Learning to Give My Words a Life of their Own
Written by
Alissa Johnson
December 2012
Written by
Alissa Johnson
December 2012

I’ve been working on a book proposal for the last few weeks. It’s for a memoir I wrote in grad school-–back when I intended to be a witty travel writer, and I wanted to write about anything but my own life.

At the time I struggled with everything–-my job, my home, my relationship. I didn’t fit into the life I’d created, but I was terrified to shake it up or hurt anyone else. I most definitely did not want to write about things I couldn’t say out loud yet.

But my writing had a mind of its own. When I tried to write witty travel pieces, all the frustration, unhappiness and change insisted on showing up on the page. It scared me to see it like that, so raw and vulnerable. When I graduated I tucked that manuscript into the proverbial drawer. Never mind that it had been approved with distinction or people I trusted thought it was publishable.

I left it hidden until a few months ago, when it started to develop a life of its own. People started coming into my life to nudge it along, to the point where I could no longer ignore it.

And you know what? It’s not scary like I thought it would be. When I read my book, I  see someone trying very hard to claim her life and find out what she wants–-to claim a sense of freedom she’s not sure she’s allowed to ask for. It makes me look around at the life I have now, at the mountains outside my window and my growing career and my new friends and family, and I want to tell her, “It’s all right here, I promise. Just keep going.”

Since I can’t change the past, I’m doing the next best thing. I’m paying attention to all the signs, and I’m sending that manuscript  into the world. I’m going to give it a proper chance at a life of its own. I’m no longer going to resist the things my book is trying to tell me.

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  • Avigail Halberg

    It sounds real honest and very readable. 

  • RYCJ Revising

    @Carol, you gave me the biggest laugh "I'm not finished with my life yet," but you know what? You are so right. Thanks for that laugh...

  • Carol Hogan

    One of the things I regret most about the memoir I am writing now, is that I didn't write and publish it sooner. Now that I'm forty years older, I'm having difficulty recapturing the deep feelings that went along with the experiences. When you write about things when they're happening, you are more present -- in the now. When people said to me "you should write a book," my answer was "I'm not finished with my life yet." I wish I'd realized that I should write about it, one part at a time. File this in the drawer marked advice to younger writers:} Aloha

  • CJ Johnson

    Thanks Alissa for sharing your message. Once again your words were shared on this site to remind others that may have been experincing a similar life shift. I too, know what it is like to start out on one writer journey (freelance copywriter) all to be surprised and blessed to re-discover another (poetry, fiction) all while being afraid to share this new area of my writing journey with others. As you stated, my fingers and mind just kept writing what was most real and meaningful to me in the meantime. I am now coming to terms with acknowleding and sharing this next stage in my writing life.

    Kudos Alissa for the inspiration and wonderful share :)

  • Alissa Johnson

    Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful comments. Not published yet, but seeking agents. If you have any good names or agencies, I'm certainly open!

  • RYCJ Revising

    Now this sounds interesting...often from where some of the best memoirs stem. I read memoirs...lots of them. I hope you keep me in mind when yours is published. Or, is it published?

  • Wendi Nitschmann

    Congrats on having the courage to finally put your story out there! I agree that it's scary to expose yourself through your writing, but I truly believe readers want to see those bits and pieces of you that make the story real for them.

  • Julie Luek

    You are inspiring to me. It takes courage to put yourself and your life out there for people, feel vulnerable, but maybe, in the process, to tell the story of living someone else is desperately needing to hear. Of course, I'll be first in line to buy it (and have you sign it). So glad to see you here; love this article and look forward to more. 

  • Ginny NiCarthy

    Your experience resonates. I started writing travel tales eons ago with the intention of  introducing readers to the people I met. I didn't want to include anything about me, me, me. Sounds absurd now. After oodles of readers and kindly critics had asked, "where are you?" I gradually let bits and pieces of my life creep in, and what do you know? It eventually turned into a book. An actual memoir. In other words about me. I've recently self-published it, and the title tells you straight away that it's about me: It's Seeing for Myself: A Political Traveler's Memoir.



  • Daphne Q

    Hi, Alissa:

         Good for you. Don't be afraid. Give that manuscript life!