When I watched the film “Secret Window” starring Johnny Depp, it was the first time I confronted the concept of a writer’s retreat and I loved it (spoilers: minus all the psychosis and murder). Living with writers block these past two years especially has been hell and I’ve often romantisized the notion of escaping to some far off place, alone for weeks on end, to work through the block without the distractions of every day life. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what to write, but I didn’t know how to write it. The stories I’ve wanted to tell have been rolling around inside my noggin for years, but I didn’t know what vehicle to insert them into so they’d actually get somewhere.
A few weeks ago, for reasons I don’t know, the block broke. The “how” finally made its appearance and I’ve been writing like a mad woman ever since. I write without an outline, letting words and ideas tumble out willy-nilly, cranking out 10,000 to 15,000 words a week, then going back and editing, rewriting, reworking, and sending to trusted loved ones to read and critique. It’s obsessive some days and I found it was inhibiting my ability to maintain my social media presence as I had been doing this past year. The reality is this: if I have time to do something, I’m going to write my book instead of post on social media. So, that’s what I’ve been doing.
It feels amazing, if I’m being honest. Diving into my characters and the situations that surround them, while tying in so much of my personal experiences, is therapeutic in a way. But, it does come with its own set of drawbacks.
I’m writing a memoir/fiction. I’m pulling from my real life experiences, but changing enough details so I don’t get sued, to be frank. While they’re not owed my silence, I want to protect the identities of certain persons and preserve their anonymity. I try to live by the motto that I’m here to tell *my* story; not theirs. And while there is definitely some overlap, because of course there is, I can not tell their stories for them. So, I’m choosing to blend fiction with memoir. Some of what I write is absolutely based on real conversations and situations. And some is just my imagination at play. Which parts are real and which aren’t isn’t important: the story and the characters are.
Diving into the real, however, and having to pull up the grime of my childhood and adolescence, has been difficult. I’m talking about things I haven’t spoken of in years because they were largely already “dealt with” and I’d filed them away in a section of my brain called, “Things That Hurt And Are Scary So We Don’t Talk About Them”. But, now I’m talking about them again. I’m having to place my characters in those same situations and then explain to the reader what they’re feeling and it’s terrifying because so much of it is myself, my pain, my hangups, my heartache. It sucks.
There are days when I’ve written two chapters in less than 24 hours and my brain is buzzing and fixating on terrible memories and I end up have two or three intense panic attacks in one day. PTSD is a beast and instead of pretending the terrible things didn’t happen, I’m trotting them out for strangers to see and it’s…a lot. It’s a lot.
I’m writing a book. And I hate it. And I love it. And I’m so glad to be doing it, even though it is one of the most difficult things I’ve put my mental health through in years. I’d even considered slamming on the brakes for the sake of my own sanity, but I can’t do that. Whether I do it now or I do it later, these pains have to come to light. I have to talk about them and get them out. That section of my brain I keep them in is underwater and the longer I hold onto it, the more likely it will drag everything down into the water with it. I can’t allow that to happen.
So, yes. I’m writing a book. It’s happening. I’m excited. I have a long way to go. I don’t know how it will be received. I don’t know if an agent will want it. I don’t know if a publisher will see any value in it. But, I’m doing it. And that alone feels like an accomplishment.
If you don’t see me active on social media for a while, now you know why. Something I do plan to do however is post updates about the writing here on my blog. It gives me a much needed break from the heavy stuff in the book and I like the idea of giving you a glimpse into the book writing process from start to finish.
That said, here’s a few details about my book. I’ll add to this as I go so you can see the whole thing happening before your eyes.
Setting: the South and the Midwest, present day
Characters: three adult siblings (major) and their families (minor)
Chapters so far: 5
Chapter goal: between 20 – 25
Agent: none, won’t be querying or submitting until book is finished
Publisher: none, see above
And that’s it for now. I’ll check in again soon to update this list and tell you where I’m at mentally as well. I hope you’ll stick around, especially if you’ve considered writing a book yourself or you have written one. Maybe we can learn something from one another.