“You cheating son of a bitch! Muriel screamed at him. .. This is the first line of my novel Death in Disguise…. It took me ten years to get that on paper to my satisfaction. Why? Not because I had writer’s block, no I actually wrote the first rough draft in several months – ten years ago. It was because no matter how many times I changed scenes, sentences, fleshed out characters, I was AFRAID it was not good enough. So it sat on a shelf.
Everyone talks about writer’s block, but not many talk about writer’s fear. Perhaps one is a sub-category of the other. It was fear of rejection that kept my story on the shelf. Not fear that some publishing house would reject me. That is part of the process and I didn’t mind that. It was fear of… this is my first attempt out the door and if it is not a proper representation of what I think I can produce, what I want to produce, I’m screwed.
Over the past ten years I’ve written profusely and have a lovely array of binders containing double spaced, red inked, drafts of novels no one has ever seen. There was a problem with this, envy. I was, still am, envious of musicians who perform, artists whose work hangs somewhere, anywhere. Basically, anyone who creates and the public, even just their friends and family, gets the opportunity to share their creations. A writer does not have such availability unless they are read somewhere. Usually, that means by being published.
Yes, there are probably thousands of people who write and have no desire to have anyone’s eyes see their final product. That’s great, but that’s not me. It took taking a series of classes called, Writing from the Heart, a class designed to decrease if not eliminate fears holding writers back, to propel me through a quagmire of my design. What was it that bound me? Perfection.
I was a performer growing up and if you have ever been a performer or athlete you know the importance of doing better than your best to stay alive. Somewhere along the line, doing better than my best became doing it perfectly. Either no one ever told me perfection was not possible or I did not listen. I believed that perfection was obtainable if I applied myself accordingly.
When I performed, if I didn’t win top award or get audience response like I thought I should, I could review what went wrong, rehearse and practice more, harder until I got the results I wanted. In writing this is not so easy. In the first couple (hundred) drafts, I was the only eyes looking at the work. There was no coach telling me the weak points, the boring points. Sure, I could have hired an editor, but I didn’t have the money. Not having extra money, in my mind, meant it better be the best it can be before a professional editor saw it.
I thought, I could get family and friends to read and just tell me what they think. Give me constructive criticism. Some said they would, but never did. Others went as far as to take a copy or download the file, but forgot they had it. It was devastating and I took it personally. Thoughts like: is that all I mean to them, they really must think I write horrible, they don’t support my passion, they don’t care. The depression that followed was sometimes unbearable. The depression was caused by ME!
It took me years to relax and say, so what. The people not wanting to read or saying they would and choosing to not read, that is something with them, not me. Most of the time I doubt there was anything malicious to their behavior. I made it malicious and I allowed it to affect my relationships and thoughts. There are many reasons a loved one or friend would choose not to be involved or read something a writer has written and I had to learn to respect that and not see it as rejection.
I got lucky when my parents asked to read one of my drafts and …. loved it. I think to their surprise. I gave them another one. By the end of the year they had read all the drafts on my shelf. I eagerly listened to their critiques and chose the stories they enjoyed the most. One of my daughters came forward and agreed to do some edits. She read the story and said, “Mom, I couldn’t put this down.”
I guess it is along the lines of what Jesus said. Something about a person needing to leave their home in order to be recognized and listened to. I’ve heard this in various ways, not just writing. Nurses telling me their families don’t listen to them because, they know them, grew up with them. How can you possibly know as much as this stranger who has the same or less experience. I digress.
What this has taught me is another lesson about myself and my desires with my writing. It was not enough for me to have others read my work. I wanted people in my intimate circle to be a part of the experience. If you don’t write you may not understand this, but writing is such a passion, such a part of the soul of the writer. Writing is like screaming in the forest at night and hoping someone hears you. “Listen to me! I want to share this with you!”
Once again, I had to reassess this. Family and friends can be supportive without reading. I came to realize they do this all the time. I could relax again and move on. I decided to publish the Indie route. Not because I didn’t think I was good enough for a large publishing house, but I wanted to have complete control over the process. It was a steep learning curve and I wanted to know it all.
I created this baby, why not be there to design the nursery and do the actual delivery? I guess by nature I am a DIY (Do it yourself) person. Expand the brain cells and learn new skills. Challenge myself and face making possible mistakes. This was a big jump from harboring in my room afraid of not being perfect.
I can still hear a certain writing mentor in my life’s journey poo pooing an x-student when their first novel was published. There was a scrunching of the nose, a wave of the hand and the comment, “Well, she could have done better.” Each step of my journey I heard those words. Ah yes, wanting to impress the mentor, the coach. Make them proud! Bull shit!
Those words spoke volumes about that mentor’s frame of mind. It was not about celebrating another writer’s victory over fear and pushing his/her self to release their creation to the world. Once I realized I didn’t have to impress anyone, I could release those words and be free to create and share.
That is where I am now. My E-book Death in Disguise by D.Hill just came out on Kindle and will be out on Amazon in paperback in 90 days. It’s a murder mystery that takes place in the 1950’s. I’m ecstatic! I think. Now I face a whole new set of demons I place in my own head. Is there ever an end? Sure, If I make it so.
If you write or want to write, my advise to you is evaluate the thoughts you tell yourself about you, your writing and your expectations about people in relation to your writing life. Then write! Just do it! Remember, there is no such thing as perfection.
Here is the back cover synopsis of Death in Disguise:
Kelly Anders is a beautiful woman with a secret that kills. When she disappears from the scene of a 1955 brutal murder everyone is stunned. Especially her boyfriend, Al Brodrick. Her disappearance spawns a gruesome spree of sexual assaults and mutilations leaving the small police force of Highgate Falls baffled and town’s people terrified. Accusations fly as Highgate Falls realizes things are not always what they seem. Al Brodrick joins forces with retired FBi agent, Ira Jonesson, and the local police to stop the predator from killing again and to find Kelly Anders – if she is alive.
We had another oddity in our household last night. Maybe it was over active imaginations or we bumped into something paranormal in the night. In this house, it could be either or both.
It is not unusual for me to get bolted awake about 2:30 – 3:00 in the morning on a regular base. Sometimes, it becomes annoying enough to stay awake past the 3:00 hour just to prevent the jolt. Tonight I’m staying awake to write this blog and straighten my office.
I think I have mentioned in the past that this house has some unusual things happening from time to time. Things that paranormal researchers would call residual haunting such as snippets of conversation in the same location between two people we can’t see.
Then there is what they call intelligent haunts. There is a woman that has whispered my name in my ear. On one occasion I was outside trimming bushes that same voice demanded I go back in the house. It startled the he—out of me. I went inside to find smoke spewing everywhere in my kitchen. Then there was the time my mother was visiting and awoke to find a woman sitting on the bottom of the bed. The woman smiled at her and vanished.
Three other oddities are seeing shadows of people darting around corners and this blue haze about four or so feet tall in a bedroom doorway. Our animals will also suddenly come to attention and studiously watch nothing (usually in the same location) and track it across the room and then resume their normal activities. We try to distract them without luck. Sometimes they growl or their hunches raise – there is nothing there. The third is that the smell of cigarette smoke will come out of nowhere (no one in the family is a smoker), linger around me, though others coming near me can smell it, and then disappear.
The last and the most prevalent thing, is what they call poltergeist activity. Things that move on their own and we can’t figure out why. The most common in this house has been closed doors opening and then slamming shut. The most bizarre to us was the night when the dining room chandelier started swinging, increasing its arc back and forth. The grandkids were seated at the dining room table quietly watching when one asked if it was going to fly off and hurt someone. Feeling ridiculous, I said, “Stop moving the chandelier.” It stopped without slowing down. Leaving two little girls asking their grandma a lot of questions she could not answer.
Last night the door that divides the downstairs from the upstairs opened. This door frequently is subject to erratic opening and shutting. We had company one night and the door quietly opened all the way. A moment or two went by and it quietly, slowly closed again. Everyone looked at me and I just said, Oh well.
We’ve tried experiments with air flow, windows open or shut and the air conditioners on or off without discovering the answer. We have learned that my cat has learned how to put her paw under this door and with persistence, pop it open so she can visit me in the office.
I bring all this craziness up because earlier that morning we were sitting in the dining room talking about the battle at Gettysburg and comparing it to the ones at Anteidem and Fredericksburg. Like typical, the talk eventually got back to the topic of ghosts, specifically ghosts and Gettysburg. Most specifically the books, TV specials and ghost tours compliments of author and researcher, Mark Nesbitt.
My one daughter tells me she is afraid to look out windows at night and almost refuses to take another ghost tour because a story Nesbitt documented on his tour. It’s called, The Story of Blue Boy. He is a phantom child who froze to death outside a dorm at Gettysburg College and continues to appear by looking in a second floor window. That’s a powerful ghost story.
I got to wondering how many fears result from experiencing the tale of the paranormal activity instead of actually having one. I started asking around and was a bit surprised at the answers. People who are afraid of mirrors, opening elevators, looking into binoculars, open closets, quija boards, cemeteries, sleeping alone, sleeping without covers, sleeping in the dark, looking out windows at night, answering the door at night, dolls, clowns and walking down the streets of Gettysburg or the battlefield at dusk or dawn to name a few. All because they heard, read or saw a reenactment of a ghost story not because they have had an experience.
What amazing power. I’ve seen people on ghost tours look increasingly uneasy as the tour progresses and I know people who have stayed awake all night with the lights on after reading a Steven King novel. Is it fear of the unknown, the out of control, potential lack of safety or the telling of a great tale?
According to the Center for Religious Studies, over 70% of Americans believe in something supernatural. Be it ghosts, angles, demons, miracles, curses, God, heaven, hell, Satan and so on. Are we taught to fear or mock and ridicule instead of embrace and explore? As quantum physics unfolds new theories of the cosmos that render credence to the ability for other dimensions and planes of existence to occur, will our fears lessen? Or as long as the story teller provides the right atmosphere and hits just the right nerve, we are forever in their grasps no matter what we believe?
Social scientists will tell you ghost stories are sweeter if the society that breeds and reads them is in a state of flux. Uncertainty in the world brings a need for understanding and demonstration of our fears of the unknown manifest in the ghost story. Or is it, the more upheaval, the more energy and the phenomenon manifests itself more readily making society more sensitive to the paranormal and the ghost story?
Wait a minute, I hear something odd. Okay, no problem, it’s just the door between the downstairs and upstairs. Damn cat. No wait, it just slammed shut. I don’t think she has that skill.
There is a rhythmic creaking of the stairs like someone heavy footed is slowly coming up the stairwell. Everyone should be asleep. Its 3:05 a.m. and even if someone is awake why would they be wearing heavy boots?
The hair on my neck tingles and I shudder at the chill in the air. It’s a nice night; there shouldn’t be a sudden chill from anywhere. My heart races and my hands sweat.
There is another creak outside my office door. I get up from my desk and reach out to take hold of the knob, but hesitate. Do I really want to know what or who is on the other side? It can’t be anything harmful, can it? I’ve never been harmed by these things before, but what if this is different? I take hold of the glass, door knob and slowly turn.
What makes a good ghost story? Is it the retelling of personal events in order to find others with similar experiences? Is it evidence in a world where we know so much, that there is so much more we don’t understand? Or is it all the above and then some?
The door opens; the air is thick and oddly sweet and my hair is still on end. I’m all alone or am I?
By now I think all of us know of the horrors that happened at the Boston Marathon on Monday. I’m currently in Florida and luckily (that I am aware) don’t know anyone who ran or attended the event. My son, who used to live in the area of the attack, had the job of contacting friends to make sure everyone was accounted for. They were all fine.
I know there is a possibility that someone reading this does not have favorable news. To you, I send my deepest hope for healing and strength of perseverance.
The rest of us have the job of learning just how much television to watch on the topic. Dissecting factual information from fiction and how we can help. None of which is easy.
The 24 hour news coverage concept I’m sure must have seemed like a good idea. My personal opinion is that it has done little to alleviate stress and much to exacerbate fear, anxiety and anger. News is no longer news but opinions, assumptions and exaggerations with some actual facts thrown in. As a relative of mine said, “Well, they have to fill air time with something.”
The Boston coverage has been on almost every station for the past couple days. Some reporters are more careful about keeping fluid in reporting facts. While others even when the two reporters standing are right next to each other at the scene report conflicting information as verifiable fact. Eventually the chaos of the devastating event works its way into our living rooms and lives. We react.
After 911, I was involved in post-trauma counseling and realized many people do not have the knowledge needed to screen themselves from becoming secondary victims. Nor did they realize the impact knowing, with or without watching coverage can have on their own lives. So, I came up with a couple guidelines I could hand out. I thought this would be an appropriate opportunity to re-look at this.
What you need to know: 1. Are me and my family safe? 2. Is there a specific plan of action I need to do to remain safe? 3. If I know or think I know someone involved, how do I find out? 4. Who can I contact to see how and where I can lend my services to help?
After you know the answer to these questions, the remainder of what you see on news reports is secondary. There is nothing wrong with secondary reasons but there is a time when you have to walk away from media reports to maintain your mental health.
When should you walk away from watching news reports: 1. You place your life on hold, afraid if you leave the report, you might miss a piece of important information. 2. You feel drawn or compelled to watch repetitive and more detailed footage of the event despite having seen it before. 3. You start arguing with family or friends over details as they are told in reports. 4. You have trouble eating, sleeping, thinking or are OVERLY upset or angered because of the images and statements.
There is something in the human condition that causes us to be drawn to explore disaster involving human beings. These are what I referred to as secondary reasoning.
So, possible secondary reasons you are watching the continuous reports…
- Need for survival: If I study this enough I’ll know what to do if it happens to me.
- Shock: I can’t believe this is happening. We watch over and over until it hits us, this is real.
- Desire for a reason why the event occurred: Part of survival thinking. I heard a lot of this thinking post-Katrina. New Orleans got hit because of…. (fill in ridiculous reason here). I don’t do that, so I am safe.
- Empathy and reactions from helplessness: Having faces to traumatic events connects us with our own fragility and humanity. Feeling helpless to change the unfolding events often causes both a passive and reactive reaction. Passive: I’m not there but if I pray hard, think hard, watch enough, somehow those people will know that I know and I care. I can’t do a damn thing to help. But I’m doing what I can. Active: I’m donating money, going to the scene to wrap bandages, cleaning up debris, helping people find loved ones, making coffee for first responders.
- Sense of community: Human beings need each other. Media is a way to bring us to locations and a larger community then our normal existence. In life-threatening situations, this intensifies. Average citizens on the spot become heroic helpers. We want to think we would be heroic helpers too.
- Justice /Revenge or both: We want the world to make sense. If we decide (see #2) that the people in trouble did not deserve what happened – someone has to be held accountable. We watch to make sure that happens.
As we gain more details and faces concerning the Boston Marathon tragedy keep yourself in check. If you start having symptoms listed above or others such as crying spells, anger outbursts, panic, nightmares or feel like it is happening to you, pull back. If you can’t or your symptoms worsen, it would be good to talk or journal about what you are feeling – and turn off the television! At least for large blocks of time.