Friday, October 8, 2010

Heart In Hand

I want to take the opportunity to publicly thank Sharon, Katy and all the fabulous authors and presenters who made the writers conference a success! I especially want to thank the writers in attendance who invested their time and money in a day's training, which for some I'm sure was like sticking their toes in the water, not sure if they would sink or swim in the writing pool.

For about a month before the conference, I'd stood in the foyer on Sundays at a sign-up table at my church (where the conference was held), and I noticed something. Some people approached the table with outright curiosity. These were people who were actively writing or had always felt the urge to write. They wandered away perusing the brochure, promising to register. Others passed by, checked out the brochure and replaced it, saying they had writer friends they would send our way. Then, there were the lurkers. Drive-bys. People who walked past without making eye contact, glancing down at my sign and continuing on several times during the morning. They stood across the room checking out my table from the side of their eyes. If they gathered the courage to stop and actually speak to me, without exception they had a story to tell. A hurt, a wound that they yearned to share, wisdom gleaned from their experiences or just felt the need to vent. Some hurts were physical, obvious, but others were deeply hidden.

What is it that compels us to share our experiences but at the same time struggle against it? I think the biggest factor is fear. We are afraid to put the words on paper because others may not give validation to our hurts and traumas. We must relive painful memories in order to write about them. We feel a stigma attached to the experience as the victim. We wonder what other people will think of us, or possibly those we expose. And although writing it all down may be cathartic, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will sell.

Here are a few things to consider:
1. Your experience may not be enough for a book treatment. Consider writing a personal experience piece for an edition of Chicken Soup or a magazine (even online) for example. It could reach many more people that way and can be a great way to break into print.
2. The hard truth is that publishers don't generally buy memoirs unless the person is a celebrity or the writer has a unique voice. If you feel strongly that it should be in book form, then make your story segue into the bigger issue. For example, a person who was molested as a child may write a book about child abuse and include their experiences.
3. If you are writing about an issue, you may need credentials as an authority (degree in psychology, etc.) or a co-writer who fills the bill in order to be taken seriously.
4. Disguise the facts in order to protect the privacy of others, including your family. Putting your experiences on paper is about sharing truths learned, not about getting revenge. A good publisher can tell the difference.
5. By all means, journal while you are in the thick of the experience and moving through it. But step back from the issue for a period of time before attempting to share it with others to develop a broader perspective.
6. Use your experience as background for a fictional character or story premise. Some readers find it easier to read about fictional characters enduring these hardships than real people. But be prepared to suggest a happier resolution than you possibly found to be true.

Does the need to share an experience resonate with you? We'd love to hear from you!


Wendy Paine Miller said...

When I look back on it I realize how much my first novel was telling splashes of my own story. I changed numerous things up in it, but still the overriding difficulties I've faced glared at me from the pages.

It will likely never be published and that's A okay with me. I've hopefully improved a great deal since and I found it cathartic and peaceful writing it.

Great points in this post.
~ Wendy

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Wendy. I agree that getting things down on paper out in front of you can bring peace. I have a 'first novel' like yours in a drawer and it reflects what I was going through at the time.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I entered a "Christmas Memories" contest in our local newspaper. I wrote, years after the fact, of the first Christmas my brand new husband and I shared, where he surprised me by driving us three hours, in the snow, to my grandparents' house so we could spend Christmas day with my family. As it happened, it was my brother's last Christmas. I can't tell you how glad I was to have spent it with him and the rest of our family. It was difficult to enter the contest (I didn't even tell Rick I did it). But then, on Christmas Eve, there was my story, 2nd place winner in the contest. I'm glad I stepped out, even though I did so with fear and trepidation!

Catherine West said...

Yes. One of my novels is loosely based on my own search and discovery of my birthmother and the sister I never knew I had. Whether or not the book ever gets published, I know I needed to write it. It was an extremely cathartic experience and I don't regret choosing that topic for a novel. One day I pray it will bless someone as much as the journey our Gracious God took me on has blessed me.

Mary said...

In 2003 I had a terrible car accident that left me with PTSD and
a neck injury that required surgery.
The experience shook my faith and has changed me in a countless number of ways. Although it's been 7 years, I still find myself fighting the urge to withdraw from friends, church and life.
I just recently learned of the Nor Cal writer's conference and have signed up for future notices. Maybe by next fall I'll be ready to sort these events out on paper.

Megan Sayer said...

Oh Debbie, this post has sent me through the whole range of possible human emotion! I feel like the kid in the back of the class who's been caught out..."would anybody like to...MEGAN SAYER, WHAT are you writing?"
Me (sheepishly): It''s a memoir, Mrs Fuller-Thomas.
Mrs F-T: A memoir? Surely you remember that this is a fiction class?
Me (with head even lower): I wasn't lying, Mrs Fuller-Thomas, I just...just wasn't telling the...whole truth about my writing.
Mrs F-T: Surely you know in this day and age just how impossible it is to get anyone to look at a memoir? You're not famous, or even remotely well-known. Why? What on earth possessed you to even BEGIN to think such a thing is possible?
Me (lifting head and standing taller now): Because God led me to it. I know that it's hard (sniff). I face those stats every day that I sit down to write. But Mrs Fuller-Thomas, I know my God. I know His call on my life to tell this story, and I'm going to do it regardless of what anybody says!"
Mrs F-T: Hmph! It'll take a miracle.
Me: That's what I'm expecting.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Megan, I would not discourage you from following what the Lord leads you to write, but encourage you to be open to the venue that would impact the audience He seeks. If it's a book form, He will certainly make it happen! I look forward to reading it.