the half book was 50,000+ words of a NaNoWriMo novel that didn’t work in its original form but has been hugely helpful for me to cannibalize for three separate manuscripts and is offering the revamped base for my new WIP!)

Then this past weekend, one of my CPs mentioned on Facebook that she didn’t know what would happen if she died before she wrote the sequels to her two fantasy series. I assured her that if anything happened to her I would finish writing her novels and get her husband’s okay on what I’d done so at least the stories would be complete. And I’d do the same for the other girls as well. But it got me thinking that even though I’ve survived one major life-threatening event before I was 30, something can always happen. I’m certain my CPs would do the same for me, and that is reassuring. They love my work *almost* as much as I do and I know they would fight for my novels in my stead.  (No, God, this is not an invitation to do something to any of us! We’d like to live long, happy, successful lives, please.)

I still have a lot of writing goals to accomplish (and I probably always will because my brain is always working on new ideas).  And I don’t know what will happen from here, but with a clean bill of health earlier this month, I’m ready for whatever plot twists come my way.


7 thoughts on “How Brain Surgery Kickstarted My Writing Career

  1. Rebekah says:

    SO, I am all emotional today anyway, but this just sent me over the edge. I was just telling Nathan about your brain surgery on Monday, and of course, being morbid because that’s me. But I am so glad God didn’t take you then, and I still think you have much more to accomplish now. It is amazing the things in our lives that prove to be significant catalysts, that you can look back and pinpoint those moments where you made a choice or had an experience that shifted everything. Seriously, love this post.

    • I so heart you, Rebekah! And thanks. It’s crazy how life works, but I am seriously grateful for every day and all of the things I still get to do. Very lucky girl. 🙂

  2. Lindsay says:

    Wow! Four years have flown by since our melon ball pre-surgery party. What a journey you’ve been on since then. So thankful for the gift of your friendship and the joy of seeing your writing blossom. ❤

  3. Rachel Schieffelbein says:

    Susan, you’re going to make me cry. What a story. I can’t even imagine going through that. I’m so glad that you are okay and everything turned out well. (And that Love and Cupcakes got published because I love that book!)

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