Silencing Your Inner Censor: Writing Through the Fear

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I’ve been working on my novel tonight, and I’ve had a few breakthroughs in terms of character development and character motivation. In the past week or so, I’ve realized that I need to give myself permission to write a story that is weird, dark, profoundly sad, or whatever it needs to be. I had been unintentionally censoring myself as I wrote, which was hindering my character development, plot, and essentially the entire story.

Once I decided to just let go, I learned that not only does my protagonist have a secret, but so does another main character, who is one of her best friends (perhaps also a protagonist–time will tell). This is one of the most exciting parts of writing a novel; you never know what will happen, or where the writing will take you.

It’s hard to silence that inner censor, but luckily I have some practice. When writing my memoir, Purge: Rehab Diaries, the fear that I was writing something weird and too personal, that no one would want to read, was always ever-present. Pushing through that fear, writing, turning pages in for workshop, reading my work at readings, sending my book to agents, having my agent send my book to publishers, all of that was a constant exercise in staring down fear. Then, when my book was picked up by Seal Press, I had to deal with the fear that reviewers would write scathing reviews, that it wouldn’t sell, and that it would be a failure, and that I’d fail as a writer.

My book. Totally worth all of the hard work.

Writing Purge: Rehab Diaries was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was also one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. I’m finding that novel-writing is similar to memoir writing in regards to being hard, but worthwhile. Working on my novel, I don’t have the fears I used to have when working on my memoir, as I’m not workshopping the novel, I already have an agent (and a publisher who gets a first look at new work), and I am not thinking about reviewers, sales numbers, or worrying that I will fail as a writer.

I am already a writer. I was a writer from the moment I started scribbling poetry in my notebook in high school (cliche, but true!).

Sometimes, when I think about how long this novel writing process will be, I get discouraged. I’m not in an MFA program with dedicated writing time like I had when I wrote my memoir. I work a full-time job, I’m married, and have a 22-month-old. Time is a precious commodity, and writing in starts and stops is frustrating, but it forces me to reflect on what I have written in between writing sessions.

When I get discouraged about how long it is taking me to write this novel, I think about all the amazing, wonderful things that came from publishing Purge: Rehab Diaries. I’m going to share some these things with you, as many of you are new to my blog, and this is a good reminder that we never know what wonderful things might happen if constantly write through or stand up to fear.

I published my memoir in 2009. It is 2017, and I still have people who reach out to say that my book has helped them in their own recovery journey. This is hands-down the biggest reward for having published Purge: Rehab Diaries. My aim was to help others who were struggling with eating disorders and mental health. Anytime I receive an email from a reader who has been helped by my book, I am honored.

Having gone through the University of Minnesota MFA program, I viewed myself as a writer, but it never occurred to me that I could speak about eating disorders and mental health issues. I have had the privilege of speaking at a middle school, high school, and many colleges and universities about writing and eating disorders. I never, ever would’ve imagined that this would be a result of publishing my memoir.

Speaking at Lynchburg College as part of NEDAwareness Week.

Whenever I have to give a presentation at work, and I’m nervous, I remind myself that I spoke about eating disorders to an audience of 400 high school girls in West Virginia, and I can handle an office presentation.

This is from a speaking engagement at Elkins High School in Elkins, WV. The answer is false, by the way.

On a completely random but fun note: I got to meet Olivia Newton-John! She was on local television the same day as me. We did our makeup together in the green room, and I gave her a copy of Purge: Rehab Diaries, and she said, “Good on you for writing this!” in a very Australian accent. She told me one of her loved ones had struggled with anorexia.

That time Olivia Newton-John and I were both on local television, and I had terrible red-eye.

You never know where writing or life will take you. I am excited for where my novel will take me, both in writing it, and what comes after.

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