Wednesday, November 9, 2011


"You're a writer - you need to write".

That statement just won't go away.

Six or seven years ago a co-worker and I developed and facilitated a program helping people with psychiatric disorders develop the necessary tools to write and present their personal journey stories. We practiced writing skills, public speaking skills and how to conduct a successful media interview. We were about 6 weeks into the program when the participants insisted that my co-worker and I also write and present our stories. The presentation was to be no more than 5 minutes long.

Up to that point I had shared bits and pieces of my personal story several hundred times. I had lost count. I told it many different ways, in time spans ranging from a very few minutes to more than twenty minutes. I had been strongly urged to prepare a "canned" presentation, one that could be used over and over again, by a person who had oversight of my work. I chose to ignore that directive. Instead I presented my story in ways that addressed my audiences' self-identified needs and was centered on the key message I wanted to deliver. I don't know how many 'personal story' documents I had saved on my computer. Some were just a story providing specific information. Others were designed to address current mental health issues and more than a few were intended to challenge systemic and political issues.

With the challenge from the program participants I now had to make a choice. What should I write? I wanted to write something fresh, different from what I had ever done before. I wanted it to present information, deliver a targeted message, and illustrate an approach to writing and speaking that would enhance the participants' learning and encourage them to go deeper into their own stories.

I surprised myself. I wrote a piece that was worlds apart from my previous writing. It stirred ideas for further writing within me. The potential of a book began to slowly emerge. After several months I had a working title, an introduction and 3 chapters completed along with very skimpy notes for at least another 6 chapters. Each chapter was a short story that could stand on its own, but was still connected to the other chapters.

I shared what I had written with a few friends and got very positive and excited responses. Everyone stressed that I should continue with an eye on publishing this book.

The idea of writing for publication is exciting, daunting, a little overwhelming, and risky. I was unsure of publishing, especially because I'm uncomfortable with exposing myself to my siblings and extended family. The stories contain details that are intense, sometimes ugly, and have the potential of hurting or offending some people. That's a risk I'm very reluctant to take. Too many people have already been hurt on the chaotic road that my life has taken. I don't want my words to be the cause of more needless pain. I became adamant that this book would remain hidden as long as my mother is alive. Consequently, it has remained largely unwritten.

I spoke to a friend about my dilemma about a year ago. She suggested I fictionalize the story.

I like the suggestion, but I don't have a clue how to go about doing that. I don't want to end up writing some pointless brain candy. How do I proceed? Should I do some research? Read some 'how to' books? Examine what sells and what doesn't? Should I just wing it like I usually do?

Why would I write the book? What purpose, what goal? Do I want to educate the reader? What do I want them to learn? Do I want to entertain? Intrigue the reader? Stimulate discussion? Lobby for change? Address stigma? I know I don't want to write another pitiful "Look at the miserable life I've had and feel sorry for me" book. I don't want to write tabloid sensationalism!

My book file has sat unopened on my hard drive for more than 5 years.

That changed when I agreed to share a bit of my story a week ago. I looked through what I had written and pasted just a few sentences into my new version. As I set the original document aside I began contemplating the question, "What do I do with this book?". It seems like such a long time ago since I put those words to virtual paper. Circumstances have changed. My perspective has changed. I'm older, hopefully a little wiser. Cynicism has crept into my outlook on some issues and the related politics. Pessimism and resignation linger on the periphery of my mind. If I proceed with this project, I will need to review and scrap a significant part of the work already done. I dumped all the files containing my many different story versions a couple of years ago. I kept no copies of any of the work I had done since 1998. I felt the need to make a complete break from those years, hence the deletions. If I proceed with the book I'll be writing only from my current perspective and understanding. That's probably a good thing.

Should I proceed? I must admit that as I sit here, writing these words, I can feel the desire to pick this project up again. The questions and ideas are whirling around in my head.

How do I proceed? Should I take a more structured approach to writing? Develop a plan? An outline?  The only time I did that was for a university paper. I got an A+.  Hmmm.

My writing is mostly by the seat of my pants. I go where my head and heart take me. Will a structured, deliberate approach cramp my creativity? Will a structured, deliberate approach help me find balance? Will it improve my productivity? Can I harness my creativity in this fashion? Should I schedule a designated time every day for writing? I should probably talk this through with someone.

It seems the pilot light of my passion has been reignited.

A little scary; a little exciting.

I have some choices to make!

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