Throughout my life, I’ve stopped writing for months at a time. Sometimes I didn’t write a single word for years. I quit writing in my journals because I found my daily happenings to be nauseating. I was always depressed that so-and-so didn’t like me, that what-his-name failed to call me back, that work was an awful rat race and that I continued to binge and purge.
I found the self-written pep talks at the end of each diary entry tiresome and embarrassing. You are strong! You can get through this! Tomorrow is a new day! The world is at your fingertips, literally. Go after it! I unconsciously decided if I wasn’t working on the book then I shouldn’t be writing. Period. My journal efforts ceased to exist. I stopped documenting my daily life towards the end of my twenties. Years of recording my personal experiences were lost forever. My stubbornness sabotaged my passions.
During my inconsistent writing years, I’ve also undergone sporadic wild streaks of writing frenzies. I’ve stayed up until dawn punching words into my monitor and I’ve closed down coffee shops long after my oversized mug had been emptied. I could amaze myself. Wow! Where did that come from? What a rush! Can I do it again? Should I tell anyone?
In my animated states of excitement I would let people in on my moments of glory. I confided in them that I was, “on a roll with my writing!”
I’d dream out loud to them and say things like, “Maybe I can really do this” or “I’m going to make it happen”.
I’d chat about the possibilities of this time making it work, this time I’d follow through. Everyone responded enthusiastically and I felt charged. I started to believe that anything was possible! I fantasized about quitting my day jobs and writing full time. I let myself imagine jam-packed speaking tours and book signings. I could see my name in lights!
Then it happened. The big, ugly, devastating Nothing.
I crawled back into my doubts and fears. They were familiar and safe. What are you thinking? You’ll never finish what you started. It usually happened when the innocent follow-up question appeared, “So, how’s the book coming along?” Maybe this question is why I started to shy away from sharing too much. I had to fess up and tell them that I had once again left my writing on the back burner, that once more work was crazy-busy.
I could feel all kinds of nasty shame build up inside of my chest. I assumed the tone in their voice was tinged with disappointment and the look in their eyes was despondent. I thought they were secretly glad that I had failed at achieving my dream. Aren’t we all quietly crushed by a hint of envy when our friends become successful? I had set myself to play the fool. The truth was that my biggest cheerleaders were simply saddened to see me give up on myself. Again.
I couldn’t handle that feeling anymore so I began to write. I wanted to see where it went, how far I could go, and if I was truly meant to be a writer. I started the journey by spending a month reading, highlighting, and ripping out magazine pages from Writer’s Digest Magazine. I had over 2 years of these unread magazines stacked under my coffee table. I felt like I was studying for school. I organized the magazine pages in labeled manila folders. I wrote folder titles like: Platform Ideas, Conferences, Blog Ideas, Potential Agents, Editors, and Publishing Houses.
Then I organized years of journal entries by reading them and tagging them with neon sticky notes, highlighting my bulimic admissions. I placed handwritten, messy notes into categories that made the most sense. I posted these notes on 2 bulletin boards. They were labeled with key words like: Childhood Memories, Recovery Thoughts, Bulimic Thoughts, Friends, Family, and Relationships. Next I got to work. I took a box of random notes that I had written and collected over the years and poured its contents on my desk. I had written on beer-stained coasters, cocktail napkins, post-its, ripped pages from spiral notebooks, and wrapping paper. I organized them into categories and deciphered how I could build chapters out of my chicken scratch.
I sat at my computer and started typing. That moment was profound but my words didn’t rise to the occasion. I kept going anyway. I had read over and over in the Writer Digest magazines that all writers needed to write their first sh!tty draft. The articles had prepped me to know that I would feel inadequate, stuck and ready to use any excuse to walk away from my chair. I felt reassured when all of these things happened to me because I knew it was normal. I was normal.
The more often I wrote, the more invigorated I’d feel about the project. Everyday I’d check in with my husband and let him know snippets of my progress, “Honey, today I wrote for 8 hours! I only took a break to eat lunch” or “I found out where that chapter on Fat Kid Shame is headed. I didn’t know what to do with it until a few moments ago!” Every now and then one of my sentences would come alive with exquisite eloquence. I would turn down my music and say the words out loud, over and over again until I felt like they were perfect. I was moved. I live for creating those kinds of sentences, the kind that give me shivers.
There were moments where I wept when I wrote. I’m not talking about a trickle of tears. I’m talking about shut-the-office-door and let it all out kind of sobbing. I was working on the chapter about losing my Papaw when it first happened. I had experienced a terrifying and life-changing moment while I sat on his deathbed. On that morning, I had cried out desperate words over and over again until I had to be consoled by my parents. My words had confused my parents and myself. I had never fully understood their meaning until I worked through that memory on paper. That’s the gift and beauty of writing.
I’ve learned a multitude of lessons along the way. These examples are what I talk about when I’m asked about the book. I explain my methods and what I’m currently writing. I never knew I would be having conversations about my process. I didn’t know I could have ongoing discussions about the book’s progression. For a long time, I couldn’t see beyond my guilt and shame for not writing the damn thing in the first place. I believe in myself now. I never knew I would say it but I believe in my work.
I’ve learned a multitude of lessons along the way. These examples are what I talk about when I’m asked about the book. I explain my methods and what I’m currently writing. I never knew I would be having conversations about my process. I didn’t know I could have ongoing discussions about the book’s progression. For a long time, I couldn’t see beyond my guilt and shame for not writing the damn thing in the first place. I believe in myself now. I never knew I would say it, but I believe in my work.