Greetings She Writers,
While reading Deborah Siegal's post, I thought long and hard about the awful times I've had with this thing called writing. There were days when I simply could not write -- depression and mania days -- and others when I was too stressed or too wrapped up in family crises, young daughter's illnesses, husband's near death, family members murdered, fatal accidents, relatives wrongly accused and sent to prison. The list goes on and on. I come to creative writing after years of journalism, which started out as a foot toward authorship like Hemingway and other great male writers.
While writing a metro column and later a syndicated one, this undercover perfectionist had to beat myself by topping the last column written. I mean, I was cognizant of it -- so much so that I wrote in bed, in my sleep, in the shower. I never went anywhere that I wasn't writing or thinking about it. If I hadn't gotten married, I'd be dead now. He tried to monitor my work life, and nudge me into occasional recreationgently talk me into making the night work shorter. Hubby said, "You're the worst workaholic I've ever seen. I had to accept every speaking engagement proffered. I had to sit on every panel about social issues in our society, and I had to write about them even if I were sick. Of course, in my mind, the work suffered because it was never good enough for me. I wasn't good enough for me. I was socialized to believe I had to be perfect, socialized to be three times better than white males, and journalism editors thought perfection was required for a black woman, too. Once, an editor told me he wanted me to write a column so well he'd never have any questions or changes. I've accepted what I cannot change and have worked diligently in my writing life: painful, stressful, powerful, lonely, lovely, worthwhile. As Hemingway wrote: "For Whom the Bell Toll," it rings for my writerly days because not writing is hell. Write or Die.
How do I handle all of this stuff? I went back to school and got new skills, after which lay dormant while I struggled to live, fighting suicidal depression and its attendant misery. I read book after book and armful of writer magazines every month, and e-literary mags. I gobbled up anything about how to keep the writing going, how not to let stress or writer's block stymie me, how to write better than this or that. I bought poetry anthologies, novels, memoirs, short story collections -- none of which I had enough time to read. My dear, former editor checked with me often. He was my muse. "Are you writing anything. You need to get back to writing even if it's an hour a day. One day, I simply walked to the computer, turned it on, and wrote some poems. He encouraged me to send him some writings. Five years later I started the memoir, which took more out of me than I put into the writing.
I was afraid of tackling any major writing project because I knew I'd fail. That was so unlike the positive, confident person I was. No, never allow yourself to even ponder failure for a second. If those thoughts come, you must write over them, talk to a writing buddy, and let her or him call you when necessary. It's a give and take situation. My best friend who I've known for twenty years worked me up enough to start blogging. She'd speak to me in e-mails or phone conversations, pushing me so hard that I got angry with her. She never quit. And she wouldn't let me use depression as a factor because she suffers from it, too. The simple fact was that I was afraid because I was sure my memoir had flopped.
After sending out a hundred queries and/or sample packages, I panicked and quit when I kept getting the rejections. I felt surely it was too bad to publish. The story is different now: Some days I don't get out of bed because I cannot: physical debilitations. When that happens, I reach down beside my bed and pick up a book. Even if it takes me until 10 p.m. or midnight, I turn that computer on and write something or rewrite something. I don't like my writing life because struggle takes too much of my energy. But I tell myself this: As long as I write, I have not failed. And as long as I meet the writing challenge, I'm beating back depression and suicidal thinking.
When it gets really bad, I e-mail a friend in Minnesota or one in Florida. The Minnesota lady is frozen with fear, and she does not write at all. No matter what I tell her, she has a comeback to top my positive feedback. I'm the kind of person who thinks I should rescue her. As strange as it is, her saga helps me. My friend, a staunch supporter, in Florida has been urging me to write a book for twenty-five years. "I'm not getting any younger," she said. "I want to read that book before I die. You have so much to say, and you really need to help someone else." That lit me up like a Bic. Operative words: Help someone else.