I love to tell stories. People either love to listen to me tell how something went down or they worry they don’t have enough time to hear all I have to say. I can’t get to the point without giving the full background leading up to the story’s climax, the reason for telling the story in the first place.
I may be a storyteller, but I have never considered myself a writer.
What IS a Writer?
In my mind, a writer is someone who has taken courses to develop her skill. Writers are highly disciplined and work in a dedicated space over a prescribed quantity of time. In other words, my vision is someone sitting at a desk in a quiet home office for an hour or more every day writing something, anything … she just writes. The sun might be beaming through a big picture window with the melody of birds singing nearby, or a driving rain is sounding a drumbeat outside. Maybe it’s the noise of a busy city that is the background for thought, or perhaps the roar of the nearby ocean soothes the soul.
Whatever the location, the environment evokes a sense of peace and purpose for the writer.
Some days the writing is cohesive, and it all makes sense as a part of a larger project. The writer’s allotted time passes so quickly that she comes up for air only to discover that the coffee has gone cold and the clock says it’s past lunchtime. Other days, the writer doesn’t have a specific project to complete, but believes so strongly in the value of the written word she is disciplined enough to sit at her desk and jot down thoughts, confident that someday these random musings will be useful for later projects.
That's NOT How I Write
That’s not me. My formal education taught me how to write a good position paper and that’s about it. I only like to write when I have a specific story to tell, or a life event I want to record. Once upon a time, I tried dedicating a space in my home for writing and the desk sat gathering dust. I detest having to sit down and write when I don’t feel like it. Especially if I don’t have anything to say.
Either I‘m not disciplined enough to be a writer, or it’s time to redefine what a writer is.
Writing My New Book
I did write a book.
Writing my new book, The Picture Wall, happened while sitting in a multitude of environments. Mostly on quiet Saturday afternoons when I had the house to myself, the fireplace blazing, a cup of coffee next to me, curled up on the couch with my laptop. I would sit down with an idea for what I wanted to say, a particular story that I had been mulling in my head for a few days, and write until I was done. Other times I wrote chapters from my RV while it was parked at a local camping club, or from a rented cabin by the water, my backyard patio, or by the swimming pool. I even wrote some parts of the manuscript from a hospital room. Where I wrote was far less important than my need for solitude and space to think without interruption.
I’m working hard on learning to think of myself as a writer. Not only are my methods and locations far different from my idyllic writer’s world, the book sometimes seemed to write itself without me. Let me explain.
My Intent for The Picture Wall
My original intent for The Picture Wall was to provide empathy and community for parents of young adults who have come out as transgender. I had spent the previous year processing grief, loss, fear, anxiety, joy, self-reflection, questioning, and revelation of the power of unconditional love after our young adult son told us that he was going to transition to being a woman. The experience was terrifying and isolating. I wanted to shine light on the pain and celebration parents go through, easing their path, knowing they are not alone in their reaction.
I started by typing a heading on separate documents, each labeled an emotion I passed through during my child’s transition. I wrote gut-wrenching essays for each topic. That finished, I had covered everything I set out to do, but I just couldn’t see how this sheaf of papers would be a book.
Out Comes the Sun
Enter my editor, Boni Wagner Stafford of Ingenium Books, who read my work, listened to me, asked pointed questions and finally revealed that my story was bigger than just that year of transition. She encouraged me to reflect on the entire experience of being a mom and how everything that led to the moment, when my son announced that he would become my daughter, was all part of a much larger story.
It was like the sun came out on a cloudy day. The epiphany was so visceral it was like waking up after a deep sleep. It all made sense!
“I get it! I can see a book! This is fantastic!” Time stood still as Boni and I quickly collaborated on a tentative outline and a visible story arc emerged.
I'm a Writer After All
I set to work on transforming our outline into a compelling memoir of my life as the mother of a child who is autistic, transgender, and mentally ill. The stories I had to share jumped onto the page and they complemented the earlier pieces into which I had poured out my soul. Chapters emerged. My emotional essays morphed into a memoir. I had produced a manuscript.
Amazingly, there is a now a published book in this world, The Picture Wall, that records one of the most significant aspects of my life.
I'm no longer writing my new book. I have written the book.
People are buying and reading my book.
It seems that I’m a writer after all.