Our journey continues with Part 3 of Under the Covers with Desiree-Anne Martin.
Discovering some of the process behind the writing of Desiree-Anne Martin’s book We Don't Talk About It. Ever is helping me stay true to writing my own memoir. Reading her responses gives me a deep trust in following my own process, while also honoring that which I am being called to create and share.
The questions and answers in Part 3 made me aware of the fine tension between respecting the length of time needed to complete a book, including the non-writing breaks where incubation takes place, and the constant showing up to honor that which is asking to be expressed through the writer.
I also now know that I cannot project how long the process will take and where the book will end. What I can do is pay attention and ask myself to discern between when I am coming from truth and when I am coming from fear.
Am I putting pressure on myself to sit down and write when I am not yet ready? Am I taking an extended break because I am avoiding what needs to be said next? Can I be playful with it, knowing that I am committed to the process, despite sometimes giving in to my fears? Can I be disciplined, knowing that I owe the telling of my story to myself, my readers and the story itself?
Read on... perhaps you might discover the question you need to ask in order to complete your own story.
Q: What motivated you to keep going?
Truth was my biggest motivator. As I wrote, the more I unpacked and breathed life into the memories and recollections by putting them on the page, the more I felt compelled to write my truth. I felt a deep sense of urgency to be brutally honest and break the patterns of my upbringing which were screaming at me to "be a good girl, keep the secrets, don't tell a soul, pretend everything is okay". I wanted to dismantle the generational legacy that had been passed down to me without my permission. I had to remove the proverbial muzzle and not silence myself any longer. I wanted to tell my story not only for my own catharsis and healing but also in the hopes that my words would resonate with someone and that they too would be inspired to speak their truth. And I also wanted to finally achieve my much-cherished dream of holding a copy of my book, MY book, in my hands one day.
Q: How long did the writing of the book take?
As I say in the acknowledgements of 'We Don't Talk About It. Ever.': "A book doesn't write itself; a life writes a book." So it took my entire life to bring the story together, to live the story. The seed for actually putting pen to paper was planted at my first LRC memoir workshop about five or six year ago, facilitated by the inimitable Dawn Garisch, where I, for the first time, owned that I was, in fact, a writer. I had a barren patch of not writing for a few years due to the usual life stuff like engaging in toxic relationships and having a beautiful baby. Then the writing bug bit hard again a few years ago. I launched my blog, publishing short stories which would later go on to become chapters in my book. But it was in December of 2017 that I became determined as hell to do it, to honestly write the story of my life. This dogged determination and unwavering sense of urgency led me to completing the bulk of the book, writing obsessively of course, in the space of a few months. The manuscript was picked up for publication by MFBooks Jhb in April 2018! It was a wonderful, whirlwind and somewhat frenetic process as the book was then published in July 2018.
Q: How did you know you were done?
Actually, I thought I was done (with the original manuscript) and my publisher said, "It just can't end there." I had concluded my story at a part where I was just a couple of years sober, in recovery. She talked me into writing about the last decade of my life stating that I needed to share the part of my story that depicted hope and redemption which was also incredibly important to me, as hope is a concept I am helplessly addicted to. She initially gave me two weeks to write approximately 12 000 words but then changed the deadline to five days!
I actually attended a LRC memoir workshop to finish my book and it was immensely helpful, as they always are, with showing me what still needed to be written. I knew I was really, really done when I effectively showed the reader my character's/ my 180 degree change, from dying junkie to thriving recovering addict with the fullest life imaginable. Also, my publisher said so!
Stay tuned for the 4th and last part coming up next.
Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.
Our journey continues with Part 2 of Under the Covers with Desiree Anne Martin.
As a beginner writer I take heart from Desiree’s respect for her craft in several ways. Firstly, it gives me clear techniques which I can both relate to, and put to immediate good use. Secondly, it teaches me to be gentle with myself during my struggle to keep writing. Thirdly, it shows me how I can rest in, as well as engage with, the healing which writing brings to my past. And lastly, when I recognize the deep respect between Desiree and her writing, it reminds me to slow down and honor what writing is bringing forth through me.
I am reminded that that writing births something precious into the world. This new expression is both a child - deserving tenderness, boundaries and respect - and a wise old woman, bringing me and all those who read my words the ability to heal, to grow and to surrender to our greater story.
For this, I am deeply grateful. I believe you might feel the same after reading the responses below.
Q: Could you tell me a bit more about the process of writing your story – did you block of time in order to continuously write, did writing happen at certain times over a longer time period or did you fit your writing into whatever timeslots you could find?
I had two approaches to writing my story once the decision was made to put my truth on paper.
One was that I treated it like one would a job. I did this by scheduling specific times to write during the week and stuck to the schedule religiously and wrote like a demon. Even when I had nothing to write during those spaces I carved out for myself, I wrote about not being able to write or about writer's block or I did free writing. Most times though, I had the beloved Muses hovering around me and I found I was able to write what I so desperately needed to.
I also created a huge "timeline board" and stuck it to my workspace wall. I divided it into ages (0 to 5 years old, 5 to 10 years old etc) and filled in events I had already written about and then filled in what events still needed to be given a voice. This was a great, practical tool to help me with both content and structure.
Q: How did the writing process flow? Did some pieces come quickly and some slower? Which parts did you love and which did you struggle with?
It flowed, it stuttered, it stammered, it got caught in gridlock at times! I found that my recollections of the past, pre-recovery, flowed far more fluidly than my chapters dedicated to the years I was in recovery. I'm not entirely sure why that was, but I think it may have been because my mental health issues were more prevalent and uncontained in sobriety/recovery, so my memories weren't as vivid and details encroached on one another and some ended up a muddy, murky mess. I found myself having to fact-check with a few people around incidents that took place during the last part of the book.
I loved when I wrote and I was immediately and seamlessly transported to that very place and time that I was trying to evoke on the page. I loved that I could clearly remember every sensory aspect of the experiences which is why I believe my writing and descriptions are so detailed and vivid and, some have said, visceral.
I did struggle with going back to some of the darker, more harrowing places and, in some instances, I would find myself taking entire chapters to my amazing therapist and saying, "I went there. We have to process this." That kind of emotional support was invaluable as I traversed my own often traumatic landscape. Some days I couldn't face the page or the world because of the undigested pain that was still sitting in my throat, my gut, my very cells.
My second approach - because I'm a chronic insomniac and also obsessive and impulsive by nature - was to write when an idea hit me like an anvil from the sky. Sometimes this would mean being jolted out of sleep and writing furiously at 3am until the birds started their morning song and sometimes I would write parts of chapters on the Notes section of my phone when I had free time in between sessions at work. Both approaches combined worked well for me in my efforts to complete my manuscript.
Stay tuned for part 3… coming soon…
Helena Wagener is an LRC course graduate. We’re delighted that she has offered to write a series of blogs, interviewing Desiree Anne Martin about the process of writing her memoir We Don’t Talk About It. Ever. As writers, many of us are curious about the writing process in others, but we want the details, those honest, revealing nitty-gritty bits that aren’t glamorous and don’t usually get the spotlight. Here Helena reflects on her own writing experience before looking under the covers to explore those under-the-hood realities of the creative writing process with Desiree-Anne:
First a bit on why I wanted to do a blog series interviewing authors. A few years ago, I stopped writing. I no longer trusted words to convey what I was experiencing rather than what I was thinking. Then I attended a memoir course with the Life Righting Collective. Not only did I rediscover my trust in writing but, for the first time, I could really connect with the concept of writing my memoir.
Every time I sit down to write a piece, I remember that which has been forgotten and I honour my story. Yet, the more I thought about writing the memoir the less I wrote. Rather than living the writing, I started thinking about it. I thought about how to structure things, what my readers might hate about what I am saying and how long it will take to finish this darn book. Then I‘d get up and go for a walk.
Desiree-Anne Martin has done more than think about writing. Not only has she birthed her memoir ‘We Don’t Talk About It. Ever’, she is also constantly engaged in making sure it reaches the audience who deserve to read it.
Harriet Lerner (2004), in her book ‘Fear and Other Uninvited Guests’ suggests that “No one gives us courage...rather than giving us courage, they help us to remember the courage we already have and inspire us to act on it” (p. 120).
Speaking with Desiree-Anne about how she remained true to her writing, has helped me remember and to act on my own courage.
I hope that reading part 1 of our Undercover Conversation does the same for you.
The idea to write my memoir was born from short stories that I had posted on my blog that I had created two years before where I posted poetry and short stories (www.believemoredeeply.co.za). Some of the stories were autobiographical or drawn from real-life recollections. These vignettes were so well received that, when I stood back and looked at them, I realised that they were starting to form the skeleton of a memoir. I still didn't have the confidence to launch straight into the bold declaration that: "YES! I am going to write my memoir!" but after attending a writing workshop in December 2017, I found my authentic voice and my elusive courage and - with the encouragement of the group and the firecracker that would become my publisher - I became hellbent on writing my memoir. So I went about "collecting", a process of writing about stories and memories and events; writing about whatever came to me, in no particular order. I just silenced The Critic that was telling me "it's not good enough", "it needs form and structure", "your story isn't important enough for anyone to want to read" and I wrote like a woman utterly possessed.
Having a book, my book, my truth, published has been a long-held and cherished dream of mine. I can remember visualising my name on the cover of a book when I was 10 years old and I started keeping journals and diaries - a practice I have kept up on and off since. But when I first realised that it could actually become a reality - as a result of feedback in LRC workshops and with the encouragement of my now-publisher, it was like I was driven by a Formula 1 engine! I need to admit that I am the kind of person that - when I want to do something - I become like a woman possessed! The journey from being an inkling of an idea to actual writing was filled with excitement, fear, self-doubt and self-criticism but also an unmistakable yearning to put pen to paper and release my sacred truth. Once I made the decision to write the book, it was like a floodgate opened: all of these memories and recollections washed over me, begging to be written about and initially I was more than a little overwhelmed.
Where do I start?
What do I and don't I write about?
What are the repercussions going to be?
The answers were: start anywhere and just write. Write about everything that is aching to be given words and set free. Don't worry about the repercussions until it’s time to worry about the repercussions. Just write.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Continuing to write.