The Invisible Writer
A young girl grows up in a household where her mother and stepfather constantly criticize her weight. She eventually experiences a crushing depression and eating disorder in college. The mental breakdown lands her in a mental hospital for the summer, where her mother visits her and simply says, “I just wish you were normal.”
Along with stories like this, there are so many good memories tucked away in my psyche as well. Like my Mexican grandmother making tortillas from scratch and serving them to me with warm refried beans and chorizo sausage, or the way my mother always made sure my birthdays were extra special, even after I went off to college. But to fully tell my stories I have to cherish the good with the bad, because they are what made me the writer I am today.
I read the work of authors like Nicholas Sparks and Pat Conroy and I know their own secrets are woven into the fabric of their fiction. I browse through the hard drive on my computer and find many short stories and pieces of novels that are so obviously based on real-life relationships that I cringe when I read them. If I can plainly see the basis for these stories, surely my loved ones will do the same. I fear they will be hurt by all I have chosen to reveal in the name of art. These stories, interesting as they are, have remained unpublished because I do not wish to cause pain or conflict among my family.
I am not alone. Many writers know their work will open up a window to their souls, and it is hard to imagine others looking in. American poet Emily Dickinson did not actively seek to publish her work during her lifetime, most likely for a similar reason.
For years I have hidden behind non-fiction service articles to pay the bills. But while there are real-life examples that I've turned into published pieces, they only scratch the surface. I have dreams of publishing my first novel, and the outline and characters have been playing along in my head for almost two years. But the idea is based on an event that happened in my hometown, and the rest of the story is based on characters directly drawn from my childhood. I continue to work on it and try not to think about what will happen if it ever does get published. Will my childhood friends read it and recognize themselves in the characters? If I dwell on that prospect, the work might never be finished.
Writing words I'm afraid to publish is something I have to continue doing in order to grow as a writer. I can't think about the "what ifs?" any longer. I've come to realize that writing the familiar (although sometimes painful) is where I produce my most honest and sincere work.
For me, experiencing the joys and turmoils of life, and writing about them, are part of my identity. Without these life experiences, I would have nothing to write about. So for now, I have chosen for my work not to be invisible any longer.
In what ways are you an “invisible writer?” Are there memories you need to get out on paper as a way of healing, or are there ones that find a way in your own creative work, such as a memoir or novel?