I’m thrilled to greet my first international guest in the attic, my American friend, Karen Cades. We first ‘met’ in an online writing class back in 2010 and have kept in contact ever since—one of the upsides of social media.
Karen started her writing journey six or seven years ago. She’s always had the desire to write and has notebooks from stories she started in her teens. Many classes and many contests later she is still at it. Her desire has never wavered even though her drive has faltered at times. She credits her local writing group and the fabulous book club she belongs to with keeping her creative juices bubbling even if only below the surface. Newly inspired, she is working diligently on her latest novel.
Karen strongly believes that no writer should be pigeonholed into one genre or style of writing. We should all write like Picasso, in any medium we see fit.
Here’s Karen’s story about when life got in the way of writing, and how she found a way back to it again.
How one writer got back in the saddle when life got in the way
I belong to a writers’ group that meets once a month and critiques each other’s work. I have been a part of this group for years and in the beginning was a consistent attendee and contributor.
As my work life became more stressful my writing life ceased. I attended and critiqued others’ work for as long as I could. My friends would encourage me, and when introductions were made at a meeting I would say, ‘Hi, I’m Karen and I haven’t written anything in a while. I think I have writer’s block.’ I would shrug and smile. Some people would laugh.
Yet in some strange way this was cathartic for me. Yes, I am a writer, I was saying, even though I hadn’t written a word in months. And I’m here, just like you wanting something very desperately, wanting something very concrete to emerge from the unformed ideas sparking beneath a turbulent and cloudy mind.
Eventually, I had to stop going to the meetings. I couldn’t muster the energy needed for anyone else’s work. Our business was struggling and I couldn’t clear my head of the many worries and responsibilities raining down on me.
Something about severing that connection bothered me deeply. I knew I couldn’t contribute at the capacity that I wished and I told myself when things got better I could go back to the group. But the truth was, bowing out from the group left me shaky and unsure. Would I ever get back to them? Everything felt tenuous.
A small family run business is not for everyone. I worked with my husband, father- and brother-in-law, and a few employees. Unfortunately, my father-in–law was extremely difficult to deal with. Old-fashioned, distrustful of innovation, confrontational over mundane things, and my best bet for dealing with him was to not engage with him. Unfortunately, this left me without a voice for the fifteen years I worked there. When he angered me, I couldn’t say anything. When I had a different opinion, I couldn’t say anything, all in an attempt to keep the peace.
This situation had a strange effect on my writing. I became unsure of what I wanted to say, always second guessing myself, my creativity, the rightness of my opinions and thoughts. Even though I knew the man was irrational, most of the time I couldn’t seem to shake the way he had undermined my confidence, leaving me frustrated and mad.
Even worse, over time the demands of the business drew my attention away from friendships that needed nurturing until, eventually, I fell out of touch with my friends too.
Recently, we sold the company amid a maelstrom of declining business and family illness.
We were very lucky to secure the sale. I expected to feel this profound sense of freedom from the emotionally taxing roller coaster ride that is self-employment. Yes, a part of me was sad but there was a part of me that was cheering a bit. Yes, I thought. Now I can write freely, without worrying that I am somehow taking away from my family’s very survival by focusing on the wrong pursuit.
The hard truth? It has always been difficult to give myself permission to write. I’m forty-seven years old and I hate to admit that.
Why? Because I shouldn’t be fiddly-farting around with writing when there is more important stuff to do, work, chores, etc. Needless to say, my family didn’t value creativity. I remember my dad saying that I was ‘odd’ because growing up I was content to lock myself away in my room and read. He would follow that up with ‘I don’t know where she gets it from, nobody else in the family reads.’ He never said it in a scathing manner, he just didn’t understand it.
With the sale of the business, I found myself jobless, my few friends scattered, and yet I was out from under the yoke of a difficult situation with plenty of time to write. But I wasn’t writing. I told myself I just needed time to de-stress from the major changes that life had thrown at me.
Finally, I realized I needed to take action. I went back to the group. It felt good but at the same time I was nervous. They asked if I was writing. ‘Uh-un.’ I shook my head.
I attended a couple of meetings and they continually insisted I submit a piece for critique. They didn’t care what it was. ‘Just find anything you’ve written and submit it,’ they encouraged. They sincerely wanted me to get back in the saddle. I reluctantly gave in. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.
They gave me a deadline and in turn I gave myself permission to write.
At first I procrastinated, and then with the deadline looming I disappeared. I disappeared into three days of revisions where I felt calm, connected and blissful. I told my husband to take care of our son while I rewrote to my heart’s content. I don’t know why I’d denied myself such pleasure for so long. Was writing always this transcendent? No. But I falsely assumed that anybody who wrote or tried to write would feel this same sensation. That if my husband, brother, friend or acquaintance picked up pen and began to write they would feel energized and at peace all at the same time.
To my astonishment, most people don’t experience the thrill of writing and can’t understand the nagging sensation that pushes you to get your pen out. So if I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about doing it. Maybe that’s a calling. I don’t know.
I submitted my work and immediately began to panic. What if they don’t like it? What if it isn’t any good? These were my writing peers and I valued what they had to say. My self-confidence was so fragile I was afraid that negative feedback would cause me to go into a tailspin. When the day of the meeting arrived I was so nervous I was sweating under the arms and I think I went to the bathroom three times.
In order to ‘get it over with’, I agreed to have my piece critiqued first. They all liked it. They were all supportive. Honestly, part of me thought that maybe they were going easy on me by not being too critical. I’ve been to many of these meetings and I know my friends can be ‘too honest’ sometimes.
But truthfully, I didn’t need a hardcore critique. What I needed was to know that my story had legs, that my ideas were good and that even though I was rusty my words still had some shine to them.
I am immensely grateful to this small group of writers for reassuring me when I needed it most, and for letting me know that I still had plenty of gas in the tank.
At home, I continued to expand on the story. I started a notebook to jot down ideas and I wrote another scene. I still wrestle with carving out time to write. I hang onto that blissful writing experience like a talisman. I can do that again, I tell myself. I can feel that again.
You’ll be happy to know that my writing group hasn’t let me off the hook. I have to submit again, not this month, but next.
And, as I think you can guess, I’m looking forward to it.
Please drop me a line via the Contact page if you’re interested in writing something for this series—I’d love to hear from you! I’m booked through September now, but that gives you plenty of time to write one and send it in!
Remember that the invitation is open to all writers, published and unpublished, in any genre (fiction, non-fiction, blogging, even those who secretly journal), and of any age, gender, experience, or background. I want to know your writing story, told through your eyes—your inspirations and goals, the reasons you write, and the obstacles and battles your face. (If you’d prefer a Q&A, I can send some questions to ponder.)
Most posts are 600-1200 words in length, but that’s not set in stone. I’m drawn towards personal writing that digs beyond the superficial, but only write what you are comfortable sharing. Pseudonyms are welcome, too.
I’d also need a photo, a concise bio, and a link to your website and publications.
If I publish your essay, I’ll send a $20 gift voucher from Booktopia (or Amazon if you’re overseas).