The neighbors were having a party, and invited us over. I hadn’t really spoken much past “Nice weather” with these ladies, and it was very pleasant to get to know them better.
To my delight, one of them was and English teacher. I immediately began to talk about authors. She confessed that she was writing a series of books.
A fellow author! I told her about my books. And how the latest took me 12 years to write.
People often ask me how I managed to keep writing over that long time. And if I ever had writer’s block.
Writer’s block seems like a pretty malady. That I might sit down at my keyboard and just not be able to think of anything to write down. That my imagination would be dried up.
Hands poised about my keys, I would freeze, then sigh. I’d get up and take a walk, because my mind would be just empty.
During those 12 years, my mind was never blank. There was a long period when I did not write on my book, but it was not because I had nothing to say.
I had a circumstance at work, with a set of people who were banding together to bully me and coerce me into doing what they pleased.
It has started as a dull roar, but escalated to an all-consuming struggle. I fell into a pit of spinning mental anguish; trying to figure out what I had done wrong, then turning to affirm my innocence, then back to self-recrimination.
It lasted for years. Then an old friend asked to get the gang together–a group of us used to get together and encourage each other’s writing.
I sat around the coffee table and talked with these old friends. I thought, “These people don’t know that I’m not the person they used to know. They still think I am an acceptable human being.”
As I drove home it hit me: I wonder if I could be the person they think I am. What is the path back to that? Perhaps it’s still in reach.
I took a look at what had been keeping me from writing. I recognized that I’d been having conversations in my head with people who weren’t there. And these compelling dialogues–that were never going to happen! –crowded out all creative thought.
I had to stop it cold turkey. No more conversations with people that weren’t there, no more. I would take that impulse, and every time I started to go down that road I would turn it into writing my book.
How could I possibly create beautiful writing when my mind was so twisted?
I couldn’t. But I could sketch basic plot points. I was alone most of the time, so I would record myself creating the story; “This is the part where I realize that Masha will not be there as long as I thought. We were going to her garden, and it was really hot and I had nothing to wear.”
I knew it wasn’t the final draft, but it was what I wanted to use my brain for. Not the miserable vortex I had been living in. I would record the voice memos and put them in the book draft. I could see where there were gaps, and I could do the next voice memo when I was alone.
Having a replacement for the toxic imaginary conversations pulled me back into the person I wanted to be.
It saved me, to have a story I had to tell. A story that was more true than anything that was happening around me, and way more true than the deceptions people were pushing on me.
I suspect every author has their story of how a book struggled to be. People could think that I didn’t give up on my book. I know that my book didn’t give up on me.