The Invisible Writer

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Several years ago, I entered an essay contest with the theme of “Invisible Writing.” It took me several false starts before I was able to put a set of thoughts down coherently, and it really made me dig down deep within myself. I’ve included an abbreviated version below:

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 These stories, interesting as they are, have remained unpublished because I do not wish to cause pain or conflict among my family.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?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning professional freelance writer and editor with hundreds of print and online articles and columns to her name. In addition to writing for regional parenting and city magazines and blogs, she is a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Visit her at Renee's Pages.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I am SO glad to hear that you've decided to make your words visible. Artists of all kinds need to be true to their art. They have to paint/sculpt/sing/write with their heart--their whole heart.

Write. Write it down fearlessly. Write it true. And when you're looking for an audience, I'll be in line to buy your book.

I began my WIP as straight memoir. However, I was dealing with some difficult life events, and found that if I fictionalized things, I could end up with a more satisfying (and healing) ending. I plan on having an author's note at the end where I lay bare some of the details... of how things really went down.

So hurry. Write. Finish it. I'm waiting. Your other followers are waiting.

Margo Dill said...

I also think getting memories down, whether you plan to publish them or not, helps clear your mind. More and more, I think there is something to journaling/morning pages.

I really wanted to write a story about my first engagement (which never became a wedding), but it was so hard when I was going through it. And the real version sounded flat and ridiculous on the page. I finally turned it into a short story with some actual details--and it was shortlisted for a pretty good literary mag contest and they wound up publishing it in their online journal.

SOmetimes it takes time, distance, a different form--but getting out our life experiences does make us grow as writers.

Suzanne Lilly said...

This article is so true. I remember when I first began writing and I wrote a thinly veiled story about my stepmother's suicide. I was so afraid to share it with my critique partners, but I needed to write to help myself heal. It was surprising when my critique partners did not think the story was realistic. They felt the main character, (whom they didn't know was me) was not honest and did not react as they felt she should have. It was an eye opener for me, and I've since learned to dig even deeper when dealing with the aftermath of emotional loss. We all have our secrets that we harbor, and we all react to experiences in ways as individual as each of us are. Writing is therapeutic, and I've come millions of miles since that time. Also, writing is a unique as each author, because how we experience things are so different. Thanks for a great article, Renee.

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