Writing Pain

pastel drawing 'Archangel (Raphael)' by Cat Fink

It’s strange.

Writing well and true doesn’t always leave me feeling well and true, or happy.

This knowledge came home to me yesterday.

I had two days of writing draft for my book.  I knew what I needed to work on.  A bridge was necessary between the book’s opening pieces and the first moment when I discover a process that eventually heals me completely.

 I knew the writing must focus on the shift I experienced, moving from desperation and grief into the first flash of a kind of hope.  I knew I was capable of writing this.  I also knew I would have to dive into intense memories and feelings to find the words, and dive out again to get the words onto the page.

All my life I’ve been a master at hiding my feelings from myself.  I learned this while growing up.

Now I have to do the exact opposite.

I have to open to all I feel, and feel it deeply enough inwards, to capture and express it outwards.

This is exactly when I question what I am doing, writing what I’m writing.  A story which requires me to be wildly vulnerable, not only to myself but to my readers.

Oh my.

Yet here I am, open and writing as I intended.

I finish the draft.  It needs a few more bits here and there, but the bridge is mostly built.  Good for me.  Well done, Cat.

Except I don’t feel well-done and good-for-me feelings.  Instead I feel frustrated and, if I be honest, angry.

I have enough experience by now to set aside both feelings and writing once I am done for the day.  I know how to move myself to other things.  Yet I continue frustrated and angry through the afternoon and evening.

Distractions.  Things I love, that move me towards joy.  I read a good book.  I play with a new crossword puzzle.  I make an awesome, tasty dinner.  I water the garden while the dinner cooks, and let the scents of water, earth, and new roses surround me.  My husband and I go for a walk through the neighbourhood.  I watch episodes three and four of a fantasy series I am greatly enjoying.

Now I’m in bed.  The frustration has dissipated, but the anger remains.

I look at my day—it was a good one.  I am mystified at my mood.  Since I am nowhere near sleep, I decided to pick apart the anger.

I spent two days writing emotional pain.  Two days writing memories, seeing and feeling clearly what I had not allowed myself to see or feel at the time.  It was pure survival, years ago, pushing my life to be bearable.

Bearable.  Here is a word with edges, sharp with anger and heat.

Here is why I am angry.

Why should I have had to live a life, back then, that I could only describe as bearable?

Should I not have had a life that was joy and play, wonder and beauty and love?

Should I not have been able to love my life?

I couldn’t say that during the fibromyalgia years.  There were some things I loved about my life.  There were some things that gave me joy, things that allowed me to bear what the other side of my life held.  There were things I found that could carry me through what I would not think about, would not let myself look at or feel.

I survived.  That’s the best this anger will allow me to say.  And with that, to my surprise and relief, anger drops away.  I am left feeling a blessed, quiet emptiness.

I have seen and felt and understood.

I have acknowledged what was there, and said yes, that was true.

That was true, and now this is true—I no longer have to use ‘bearable’ to describe my life.  I can use the words I was desperate for, back then.  Joy, play, wonder, beauty, and love.

Here, on this side of the bridge I’ve written, I have a life I love, and I can feel it.  Well, true, and happy.

Music Saves Me

pastel by Cat Fink, titled 'Archangel For Mrs. St. Cyr (Uriel)'

I’ve been listening to an interview series on the web.  Some of the interviewees are musicians/composers/healers all in one.  Each has told the story of how the healer part of their life developed in balance with their music.

I get it, because music has healed and saved me, all my life.

As a child, I was taught to deny what I felt whenever the feeling was difficult and uncomfortable for others to witness.  Anger, sadness, confusion, overwhelm, and grief were just a few of the unacceptable emotions in our home.

Denying and hiding my emotion made those around me more comfortable, but it left me in turmoil, not being allowed to express what was rolling through me.

Music saved me.

I started piano lessons at age seven, and quickly discovered I not only heard music, I felt it within me.  Music unlocked the denied emotions, and the feelings translated themselves into the sounds my body created on the piano.

Here, sitting on the piano bench, my feet dangling far above the floor, I could feel loud and angry, or heartbroken and slow.  I could move my fingers over the keys, feel the sound vibrate through me, and send my emotion flying into the air around me.

I could express how I felt.

I could let go.

I could be free.

I could be myself.

Music still saves me.  Sometimes, when an emotion is too painful or frightening, I lapse into the pattern of denial and control I learned as a child.  I feel something within me, a hard, heavy rock lodged in my body, and it’s the signal I am hiding an emotion from myself.  That emotion needs to be seen and heard by me.  It needs to be felt and freed so I can come back into balance in my life, and back into love for myself.

On my beloved IPod I have 67.5 days of music.  Music, melody, and sound for every mood and every layered fraction of a feeling.  Exactly what I need to heal and save and power myself, exactly whenever I need it.

I also have a keyboard sitting by the studio window.  I’m looking at it right now.  I haven’t played with it in some time, and I can feel it calling me.  I can hear it calling the music in me.

Come and play, come and feel.

______________

In this post:

The online interview series is The Conscious Late Night Show, created and hosted by Scott Brandon Hoffman.  It’s fun and illuminating. It’s also about being true to your creative self.  www.ConsciousLateNight.com

Between Have-To And Happiness

Bigger is not better.

I’ve decided this societal norm is not my norm.  In fact, believing this does me harm.

Here’s how my mind translates ‘bigger is better’.

If bigger is better, then I must always be reaching, and never be satisfied or celebrating where I am now.  I always have to be more, which really means I am never enough.

I am never enough.

Because of this belief pattern, I set out to do too much.  Today I’ll get this, this, and this completed for my book.  Then, I don’t.  I finish one or one-and-a-half.

Instead of celebrating what I have accomplished, I focus on what didn’t get done.  I tell myself off for not working hard enough, for being too distracted, for being too slow a writer.  I need to do better in order for others to appreciate me.

Funny, when I don’t even appreciate myself.

‘Not enough’ has been a pattern in my life since elementary school. It makes me sad to realize I am so unkind to myself, and that I’ve been doing it for so long I accept the unkindness as normal.

I would not do this to someone else.  Instead, I would praise them, be excited for what they have accomplished.  I’d encourage them to pause and enjoy it before setting off on the next step.

Why do I not say this to myself?

I have a lively life of which writing is a vital and essential part.  But writing is only one part of my life, and it’s the fullness and variety in my life that enrich my writing.

I am a slow writer.  I have days between working on my book, and each time I return to the book I bring with me new experiences and ideas, and a new understanding of myself.  I am a better writer because of all else in my life.  The balance of my life fills my well.

I trust my creative process. Even though I’ve been telling myself off for being too slow, I truly trust the process of my writing enough to create the book I am creating. 

Now I need to transfer the trust of my creativity and writing into knowing I am enough, and allow myself to enjoy my writing process in the midst of enjoying my life.

I am enough.

I Feel, Therefore I Am

pastel drawing 'Summer Sandals' by Cat Fink

I am changing the well-known saying by Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” 

I’ve decided writers require their own version.  “I feel, therefore I am.”

The writing for my book’s third draft is all about emotional context and connection.  The book is nonfiction, but it still requires the feeling connection with the reader.  Without it, my words have no depth, and trusting them is questionable.

It’s no surprise to me that the first two drafts lacked emotional context.  I am a master at masking my own feelings from myself.  Thing is, this lack is a definite problem when writing a memoir that tells of healing through learning to open my heart.

We are all masters at sensing other people’s feelings.  Often we call it intuition, but it’s really an emotional connection that runs below thought.  From experience, I am aware how I trust the feeling of someone’s words more than I trust the words themselves.  I can’t expect a reader to trust and connect to my story without also sharing with them the emotions that accompany it.

Sharing my emotions leaves me feeling shaky, naked, and vulnerable.  Sharing them publicly is terrifying, but I am walking myself through the terror, and writing anyways.

I am not doing this alone.

I have my precious group of friends and allies who read my draft, allowing their truest selves to be vulnerable enough to offer me their honest critiques.

I have an editor, and we are forging a heart connection between ourselves and the story to create it true.

I have writers and artists who are mentors via their books and images.  One and all, they walked a path of emotional vulnerability, and now they are showing me how to do the same.  When I get too scared, I pull one of their books from my shelves and borrow their courage.

Walking willingly into vulnerability is terrifying.  What surprises me is how grounded, open, and strong I feel after each writing session.  Allowing myself to see, feel, and express my truest heart is strength, not weakness.

Allowing my vulnerability is strength.  Opening the emotional connection is strength.  Sharing the words that come of this is strength.

I feel, therefore I am.

__________________

In this post:

In case you were wondering, a few of my mentors include Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Dee Wallace, Tom Hart, and Brene Brown.

Tending To What Is Already Here

I love gardens, but I’m not a gardener.

My home is set in a half acre of trees, flowers, and grasses.  I love its mix of wild and cultured growth.  A thousand shades of green (maybe more), dotted with roses and wild flowers, populated by five kinds of bees (I counted) and two kinds of hummingbirds.  Paradise.

This Eden came with our home.  Someone who was very much a gardener loved this land and created this beauty.  I am the grateful recipient of their creative soul.

You will see me outside watering, clearing pathways, pruning back the abundant wild blackberries lest they completely take over.  They would.  Their joyful growth would cover all in a rush for the sun.  They have the area along the fence at the bottom of the garden, and will have to be content with that.

Today I realized being the writer of a book is like my shifting not-gardener status.

I love books, but I always claimed I’d never have the patience to write one.  All that time on a single project—not me.

Look at me now.  Here I am, determined to see this book into full, abundant growth.

What changed?

The secret is the same as with my garden.  I loved what was already present, and out of that love, I began tending to it.

I love reading.  I love words and what they do for my heart.  I love playing with word puzzles.  I’d started writing a book when I was eight, and again when I was eleven.  I loved writing stories in school and university, and I let myself forget that during my love affair with drawing.

Writing was within me.  For years, words showed up as background and foreground in my drawings, as poems that burst forth in the midst of my sketchbooks, as morning pages, as essays accompanying my art shows.

Like the wild blackberries, writing showed up all around me, asking for a place of its own to grow and flourish.

Unlike the wild blackberries, I chose to let writing sprout up everywhere in my life.  The more I wrote, the richer my writing time became.

And now here I am.  I am an artist who writes.  I am an artist creating a book.

I’ve surprised myself.  I do have enough patience to take the time to grow a single project.

I may be wrong about being a not-gardener, too.

______________________

In this post:

The image is from a sketchbook I created for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2018. I titled my sketchbook The Secret Garden. It’s the garden of my heart. You can view the entire artwork here https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/gallery/the_sketchbook_project_the_secre/

My Cheat Sheet For Writing

There’s no other way to say it.  Writing a book is complicated.  The further into the process I go, the more complex it becomes.  My saving grace is I love word puzzles, and this is a word puzzle in the extreme.

I’ve discovered there are parts of the writing which don’t come naturally to me, probably because this is my first book.  Until I worked my way through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius process, I didn’t consciously know these bits existed.

Yesterday, I decided I needed a cheat sheet to help me along.

My book is a memoir of healing, and I am the protagonist.  Under my cheat sheet header, the first note talks of the two things driving me all through the story—what I most desire, and the core misbelief that shapes my world view.

I most desire love.  Being loved, giving love, having and doing what I love—all the things my illness makes difficult, if not impossible. I have a core misbelief, formed in childhood, which says love can’t keep me safe from the bad things in life. Every day I am ill, and my misbelief is made stronger.  My desire and misbelief are in constant opposition.  My emotions fly between love and fear, with fear in the ascendant. 

The second note is something Lisa repeats throughout Story Genius—the answer to why always lies in the past.  I spent much of last year writing backstory.  The time spent was worth it.  I found the answers to most of my why’s, and the story is so much richer as a result.

Two questions make up my third note.  As the protagonist, what am I most worried about?  How will it affect my judgment and reaction throughout the story?

The fourth note is another set of questions, under a heading “as I write ask why of everything”.  For every scene I ask:

  • Why does the plot need this to happen?
  • Can it happen?  Is it logistically possible?
  • Given my inner struggle (desire vs. misbelief), why would it happen?  (Here is the scene’s true meaning.)
  • Ask “and so . . . .” Why does my reader need to know this?  How does this move the story forward?  What will happen as a result?  Aka what is the point of including this in the story?

Asking ‘why’ is so crazily key to everything.  I feel like a toddler who has discovered her new favourite word. Sometimes I feel like the mom who is really tired of answering.

Finally, the fifth note is all about building the emotional connection with my reader.  The connection exists because I make both thought and emotion visible in the writing.  I do three things:

  • The protagonist (me, in the story) draws a conclusion from all she notices.  Think ‘survival’.
  • Emotion shows on every page, and it is complicated, layered, nuanced, and conflicted.  For example, grief is a constantly shifting mix of anger, pain, guilt, regret, confusion, numbness, denial, and more.
  • I stay in the protagonist’s (me, in the story) subjective mind set, and filter everything I write through it.  This means I consider how my world view, core desire, and core misbelief are running me, and I need to track how these things shift as my healing experiences change me.

Yes, just a little complicated.

At the very top of my cheat sheet is the header.  From page 267, I copied the third to last sentence of Lisa’s book.  “…the only way to change how someone thinks about something, is to first change how they feel about it.”

This quote captures the essence of the book I am writing, and it shows me, in a few words, how to tell the story. 

In truth, it is what I experienced as I healed a chronic illness.  My feelings changed, and as they changed, my thoughts changed.  As my feelings and thoughts changed, my body healed.  It was a long miracle.

I love my new cheat sheet.  It’s helping me write the best book I can.

I’ve said this before.  Thank you, Lisa Cron, for creating Story Genius.

_________________

In this post:

Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1

The page references are:  first note from chapter 5; second note from page 210; third note from page 265; fourth note from pages 210 through 215, plus page 266; fifth note from pages 256 through 266; header from page 267.

The Woods And The Path

Something is happening as I write my book.  There is a discard pile developing, the writing I am sure won’t fit into the final draft. 

These discards aren’t bad or wrong.  What they are is a different path through the same tale.  

It feels like there are a million ways of telling my tale.  For my book to be the best telling, I need to find the path that fits both the story and the kind of writer I am.

Philip Pullman, in his book Daemon Voices: On Stories And Storytelling, talks about the woods and the path.  The woods are the biggest picture, everything about and around this tale, whether strongly or vaguely linked.  The woods are vast, shadowed in places, bright and open in others, both chaos and order.  Somehow I write a path through these woods, and the path becomes my book.

I am a writer who blogs about living a creative life with an open heart.  Knowing this about myself helps me choose the path I take through the woods of my book.  The woods are the illness and healing I experienced.  The path follows my heart’s tale, telling what happened when my heart was besieged by the illness of my body.  Telling what happened when my heart declared “no more”, and found a way to break my body free, a way most everyone else told me did not exist.  (It does so exist.)

Yes, here is the path I write through the woods.  My heart showed me how to heal my body, and how to choose love instead of fear.  The path tells how I learned to listen and trust what my heart told me. The path tells how I learned love. 

I know there are a million other paths through these woods.  For now, for this book, I have found mine.

___________________

In this post:

Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: On Stories And Storytelling, Knopf Doubleday, 2018, page 139:  “There are the events, and what you tell about the events.  There is the wood and the path.”  https://www.philip-pullman.com/

About my discard pile:  I always keep the pieces that don’t fit, no matter what writing project I am into.  It’s something I learned as an artist, not to toss away what isn’t working.  Put it aside, and let time show me if it fits somewhere else.

Dump Truck And Treasure Map aka Creating My Book Outline

Here’s the truth. I completed two drafts of my book without an outline. The result is pretty much what you’d expect.

Picture a dump truck, loaded with words. Now picture said dump truck emptying its load in my studio. See that messy mountain. That’s my book.

Oof.

And that’s why I am in organization mode.

I separated out the writing, backstory, research, etcetera into nine piles of files. Wrote about it too, right here
https://catfinkknowtrustchoosecreate.com/2019/04/25/nine-piles-of-files-and-one-book/

The nine-pile process directed me to work out the sections of my book, and this is where I am now. I am writing a list of phrases under each section heading, and at the end of this step I will have seven lists, each a full description of that particular section. I will have identified the themes, big and small, of my book.

I already know my next step. My awesome friend, Synchronicity, showed me an online image of a page from J. K. Rowling’s writing notes for Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

Her notes inspired me to see a grid for my book. Across the top is the themes. Down the side is the essay titles. A check mark or note in the intersecting box tells me, for example, this essay contains themes of love and fear, this essay is all about choice, and so on. What I am doing is sorting the essays into the sections.

What I am creating is a treasure map. At one glance, I will be able to see a snapshot of my next draft. The map will help me organize the order and flow of the essays. Gaps will show up. Themes that require trimming will show up. I have a feeling it will aid me in other ways I have not yet considered.

This is a perfect tool for me. I need to see both the big picture and the details when I am creating, and my treasure map does exactly this. I may be creating more grids as I continue the outlining process, more treasure maps that show me the big picture of my book.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for sharing some of your writing process and inspiring me.

______________________

In this post:

J. K. Rowling https://www.jkrowling.com/