Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing From Your Heart

When faced with every new writing project, I pray that the words will flow cleanly and that when they reach their final destination and pool in the reservoir of a completed work, the reader will take the time to plunge in.

With my memoir, Through the Tunnel of Love, a Mother's and Daughter's Journey with Anorexia, the initial paragraph, which became part of the prologue, came to me unexpectedly: “Nicole had lost her will to live; she was dying. Our beautiful fifteen year old daughter was killing herself slowly with each passing day. I knew it was calculated and I was unable to change the course of our lives. For the past year our family had been living in a nightmare and I wanted to wake up – NOW.”

The power of our story overwhelmed me at first, but I had to get it down. I wrote a great deal of it in long hand and then transcribed to the computer, editing as I went along.  Tunnel was written over a period of six years. As memories flooded back, some so agonizing that I wrote with tears streaming down my face, I knew I had to finish it; I had to see it through. Parts of the book were derived from my journals and several chapters came directly from my short stories. The bulk of it came from my heart.

The more I wrote, the faster the memories surfaced, especially the painful ones; the ones I thought had been long buried and forgotten. Over the course of the first year, I realized that my raw wounds needed to rise to the surface, in order to begin the healing process. Then I prayed that upon completion of the book, my family could also benefit from my labor of love.

In 2004 I entered the opening chapters of the first draft of Through the Tunnel of Love in Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s literary contest in the memoir category. It was the first writing contest I had entered and to my surprise, I was named a finalist. I attended the July conference with a fluttering heart and stomach. That honor offered me contacts and the necessary confidence to edit, revise, and complete my memoir. The following six years brought me three more honors from PNWA’s literary contest in the memoir category. Eventually two of my winning short stories were included in Through the Tunnel of Love.

I had asked for and was given permission by our daughter to tell our story because I believed that it was an important topic and that our experience could help others in similar circumstances. I wanted them to know what had worked for us and what didn’t, and hoped our story would help them, and above all, to realize they were not alone.

I pitched my book and sent queries to the well-known publishing houses and literary agents; but as encouraging as they were, they said my memoir just didn't fit their criteria at that time. My folder filled with rejection letters, but I was not deterred. In the fall of 2010, I participated as a panelist and a reader in Rivers of Ink writer's workshop in Richland, WA. Through this venue, I was encouraged by panelists and audience members to publish my work. I listened, decided it was time, and looked for a small local press. Over the next three months the editor and I worked together. By January, Through the Tunnel of Love was launched on its journey and was published in April of 2011.

To this day, my daughter has read only the prologue. For Nicole, the reality of her illness at that critical stage was more than she could process. She said she wasn’t ready to relive it and confessed that the worst years, 1997 to 1999, were completely lost to her. Even though Nicole has not read her story, our story, she is my strongest proponent and cheerleader. She realizes how much we loved her and that we didn’t give up, not for a minute.

I have learned many lessons from writing Through the Tunnel of Love. The most valuable ones are: listen to your heart, follow your dream, and if it is to write, then do it. Don’t wait and don’t listen to your twisted muse when it says it can’t be done, or you‘ll never finish, or no one wants to read your book.

Nicole almost died listening to her twisted muse, the VOICE inside her head that told her she was fat; told her she was worthless, and told her she deserved to die. So as a writer, surround yourself with loving, supportive people who believe in you. If you belong to a critique group, think carefully before you employ all of their advice. Sift through their criticism, their ideas, and keep what you believe in, what comes from your heart. Remember this is your story, not theirs.

Anorexia Nervosa remained a part of our lives for eight years. It is an insidious disease and it nearly took our daughter's life. I think that’s why I write primarily memoir. It’s a way of sharing what’s close to my heart: memoires, experiences, and lessons learned. I believe this is a valuable thing to do, especially when others, including yourself, are helped in the process.

1 comment:

Felix said...

Follow your heart and you won’t lose your way. We should keep our focus on improving our craft, since this can help us achieve our goals in time. Always exert effort, time, and patience to learn. There are always new things to discover and learn, so we shouldn’t stop and be content with what we already know. I hope you continue joining contests, Donelle!

-Felix Stendahl