I am not very kind to myself. I call myself lazy. I say I am a master procrastinator. The fact that I am in year five of my book draft must make these judgments true. The additional fact that I’ve done several projects during this time, so that I didn’t have to write, also makes this true.
Today I woke and realized these years of off-and-on writing and the projects-in-between were necessary. I had to get myself to the point where I could let go of the story.
I had to break my heart open.
In all the time I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never talked much of my book draft, other than I was doing it or not doing it. I’ve never talked about the content because that wasn’t what my blog was for. My blog has always been for the sake of writing, not for the sake of story.
I am changing that today.
For thirty-four years I had an overtaking illness, fibromyalgia, that shrunk my life and finally, fully cut away my ability to make art.
I was always a good girl. I did everything the doctors told me. I took all the medications. I cared for my body. I adjusted my life, managed, made changes, made excuses.
None of it mattered. The disease slowly stole away the core of me, my truest self—artist.
The week I understood I had finally completely lost my art was the breaking point. The book begins here, and the story traces the healing path I created.
I know this story intimately. I lived it. I was sure that five years of writing was too long and wrong. I called myself lazy and procrastinator, and it felt appropriate.
What I had not taken into account, when I began writing the book, was how numb I had been for all the years of illness. I was living through loss repeated over and over. I was living through pain and grief, and I had to numb myself to my emotions. Numb was survival. The only place I allowed my emotions was in my art, where I had control over what I expressed.
Numb is an emotion.
But, telling a story where numb is the primary emotion doesn’t work. The reader needs something more to connect into and feel.
My first draft was all numb. The facts were there. It had a story line, but the emotional connection was ice. I was skating on the surface of everything I described, and I knew it.
I stopped writing and spent time working on my emotions and my beliefs about myself.
My second draft was better. I was able to move into fear and love, how they felt, and how love melted away fear.
Better, but still not deep enough.
Then I did two things, perhaps accident, perhaps instinct, and experienced yet another that broke me through the numbness and let the story go.
I wrote a parallel draft during Nanowrimo 2017. I wrote all around the edges of the story, every other part of my life, and the lives of my family and friends, during the period the primary story took place.
Because I believed the parallel draft was not the story, I felt free to write whatever showed up. Because I’d given myself permission to accept whatever showed up, emotions started breaking through and I recognized them.
Loss, grief, rage, desperation, depression. Everything I’d buried beneath numb showed up, demanding to be acknowledged and written.
So I did. I felt the feelings and wrote the words. Painful, tearful, cathartic, necessary. For my eyes and heart only, and those of a few very trusted friends. I made it through the parallel draft.
While I was preparing to begin draft three, I discovered Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius. I put the draft on hold and instead began writing the back story, following Lisa’s process.
While I wrote back story and grieved the losses imposed on me by this now-healed illness, both my Dad and my cousin died, and my Mom fell hard and deep into Alzheimer’s.
So many griefs. They smashed the few defenses I had left.
I was naked and lost.
I kept writing.
There is something to be said for having my heart blasted open.
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy both. There is no numbing a blast site this big.
And somehow, for some reason, I no longer wish to.
The emotions running in me have freed my heart and my story. I can let the story go, and trust the writing. I can trust the words to carry what I feel and have felt.
I have a broken heart. And I survive.
In this post:
Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2016. http://wiredforstory.com/