How I Recovered from Writer’s Trauma.
Did you know that writer’s trauma is a thing?
Trauma from war, abuse, or a high-stress job are well known, and rightly so, but who knew writer’s trauma was a thing?
Ann Handley, apparently.
In her book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Writing Ridiculously Good Content, Ann writes, “Part 1: How To Write Better (and How to Hate Writing Less),” the later for the recovering or traumatized writers.
And that was only page 11!
Laid-back as The Dude, Ann casually tossed the aside into her introduction as if peering over the rim of her sunglasses to say, “Dude, everyone knows about that!”
Everyone but me.
I promptly put the book down and left it on the coffee table for a day or two.
Meanwhile, her comment served to wake me from the denial I’d evidently been in, that I’ve been recovering from writer’s trauma… for nearly three years!
But wait, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.
Sometime before Ann’s off-the-cuff aside, there was an email I’d written to a friend to catch up on our lives. Quicker than a three-minute egg, my friend shot back a reply, “Holy crap! This was a great email, Tarini. You should be a writer!”
My first thought was: Hmm! Clearly, she hasn’t read my book.
And the second was: If I hear that one more time — “You should be a writer, Tarini” — I’m gonna… well… I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’m fixin’ to do something!
If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it oodles of times.
So here’s the thing: I wrote a book and published it. On this score alone, I’m a writer. The fact that said book only sold 100 copies (to my closest family and friends) is beside the point.
I’ve written for obscure publications, online publications (like here), gazillions of business emails (and gobs of really great personal ones too), sales decks galore, About stories, blogs, ghostwritten blogs, web copy, cover letters and resumes, and more.
But on that day, my friend’s innocent response hit me like a bowling ball hits the pins and topples them in a perfect strike.
I closed my computer and went for a brisk walk.
To passers-by, I’m sure I had a homeless woman’s vibe — you know the kind, having a crazed, full-blown conversation with the air. But I wasn’t precisely homeless or talking to the sky. I was, however, aimless, and having a Come to Jesus meeting with myself.
That email brought on something of a perfect storm.
It arrived at a moment when a cush job came to an end, and I had extra time on my hands to figure out how I was going to make my living doing more of the stuff I love and less stuff I, or others, think I should.
Getting Out of Denial
For me, writing a book was a close cousin to pregnancy and delivering a baby.
The writing of a book is like a pregnancy with the expected weight gain, awkward cankles, and painful hemorrhoids: that interminable period of writing something coherent and useful, hoping it will come out with all its finger and toes!
As the writing goes on and on, it gets bloated, awkward and cranky.
At some point, it takes over your life, the way my son did during late-term pregnancy, kicking and elbowing me in the gut to signal he was ready to come out, and was making his way to the exit.
What She Said!
Then comes the editing.
Editing the book was the point at which my editor worked like hell to decipher my meaning, kindly insisting I bear down on that baby, take deep, cleansing breaths, and kill my “darlings” (as Stephen King said), to deliver something remotely worth reading.
So here’s where the pregnancy metaphor falls apart: unlike childbirth, which is among the most remarkable events of life, once the challenging but exhaustingly rewarding work of editing was done, publishing was a colossal disappointment and an embarrassment.
This came as a crushing blow.
Short of taking a vow of silence, shaving my head and retreating to a cave, I all but divorced myself from writing… and that book!
It wasn’t until I read Ann’s words that I woke from my denial, and I came to terms with the fact that this is the real world of being a writer.
To write isn’t about getting published, it’s about doing the work — often really bad work — and keeping on writing.
I got back on the horse, and I’m still writing.
The Not-Rocket-Science Epiphany
Life is filled with disappointments and genuine, debilitating trauma.
A period of retreat after we’ve met with any of these is normal, and necessary, to integrate and heal.
Tending our wounds is an act of mercy we show to ourselves, and it helps us find courage and new footing.
In time, we must bravely reenter our life and do what we love, be it writing, horseback riding, or __(fill in the blank).
For me, writing is its own reward. And I needed to discover that the only way one could: by writing.
Anne Lamott posted a Tweet recently, saying this exact thing, as only Anne can, “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there is no reason to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have gone on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.”
Oddly enough, it was Anne Lamott’s work that inspired me to write that book — hers and David Sedaris’, that is.
The irony isn’t lost on me that I tripped over Anne’s Tweet at the same time I found my new best friend, Ann Handley, nudging me onward to write in spite of the trauma, and more so, because of it, and in so doing I’m learning how to be a better giver.
Tarini Bauliya is the author of Saved from Enlightenment: The Memoir of an Unlikely Devotee. She is also a nomadic copywriter, and yoga/movement instructor living on an organic farm in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her at What She Said.