March 25, 2021

Writing to Learn and Make a Difference

Harriet Hodgson

One of the reasons I write is to figure things out.

Since I’m a nonfiction writer, I’m always researching topics and learning new things. Experience is part of my writing too. Many Americans, including me, thought 2020 was chock-full of challenges. After I was hospitalized for cellulitis, a bacterial infection that can be fatal, my retirement community quarantined me for two weeks.

I was quarantined for two more weeks after I tested positive for Covid-19. Thankfully, I never developed symptoms of the virus. But a month of quarantine was in addition to months of self-quarantine I chose to protect my husband, John. He was terribly ill and paraplegic; the lower part of his body didn’t function.

Caring for John and maintaining my writing career were a dual challenge. John was dying. He knew it and I knew it. My anticipatory grief was acute, and, to lower stress, I started doodling. These weren’t scribbles, they were art doodles. I discovered that doodling gave me respites from grief.

If doodling helped me, it could probably help others. At least doodling was worth a try.

A freelancer for 43 years, I was used to working at home, setting my hours, and being my own boss. Seeing the number of Covid-19 cases spike in Southeastern Minnesota was a wake-up call. I was especially concerned about children’s grief. Kids know people who contracted the virus and even people who died. Wearing masks made Covid-19 real for all children.

With a BS in Early Childhood Education, MA in Art Education, and 12 years of classroom experience, I thought I could be of help. While I was quarantined, I wrote five children’s books—a leadership book with a co-author, an art activity book with a co-author, and three grief healing books, including Grief Doodling: Bringing Back Your Smiles.

It is the first book I have written and illustrated. The easiest part of writing was the idea. Though it came as a surprise, I knew the idea was a good one. Writing short is like writing poetry and requires constant revision. Re-working the manuscript was an intense process and I kept paring words. Little words—if, and, but—became important.

Creating doodle art for the book was tricky. My goal was to illustrate, not intimidate. I drew more illustrations than are in the book. Some illustrations were eliminated because they were too detailed. Other illustrations had to be re-drawn to make them more casual looking.

Originally, I wrote the book to help tweens and teens process grief, but two reviewers recommended it for all who grieve. Adults have told me they would use it and that made me feel good. I had two writing goals for the book. One was to create something unique and the other was to make a difference. I reached both goals.

You may have similar goals. How can you achieve them?

Surprise yourself. When I was quarantined, writing five books for children wasn’t on the horizon. Caring for my husband was the focus of my life. Still, I loved writing and didn’t want my career to end. As soon as the idea for Grief Doodling came to mind, I began writing. The words came out in a rush and I was almost in a trance.

Strive for simple. I chose the simplest words I could find. Here is a writing sample from the section about why doodling is fun. There are no mistakes. None. Zero. Zip. After all, it’s a doodle. In fact, wonky, wobbly, crooked lines add to a doodles’ charm. They also make your doodles real, just like you, and your grief is unique.

Fill a gap in the market. After I finished Grief Doodling, I started to worry. What if someone had already written the book? I looked for competing books on Amazon. Though I found many books about doodling, I didn’t find one about doodling to heal from grief. This was reassuring. I submitted the manuscript to an independent publisher, and it was accepted.

Believe in yourself. I think all authors have some doubts about their work. Is it creative enough? Is it good enough? Is it long enough? Is it short enough? Is it clear enough? To get a better idea of the quality of your work, put your manuscript away for a few weeks. Then take it out and read it. You will see your manuscript in a new light.

Get involved in the design. I often include royalty-free photo numbers when I submit a manuscript. The graphic artist may or may not use one of the photos for the cover. Photo ideas help the designer understand the premise of the book. My publisher and I agreed to use 70-pound paper so the doodles wouldn’t “bleed.” We finalized the organization of the book in a conference call.

Use your marketing smarts. They include blog posts, book trailers, online workshops, entering contests, and regular posts on social media. Don’t make every post about your book. Post about funny experiences or odd facts. Recently I posted about my electric coffee pot failing and was surprised at the number of responses the post generated.

John knew about the doodling book and we talked about it before he died. He was constantly amazed at my writing output and often joked, “While you’re up, write me a book.” I did. Grief Doodling is my 42nd book. Maybe it’s because doodling helped me, maybe it’s because I connect the book with John, but I think the book is one of the best I’ve ever written.

Grief Doodling comes from my heart and soul and love.

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance, award-winning writer for 43+ years and is the author of 44 books. She has a BS from Wheelock College in Boston, MA and an MA from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN campus. Hodgson is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. In addition, she is a Contributing Writer for the Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. She has appeared on more than 185 talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, she has given presentation at caregiving, public health, Alzheimer’s, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. Harriet lives in Rochester, Minnesota.


  1. So glad I saw this Blog excerpt. I am always amazed at all your writing - 44 books (wow!). I love the concept of Grief Doodling - I wrote poetry, but that was similar, in a way. Thanks for all you have given to so many.

  2. I love it! What a unique concept, and you have definitely made a difference.