Thursday, April 27, 2017

Writing to Heal


One way I’m coping with breast cancer—and the side effect of chemo brain, which causes forgetfulness and muddy thinking—is to write.  


I’ve been encouraged to journal and have received several journals as gifts (like the one on the left) from friends, but I haven’t used them yet. I’m not ready to record all the day-to-day events about my illness. It feels too raw. Plus the journals are so pretty, I’m saving them for happier times.



What I am doing is writing when I have energy and the mood strikes. Mostly I write on my laptop, but I also scribble notes in raggedy notebooks.  



A short story I began in January started as a romantic mystery to read at critique group for a Valentine’s love story challenge was titled “Time Will Tell.” Around the same time, I was invited to submit to Mysteries of the Ozarks (Vol V), a project of the Ozarks Writers Inc. I reworked and lengthened the story to highlight the mystery aspect, and the story was accepted just before my diagnosis. A few weeks later, I was asked to help with editing and proofreading the anthology. I agreed because when I first started chemo treatments I was having trouble sleeping and welcomed doing something productive. In addition to that, I was asked to become a member of the OWI board. It has been a positive experience in every way.



In February, I rewrote and expanded my essay, “Remembering Miss Tobin,” which was among the top ten finalist in 2014 Erma Bombeck human interest competition, but never published. I revised and renamed the new essay, “Miss Tobin’s Special Gifts,” and submitted it to Whispering Prairie Press for their KC Voices magazine. Earlier this month I received an e-mail that the editor “loved” my essay asked for permission to use it. Of course, I accepted.



Earlier this month, I pulled out an old essay about the day my husband became a US citizen. The expanded version corrected mistakes in the original and included the night we met at a USO dance. I wasn’t able to attend my critique group to read the story, so my good friend Alice printed it off and read it for me then called and relayed everyone’s comments. Using many of their suggestions, I cut the original version from around 1,000 words to 750, changed the title, and the end result resulted in a tighter and I think better story. It’s a long shot, but I submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind Of America. I won’t know until June if "A Good Day for A New Citizen" is accepted. If I don’t hear by then I’ll know it isn’t a good fit, but I’ll remain hopeful.



Last week, my mind wandered to my childhood neighborhood in North St. Louis and a memory of an unusual boy who lived down the alley. He was a few years older than the rest of the boys on our block, who never invited him to play, so he usually stood and watched the rest of us have fun. I felt sorry for him, but he also made me feel uneasy, the way he stared and watched the rest of us. That memory resulted in a short story about a lonely writer/blogger/teacher who spies on his coworkers and students and uses what he learns about them to get ahead. It’s an odd piece and I’m not sure what will become of it, but it might eventually find a home.



More than a month ago, I started on an essay about losing my hair, but I’m not quite ready to finish that one yet.



I’ve put my novel aside for the time being, but who knows maybe if I get a burst of inspiration I’ll pick it up again. Now that I finished the “red devil” chemo sessions, have started on “chemo light” treatments, and will start physical rehab next week to get my strength back, I might get inspired.



How about you? Have you ever written to heal—from an illness, grief, personal tragedy, or for any other reason? If so, has writing helped?


27 comments:

  1. Donna, I am very impressed with how much you have written. I have been writing poetry, and having fun spreading my wings. I sure hope we both get into that CS America book. Keep writing.

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    1. I admire how productive you are and how you try different genres. It would be a privilege to be in the Chicken Soup book with you!

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  2. You go, girl! It sounds to me like you've got a lot of ideas percolating and I love that you're getting them on paper. I have no doubt that you'll continue to place your creations. You're a wonderful writer and a fabulous friend!

    Pat
    www.patwahler.com

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    1. Thanks, Pat. You are an inspiration to me, the way you kept with your historical fiction book about the wife of Jesse James and how you are working on your romance books. And thanks for your kind words. You too are a fabulous friend who has helped make me a better writer.

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  3. Hi Donna. I am so very sorry you are going through what you are currently going through. Never, ever easy. Yes, I have written to heal, particularly after my Mother's death. The abyss of sorrow was lighted and shortened by writing, thanks be to God. Hope things are moving along and that you will get through this really dark time in your life with flying colors. Take care, Donna. Susan

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    1. I'm glad your sorrow was lighted by writing after the loss of your mother. I've always enjoyed writing, and found it even more important now to help me heal.

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  4. Donna--In a fictional project, I had the main character heal through a dream. The character was going through the same difficult times I was... I found that while I was writing about the fictional healing, I was healing too.

    Weird, but true...

    How can you be more prolific and creative than most other people... AND you're dealing with cancer?

    I bow down to you, Donna.

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    1. Hi Sioux,
      That's a creative way to heal, through a fictional character. I'm glad you found a healthy way to heal.

      I won't say I'm prolific. More like determined to do something other than sit on the couch and feel sorry for myself.

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  5. I hope your odd lonely writer/blogger/teacher piece DOES find a home. It sounds intriguing to me. Hopefully NOT because I'm a lonely writer/blogger/teacher!

    As for that final question...I have tried to write to heal, but more often find myself blocked, not wanting to even try. I can sometimes get around it by re-reading my stuff from happier times, and moving forward in that vein.

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    1. Writing to heal is a personal journey, and like you, I find myself blocked and prefer to look to happier times.

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  6. You are inspiring me with all your creativity and productiveness! And I love both the potential Chicken Soup essay and your idea of the lonely man spying on people - that has creep potential. :)

    I tend to scribble in notebooks because I feel like I'm too messy for "nice" journals. I do have some notebooks with fun covers though so it's close enough. :)

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    1. The lonely man spying on people is a creepy piece but sometimes creepy is what's called for in a story.

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  7. It makes my heart happy to hear how much writing you've been doing! It's always a pleasure to read your essays and stories, even the odd ones. :) I do think writing can be very therapeutic, and I've used it that way, both by journaling and by writing fiction. I'll keep on praying for you; you keep on writing!

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I enjoy reading your stories too. I think our critique group has its share of odd stories.

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  8. Like you, I was told to journal and to write my experiences. Like you, I could not, too close to the flame. I did two poems, one chemo room and one cancer. I might put cancer on blog someday soon. Not sure. I am amazed at what you are achieving though while being stressed and not up to par. Amazing! Keep going.

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    1. Hi Claudia,
      In many ways I feel we are on this journey together and have similar experiences and feelings. I admire that you are writing poetry. That's one skill I haven't mastered--except for haiku and a few limericks. You keep going, too. I'm right behind you!

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  9. Reading your post made me feel as if you were sitting at my table and sharing what's going on in your life. Although we've never met, I think of you as a friend. You are an inspiration to me for the way you continue to write through such hard times. To me it sounds as if you're accomplishing a great deal. Keeping you in my prayers, Donna.

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    1. Hi Clara,
      I think of you as a friend too and enjoy visiting your blog reading updates and author interviews. Thanks for your prayers. They give me hope and help keep me going.

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  10. Hi Donna! I keep thinking about you so was glad to see you wrote this update. Writing is indeed great therapy and a great healer, but like you, I've found some things are too fresh or painful to write about....even years later. When I can't write about something, I crochet an afghan. But I still write about other things, perhaps even a murder mystery, because that's where I can lose myself and forget the problems. Carry on, write away, and keep us in the loop. We care about you a lot!

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    1. Hi Patricia,
      That's so great that you crochet when you can't write. I'm not too talented in that regard. I've read your murder mysteries and enjoyed them. Glad to hear writing them help you to lose yourself and forget your problems. Perhaps that's what I need to try.

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  11. Donna, I love your inspirational post. I once heard an author say he couldn't write about a place he lived until he moved away because it gave him more perspective. I find that is true, too, regardless of whether it's a place or experience. Take care, and know that many people are thinking and praying for you.

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    1. Hi Mary,
      The comment about moving away gives more perspective has a truthful ring to it. And thanks for your prayers and kind thoughts. They keep me going. I was happy to learn we will both will have pieces in the next issue of KC Voices!

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  12. Hi Donna! I'm so glad I happened to stop by. In my opinion, you are one of the "true" writers. You write often and about different subjects and can edit to change an entire story! I hope your story gets into the Chicken Soup book, too. Oh, and Linda's...and anyone else I know! ;) I actually submitted two stories earlier this year, which was quite an accomplishment considering I hadn't written much of anything and definitely hadn't submitted ANY thing! I haven't hear about mine yet, either....so. Hopefully, at least one of us will make the cut!

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    1. Hi Becky,
      It would be great for us to be in the same book!

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  13. P.S. I forgot to answer your question! Have I ever written to heal? And did it help? Oh yeah! That's how I became a writer!

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    1. That's right. I almost forgot about that, Becky, and it's a great way to get started.

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  14. Donna, you are amazing. Keep writing and keep getting better. My prayers are with you. When my dad was sick and then when he died, I wrote a couple of essays about him. The preacher read one of them at his funeral. My sister (who never compliments me about my writing) said she thought it was the best thing I ever wrote.

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