Any writer is a reader first, and I’ve always been an avid reader. However, when it comes to which books I read, like most things with the monster there are two parts of my life: before relapse and after relapse. Having RRMS, I’ve obviously had many relapses. I’m talking about the life-changing, brain-frying relapse that hit me in December 2015, before I had a diagnosis. That story is here. I’ll call that relapse Ralph.
Before Ralph, I was voraciously devouring the classics and literary fiction that make up my husband’s extensive book collection. He once dared me to read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, a wee book of 1536 pages entirely written in letter format. Epistolary is the technical word, apparently. Sounds like a virtual urinal 😜. Clarissa ended up being one of my favourite books of all time. Don Quixote by Cervantes is another that seemed daunting but I loved so much I will make myself read it again one day.
Despite having a degree in French Language and Literature, I always hated writing and avoided university courses that had an essay component as much as possible. Give me a factual test any day, don’t ask me to articulate my thoughts in writing. I was wracked with paralyzing self-doubt that I could ever adequately express the thoughts bouncing around my skull. Or that the thoughts were even worth expressing.
When I was on maternity leave with our third child in 2010, I started my Masters and one of the first courses was statistics. I hear the collective groan, but I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Writing the initial essay was the first time my thoughts stopped bouncing and ordered themselves into words, then paragraphs, then into the very first A+ in my life. More importantly, the professor complimented me on how clearly and succinctly I had reasoned my arguments. Amazing what a difference a few words, and twenty years of experience, can make in a person’s self-perception.
Fast-forward to 2015. I hadn’t yet met Ralph, but I had been relapsing every six months consistently for five years, luckily always bouncing back completely. One of my favourite memories of my career is lunchtime in the staff room with certain colleagues. You know, the ones who speak their minds and the subject matter sometimes gets a bit bawdy but is always hilarious? Many lunch hours sharing stories and loud laughter with people I still consider dear friends, even if we hardly see each other.
Anyway, I shared some (not all, I was a grade one teacher, for Pete’s sake) of the more adventurous, sordid tales of my adolescence in the 80s, as well as the story of how I met my husband, which was also in the 80s as it happens. I had several people tell me, sometimes after staring at me wondering how I’m still alive, or with hearts in their eyes as I recounted my personal love story, that it sounded like a movie or I should write a book. I thought little of it, until that summer when… wait for it… I had a dream.
Sounds stupid, I know. The first time I dreamed the title and the first line, I woke up and thought, weird, and moved on. Then I had the exact same dream the very next night. Always a believer in signs, I opened up a blank document and typed that first line. For the next six weeks, the story wrote itself, around 80,00 words, my imagination filling in the many places my memory couldn’t locate. It was an unreal, life-changing experience.
That project sat on my iPad until the following September, when the residual effects of Ralph’s visit forced me to face the fact that I could no longer teach. Reading has always been a loyal companion but I found that not only did the cog fog make reading really difficult, even holding a physical book took too much energy. Thank goodness for digital books and Bookbub!
All my brain could handle at that point were romance novels, and I had to face my own snobbery to the whole genre that had me, with the exception of a brief Danielle Steel phase when I was 18, too embarrassed to even go to that section in the library. There is a reason that romance represents such a large proportion of all books sold. People, okay mostly women, love a love story. For obvious reasons.
Spending so much time reading, I started noticing the formulaic nature of a lot of the books, not to mention some atrocious quality issues and that lead me to beta reading. I joined some groups on FB, read some interesting manuscripts, and finally felt brave enough to share parts of my manuscript with a few people, including one full exchange. I valued the feedback and wrote several more drafts but I really suck at rewriting. “Killing my darlings”? Yeah, I suck.
What sucked even more, was that even though I was proud of having written it, when I asked myself “What is this book actually about?” You know, that rather important question you should ask yourself BEFORE you write 80,000 words? I had no idea, really, and ‘it’s the story of how I met my husband’ is just, well, blah. While I will always love reading that story, and maybe someday I will rework it so it actually follows proper novel structure, for now it hibernates.
I’ve started a few other projects since then, but I usually get to chapter 7 or 8 and it fizzles out, or my brain decides to start a different story. My latest project has made it to chapter 11 because I finally decided to try outlining, and found some awesome books and resources from C.S. Lakin at Live, Write, Thrive. Thanks, Suzanne!
The other tip I have been making myself stick to is to Just. Keep. Writing. I’m a terrible perfectionist and will reread the same chapter 16 times, trying to fix it but unsure how. So, I’m not letting myself look back more than a few paragraphs each day until I finish the first draft. To keep up the forward momentum I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time starting July 1st, with a word goal of 30,000. It is really helpful to have a virtual writing group that is all working towards a similar goal. So far, I have written over 9,300 words and am enjoying getting into a more regular writing routine.
Launching this blog last month was a huge step in getting over the phobia of sharing my writing. I started this way back in November 2016, but didn’t have the nerve to actually share it until June 2018. Imagine my surprise when I finally launched and the Bad Writing Police didn’t show up at my door to confiscate my iPad. People were more supportive and encouraging than I could have imagined. Not to mention that I picked up almost 100 followers from that first post! Mind. Blown. I thought I would be tapping away and sharing in solitude, happy if even one person from my personal life bothered to read my ramblings. And frankly, even if nobody followed I would keep going. That’s a lie. Knowing my words might have meaning to even just one other person is huge.
In light of my commitment to myself to #facethefear, in September I’m going to a writing retreat with Janelle Hanchett from Renegade Mothering. * I am equal parts excited and terrified. Sharing my writing with people face to face? Ack! But I think this will be a great first experience because I’ve been following Janelle’s blog for years, and she’s my kind of person. Not sappy but warm, brutally honest and profoundly caring. And she has a potty mouth too. 😬 I’ll let you know how that goes, it should be a great adventure.
Any other writers out there? I’d love to hear your stories. If you have a phobia about writing, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Whether you choose to make up stories or write down some of your own, there is something magical that happens when you silence that inner critic and let your words flow; it allows you access to a part of yourself that perhaps has been hiding for too long. You don’t have to share it, just write it. You may surprise yourself.
Wow, this was a long post. Thanks so much if you stuck with me to the end!
Have a great week everyone!
*Janelle just published her first book, which I highly recommend, though not for the faint-hearted, or judgemental, or self-righteous: I’m Just Happy To Be Here. For my fellow Canucks, sorry but technical issues won’t let me paste the link. Grrrr…
Also, I’m not trying to suck up, I swear 🤓, I just think it’s important to support people, especially those who help me by sharing their vulnerable, intelligent selves with the rest of the world.
** Another book series I recommend for romance, vicarious travelling and delicious food descriptions, is Laura Bradbury‘s ‘Grape’ series. Laura understands the Spoonie life better than anybody. She had a liver transplant last year for a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease, and is making the most of her new lease on life. She recently released My Grape Paris (?? Here the 🇨🇦 link works but the .com doesn’t? 🤯) which brought me right back to the six months I lived in Paris around the same time. They have villas to rent in France, too!