I’ve been invited to join the #mywritingprocess blog tour by Roberta Dolan, a She Writes Press author who wrote the upcoming memoir, Say It Out Loud: Revealing and Healing the Scars of Sexual Abuse. (www.RobertaDolan.com). I’ve read Roberta’s manuscript, and don’t mind saying out loud that I thought it was excellent.
My instructions are to answer four questions for you:
1. What am I working on?
There are actually several things I’m working on now: learning how to optimize my involvement with social media; surrendering to summer’s requirements for a nearly constant process of re-prioritizing the activities of my life; recalibrating my internal life so that it syncs with those activities; and… oh, yes, reading and writing!
Are you surprised that writing is the last word in the paragraph? Had you expected instead to learn of another book I was writing? In order to put my answer into perspective for you, here are a few relevant facts: My memoir (pictured above), which was published in the UK in 2010 with bestseller success, was just re-released in April here in the US – in ebook and print. Every author knows how important release dates are – how she or he needs to work hard to help with launching that book into the world. In my case, because April was also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month and my memoir is primarily about my experience of and recovery from child abuse that included incest, I had several speaking engagements around the state (Georgia). These were rich experiences; I met some amazing, grass roots people who are working hard on behalf of children and adult abuse survivors. Most of these events came to me through RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), an outstanding organization that I want to support in this way, but April was also a particularly demanding month emotionally.
One of my dearest friends passed away in the end of March, from a rare cancer which caused her to suffer and brought heartache to those of us who loved her and witnessed her suffering. The grief of her death – though it brought with it the relief of her release from a cancer-ridden body – was very draining. Her name was Gail Lyle. Gail was also a therapist. We had worked together for several years, she was one of the biggest cheerleaders for my book, and a great coach when I’d prepared for speaking engagements in the past. She was also the most fun friend in my life. My grief over the loss of her seemed to crescendo during April, leaving me by the end of the month, emotionally drained and very tired. I’m reminded as I write this that one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, wrote in one of her books (I don’t remember which) that “grief causes narcolepsy.” How true!
In May my husband, Peter, and I visited two of our daughters’ families, which was lots of fun (being with our grandchildren always is) and I wouldn’t have traded that time for the world. But afterwards, the cumulative effect of all that I’ve just written about was fatigue, and of course a total disruption of any inclination toward a writing routine.
Now it’s June. Soon our vacations will begin. I really have no hope of writing in any disciplined way until the later part of August or beginning of September. I hope to bring a journal however (Did I say bring? I meant to say write in…oh, dear…), and I plan to read the books that have piled up in the want-to-read nook in my office. I know that many writers write, write, write, and even read, read, read, no matter what else is going on in their lives. I’m not one of them. When I’m with my grandchildren, for instance, I enjoy the sparkle of just being with them.
2. How does my work differ from others of that genre?
Regarding Never Tell in particular, I know of no other memoir that details how a married couple navigates through the layers of healing that are a part of recovering from sexual abuse, nor do I know of one that illustrates the emotionally complicated experience of facing the eldercare of one’s parents when they have abused and neglected you as a child. Also, Never Tell as well as my writing in general, is informed by my experience as both a patient in therapy (16 years) and as a therapist (30 years).
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write memoir, personal essay, and non-fiction because I feel compelled to. Never Tell was the beginning of this compulsion. I needed to show how psychological damage happens and to illustrate the power of long-term psychotherapy, marital therapy, and family therapy. Never Tell was a monument of gratitude for the healing I’d experienced in my own therapy. I know how important the work of other writers was for my healing process. Kennedy Frazer actually says says it best in Ornaments and Silence: Essays on Women’s Lives from Edith Warton to Germaine Greer:
“There was a time when my own life seemed so painful to me that reading about the lives of other women writers was one of the few things that could help. I needed all this murmored chorus, this continuum of true-life stories to pull me through. They were like mothers and sisters to me, these literary women, many of them already dead; more than my own family, they seemed to stretch out a hand… I was looking for direction, gathering clues.”
I felt that it was my time to give back, to contribute to the community of memoirists who had helped me to find words to assign to my experience. I had taken their hands; they did provide direction. And it was time for me to extend my hand as well.
I write a regular blog for Psychology Today Magazine because I want to be a voice for children and for other adult survivors of abuse and their partners. I write essays and non-fiction articles because I have a need to educate and to raise awareness. And while all of these reasons are true, it’s also true that at this particular stage of life (65 years old) my writing may also come from both a place of needing to have fun with it (yes, playing with words can be fun, no matter what the topic!) and because it is an act of autonomy. In a marriage as long a mine (44 years); a family as large as mine (four daughters; their spouses; 9th precious grandchild on its way); a heart as sensitive as mine; a mind as active as mine; and a body as reactive, acts of autonomy are important. No…not important; more than that…essential is the word …essential for my own mental health and spiritual development.
4. How does my writing process work?
I began writing Never Tell several years after I’d been a patient in therapy for 16 years and when I’d been a therapist myself for almost 15. By this time I’d learned to trust the creative process and to rely on the value of structure in supporting that process. I showed up at my computer at the same time each day and usually stopped after 3 or 4 hours. When I felt myself tiring, resisting, or my sense of commitment waning, I drew from strengths I’d acquired in earlier stages of my life, and incorporated them into my writing time. For example, when I’d get tired I’d go for a long walk outside; when I’d hit a patch of very painful emotions I’d put on a cd and sing along with Barbra Streisand or Lucianno Pavarotti other vocalist; when I’d get stuck I’d call one of the women in my writing group.
The first writing group I was in was Rosemary Daniel’s Zona Rosa group in Atlanta. I knew that the desire to write a book wasn’t enough; I needed to learn the craft of writing and Rosemary was the first to teach me that. My smaller writing group, we called ourselves the Kaleidescope Group, also taught me more about craft. ( One member, Rebecca Allard, who is featured in next week’s blog tour, just had a book release as well – Reckless) In my profession as a mariage and family therapist, attending conferences has been a valuable means of receiving continuing education, so I decided to do the same with writing. My two favorites were when I had the privilege of attending Bread Loaf where I was in a memoir class with one of my favorite memoirists, Patricia Hampl and where Carol Houch Smith (now deceased editor with Norton, who was beloved in her field) spent time with me evaluating my manuscript, and when I attended a writers workshop at Goucher College where I had the good fortune to be in a memoir class with Kristen Iverson, a wonderful person and writer, and author of Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, which is currently receiving great acclaim.
In recent months I’ve been writing very little, as you may have surmised by all that you’ve read in this blog. I look for large blocks of time and never find them, but I still jot down notes and ideas. If you count cleaning out one’s filing cabinet as writing time (I do!) I spent a lot of time writing this weekend. The internal motor is revving up. I put my folders of notes all in one place. There’s a wealth of material in them – material for my next book, which I think will be a collection of personal essays about the interface between motherhood, spirituality, and culture. I ‘m attending a week-long memoir writer’s workshop with author Ann Hood later this summer and hope that it will help me to regain my focus and commitment to the level of discipline that writing a book requires. Ideas for a young adult novel keep knocking on my mind’s door as well, so who knows? That, too, may be in my future.
Thank you for taking the time and interest to read this. You have just read the first of what I hope will be many personal blogs, and I hope that you enjoy the rest of your blog tour!
The next three authors, for the week of June 16, are Rebecca Allard, Kaolin, and Cynthia Newberry Martin. I admire the work of each of them and am pleased to introduce you to them.
Kaolin, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, now resides in Massachusetts and is the celebrated author of Talking About Race: A Workbook About White People Fostering Racial Equality in Their Lives, a book that empowers white audiences to reflect and unearth their position of privilege, in an effort to foster racial equality. She is on the National Organization for Women National Task Force for Combating Racism and the Keynote Plenary Speaker on White Privilege for the upcoming 2014 National NOW Conference in Albuquerque, NM from June 27-29.