Writing To Heal

 

 

Write something you’d never show your mother or father

~ Lorrie Moore

 

This quote is at the beginning of my latest release, Broken Pieces. I share it because this particular quote had a huge impact on the writing of this, my third book, on me as an author, as well as a woman.

 

As a nonfiction writer of two previous and bestselling Amazon books on humor, I fully intended to write the third humor book, covering relationships and love in my normal satirical manner. And yet…when I sat down to write, what surfaced were stories from my childhood.

 

THE HARD STUFF

 

About the sexual abuse I suffered at age eleven. About the attempted date rape in college. About the abusive relationship I had with a man whom I loved with all my heart – whom I dumped eventually…who later killed himself. I poured out stories of love, loss, grief, abuse, and trust. Yet, I struggled mightily with which direction to take: write and share these deeply personal stories in the form of prose, poetry, and essays, or continue on with my ‘brand’ of nonfiction humor, essentially ignoring everything I had written.

 

Writing about the hard stuff is something many authors choose not to do in a nonfiction format – mostly because of fear of repercussion from family members, or even the person(s) who committed the crimes. Giving ourselves permission to address normally ‘taboo’ subjects isn’t easy. For me, I feel as if this book was inside me for years, waiting patiently for me to write it all down and share with others. 

 

PERMISSION

 

Give yourself permission to write the hard stuff. Don't self-edit. Get in that headspace and just go. You're a grown up. Write like it.

 

But it’s more than that. As writers, we must give ourselves permission to admit imperfection, to explore those thoughts most people avoid, to share our vulnerability. No, not explore – more study and analyze. That’s what writers do. Bad things happen to good people all the time. When it happens to us, it takes time – in some cases, a lifetime of time – to look back on our past with perspective and the courage to share. Because that courage can help others, not just us.

 

Many people who do allow themselves to write about their pain find healing and closure. Others, like myself, find that talking about it helps us connect to others who have suffered and survived. It’s who we become after these experiences that show us who we are.

 

A critical piece of putting together my ‘pieces,’ was to hire an editor (as I had with my previous two books). Part of showing our vulnerability is recognizing what we are good at and when we need help. My book is what it is because of our intense work together.

 

MARKETING

 

Some people still shy away from reading about difficult topics as much as writers avoid marketing them. However, sharing our true authentic selves connects us in ways even we could never imagine. Already a nonfiction writer, I purposefully changed the tone of my author blog to discuss these difficult real-life experiences. I also invited fellow author colleagues to write their stories as guests on my blog.

 

The reason for this is two-fold: to show readers another side of me while prepping them for my more serious release, and to give visibility and exposure to author colleagues who may not be able to write about such experiences on their own blogs.

 

The response has been amazing. One hundred forty-three reviews (at this moment) on Amazon, five award-wins, and a contract with a publishing company to create the print version. I’m now working on the follow up, Broken Places.

 

If I’ve learned anything from this experience (of writing, release, and marketing) is to encourage authors to trust their vision. Sometimes we have to get our head out of the way and listen to the stories that skim along next to us, waiting until we’re ready to reveal them. Writing these stories isn’t exploitative (a fear many authors have); it’s raw, it’s honest, but it’s our truth.

 

Own it.

 

Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She also owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. She lives in California with her family. Connect with Rachel on Twitter @RachelintheOC and @BadRedheadMedia

 

 

 

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Comment by Rachel Thompson on October 14, 2013 at 1:01pm

Thank you for reading and commenting, H. I'm honored to be featured here and further, to connect with amazing people like yourself. 

hugs, 

R

Comment by Rachel Thompson on September 29, 2013 at 6:10pm

Hi Pamela! Thank you for commenting and I appreciate your question ... where do you start? 

It's different for everyone, but for me, you're absolutely right -- it started with some journal entries I had written WAY back in my early 20s when I was with the man I had loved so dearly, yet from whom I ultimately broke it off due to the constant emotional rollercoaster and cheating. I'd had enough. 

When he reconnected on Facebook a few years ago (I write about all this in the book so I won't rehash it here), he was very apologetic and humble. Three months later, he killed himself. I was devastated and writing was my only outlet. 

From there, I created a 'soft' outline of topics I wanted to cover: love, loss, denial, grief, and that opened me up to discussing the sexual abuse when I was a girl. Something I had never done until that time. 

As for hurting family, I wrote it all down. Some of it I didn't publish (yet may still) but during the writing process, you have to take away any fears or self-editing and allow yourself to tell your story. We are adults. We don't need anyone's permission to write our story but our own. That's really hard for some people, easier for others. 

good luck and if I can help further, please reach out. I sent you a friend request! 

xx

Comment by Rachel Thompson on September 29, 2013 at 6:01pm

Hi Penney. Soooo sorry for what happened. I hope you've been able to somehow connect with other survivors -- whether online or in real life. Knowing you're not alone is so huge for us. 

As for writing the intro -- I waited until I was completely and utterly done writing the book. I kept it quite brief, mostly to explain why the book was set up in pieces of prose, poetry, and essays as opposed to a more linear, chronological structure -- people still have a hard time with the structure but I love that! It means they felt my discomfort and that's great. 

I also had a wonderful top reviewer friend volunteer to write the foreword -- he's quite well-respected and honestly, that beautiful gesture came out of nowhere. If you are comfortable sharing your work with someone who can critique it (maybe someone who already knows your story), that can help immensely also. 

Finally, hire an editor if you can. Mine is Jessica Swift (Swift Ink Editorial Services) and she's extraordinarily talented and empathetic. She had such a wonderful feel for my story. I couldn't be happier. 

Hope that helps a bit? The process is certainly different for all of us, and I wish you well. It's a difficult place to be, but think of the others who will benefit when you're done. 

Hugs! 

Comment by Pamela Faye Chambers on September 29, 2013 at 5:10pm

Rachel,

I am so glad that you had the courage to write this post because I and many other hurting women benefited. where do you start with a book like this? I am going through, but I do not want hurt family members like I am hurting! For now I may try writing in my journal. Thanks

Comment by Penney Knightly on September 29, 2013 at 4:21am

Rachel, 

I am so glad I found this post. I am recovering from severe childhood sexual abuse, and have been intensely for the last decade. I have been putting together a collection of my poems relating to the subject and have recently gotten stopped—writing the poetry from emotional intensity, and thinking in metaphor and symbolism is easy for me—but writing the introduction for the book released a flood of emotional numbing. I got to the part of the book writing process which required me to connect with what I'd written, and my heart sank. I have been sitting on my emotions for days, trying to wrap myself around what I am going to say. I have no idea as of yet what my words of choice will be, but I will construct them with strength knowing that other survivors such as yourself are willing to write to heal and heal others. Thank you for your courageous and open heart. ♥

Comment by Rachel Thompson on September 27, 2013 at 9:02pm

Dear Dawn, 

I can SO relate to that feeling. There were many, many years that went by where only my family and my husband knew. That's part of the insidious devastation -- carrying this heavy weight. I can't say how those around you will react, but for me it was freeing, it helped initiate conversations with my family (I picked their brains for their memories of that time), and nobody (so far) has been critical or questioned my book. 

I will say that memories can be, well, volatile as my good friend Steve says. I have flashes of what happened and blanks. This is not uncommon for adult survivors. Talking with a therapist helped me immensely, as has creating the private, secret Facebook group. 

If you're on FB and want to connect, let me know. 

hugs, Dawn. You've made it this far. You will keep going and do whatever is right for you. 

xx

Comment by Dawn Marie on September 26, 2013 at 8:45am

Just before I started typing in this comment box, I let out a deep breath, that I must've started holding in the minute I read your paragraph "the hard stuff".     There are many things that I've been apprehensive about putting out there, on my blog.  Now, reading this post from you, I realize that it might actually benefit ME and others if I do share those struggles & experiences.   I've told maybe 3 people about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, but I feel like I can do it now.. Or at least, really consider it.  I'm behind a screen, so if I cry, no one can see me.. and I can take my time.  So, really,  Thank you.

Comment by Rachel Thompson on September 25, 2013 at 12:33pm

Thanks for sharing, Anne. It can be VERY difficult to realize that the truth will affect others, and that's one of the many hurdles any nonfiction/memoir writer has to deal with. I understand fully. 

Giving yourself permission to write it at all is a huge first step. I didn't share Broken Pieces until the beta reading process -- with my family, I mean. I have a few writers I work closely with whom I share my work with and get critiques (and my editor, of course). Starting out showing it in dribs and drabs helped immensely in getting over that fear of repercussion. Maybe you could try that first. 

One of the biggest challenges any survivor has is to let go of the shame attached to what happened to us, and the fear that people will think we're exploiting our experiences for profit -- but I have to say, I haven't experienced that. People have so incredibly welcoming and positive, with the exception of a few low rated reader reviews LOL. 

Just keep pushing through it -- writing it. That's a huge achievement in and of itself. xx 

Comment by Anne Carmichael on September 25, 2013 at 6:10am

Hi Rachel.  Perfect timing.  Although I'm right in the midst of finding a publisher for a book that I contracted to write for the owners of a blind cat, there was a book for/about ME that was screaming to come OUT, so I did something I probably shouldn't have done ---begin writing another book before I finished marketing the last one. 

The first thing that 'bubbled up' when I sat down to write was the title -- "Finding Joy" -- again, something that I typically do AFTER I write a book or story. Finding Joy is a double entendre because I was named Joy by my birth parents (I'm adopted), but true joy is something that has eluded me most of my adult years. 

I've written 18 chapters so far and I made the comment to my daughter that this book, (if released at all), will have to wait to be publlished after all the people in it are dead.  There are many things that I've never told anyone about myself that I don't really want my children and grandchildren to know about me, but that if I'm ever to be 'free' to find true JOY, I must reconcile in my own mind.  I don't want to damage my image in the eyes of those who look up to me, but perhaps, if I relate the mistakes I've made in my life in the right way, they can learn from them and save themselves a bit of heart ache.

Thank you for your courage, Rachel and all the best with your next project.

Comment by Dana Alexander on September 24, 2013 at 9:42pm

Rachel,

Thank you for the courage to write this.  You aren't alone.  I share some very similar experiences mentioned above, some I will never mention.  But unlike the reviewer who had the poor sense to call your book "whining", I believe it's  the courage to write about it that connects, or reaches others.  It's those experiences that make us strong women, as I believe we are not victims but survivors.  It isn't so much the pain of the experiences that stick (even though they hide out in memory), but what we choose to do with them in our lives and how we grow (or in some cases give up) from them.  I chose a path of strength and compassion, a 'do no harm, create peace- but take no shit' philosophy.  IMO that reviewer is merely blind to what you are really providing; a connection for others and I suspect insight (as I've not read the book). That person is fortunate to not have experienced some of the atrocities some of us have. But they'll never know how difficult it is to pull yourself from any single experience, never mind several and become successful and strong as a result.  It's an accomplishment to feel good about.  And it does take courage to put it out for the world to see, and unfortunately judge your experience/pain as they will - often without any place to do so, because they lack compassion for another.  Good for you and more power to you!

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