Writing Your Book about Grief: Helpful Tips for Beginning Writers

I’ve been a freelance writer for 36+ years, focusing on health and wellness books. My latest book focuses on the steps I took to recover from multiple losses. Four family members died in 2007 and, thanks to grief work and introspection, I created a new life. So many people asked me how I managed to do this that I listed my recovery steps on paper. These steps became a talk and the talk became a book.

My current publisher was interested in this grief resource, and I sent the manuscript to the executive director. The company has a collaborative agreement with another publisher and she forwarded the manuscript to this publisher. Three months later, the manuscript was returned to me with dozens of editorial notes written in the margins.

For example, one notation said the manuscript was too emotional, a comment that stunned me. Death is emotional, especially the death of a child. The editor also wanted me to eliminate some stories and add footnotes. I wrote this guide for bereaved people, people who need reliable information and need it fast. Footnotes would turn the guide into a textbook.

Last, the editor thought my style was too personal. During my grief journey, I’ve given workshops at several national conferences for the bereaved. I tell personal stories so workshop attendees know I’m not just talking the talk, I’ve walked the walk, the same journey they have taken. Plus, people remember stories more easily than they remember statistics.

I came to several conclusions. First, I will let myself be emotional about grief. Second, I will stick to the self-help format because I’m not a textbook author. Third, I will see this guide in print. What did I do? I followed the suggestions that strengthened the book and passed on the others. The guide is in production now and will be available in two months.

You may be writing a grief resource now, a story for children, a book for teens, a self-help book for adults, or a novel based on your life story. While you’re writing, questions may come to mind. Is my writing good? Am I being honest? Will my book help others? I encourage you to be yourself. Consider the suggestions you receive from others and then follow your instincts.

Though you may have to revise your book several times, it will get better with each revision. At the end, you’ll know you did your best, documented family history, identified problems, found solutions, and shared your grief journey.

Grief is emotional and always will be. Writing your grief story from the heart will touch those who read it. Someday, maybe years from now, you’ll read your book again and say, “I’m glad I wrote that.” Future generations will be glad you wrote it as well.

Your book is for today, for tomorrow, and family members you will never know. Good luck on your writing journey.




Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.


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  • Tarah Hipple says:

    Hi, my name is Tarah and I’m twenty years old. I’m young but I have experienced many loses and grief. I started writing when I was ten years old, mostly poetry. Last year I went through intense therapy to overcome my PTSD. I have my own “poetry book” in which I put all of my writing into chapters. My dream is to have a book. If you wanted to look at some of my work, I have a few pieces on this site. I was just curious how you found your publisher and if you had any suggestions.

    • Sorry to be delayed in responding to you Tarah. Today, many authors are publishing their own books or working with so-called Indie publishers, which is short for independent. Indie publishers and print on demand publishers, such as CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s publishing company, offer a variety of services. You pay for them all. I’ve had traditional publishers, print on demand publishers, and am now with a hybrid publisher. The company asks me to pay for some costs, such as editing, and it pays for others. I recommend CreateSpace; it produces good books.

  • I’m so sorry you’ve experienced so much sorrow in your short lifetime. However, I’m really glad that you’re writing poetry and have had therapy. After the second publisher passed on my book I turned to CreateSpace, an Amazon company. This is a Print-on-Demand publisher, so there are no books gathering dust in stores and no remainders to ship back. The production time and cost are also less. The layout cost me several hundred dollars and as soon as I approve it, my book will be posted on Amazin witnin a couple of days. Since I have a graduate degree in art, I chose the cover photo from a royalty-free website. I paid a graphic designer to do create the front and back covers. I don’t write books to make money, I write them to help others. The cost of your poetry book should be less than my book because it probably has fewer pages. You may wish to contact CreateSpace and get an estimate of how much it will cost to publish your poetry. Blessings to you.

  • Denise Harwell says:

    I lost my husband on12-08-2014 just 20 days short of his67th birthday. I was his wife friend lover and ended by being his caregiver the last two years of his life.
    We were soul mates and when he finally lost his
    Battle I felt lost.

    I would like to put into words my journey out of the darkness and grief I went through. I never realized how people back away from you because they are not capable of helping you emotionally

    I would love a little encouragement and tips on how to start.

    Thank you some much for taking the time to read this

    • Thank you for your post Denise. You might want to start by putting some of your happy memories of your husband in writing. This would get you started on a positive note. Your accounts don’t have to be long. For example, you might list the date, the event (such as your birthday) and the gift your husband gave you. People back away from you because they don’t know what to say. After my daughter died I found comfort in happy memories. Perhaps the same will happen to you.