I don’t remember my answer, but I interpreted her question more as a statement: my content was not worth publishing, and the caliber of my writing wasn’t good enough to be accepted by an agent or editor. Ugh. Stab to the heart. I wanted to give up the project—but I couldn’t.
What started as rough, raw blurts in my journal grew and grew, evolving into a novel based on my true story. I wrote and wrote until the compulsion to express and understand a very painful episode in my life was exposed and explained on the page.
At the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep quoted her friend, Carrie Fisher. “Take your broken heart and make it into art.” Unconsciously, that’s exactly what I was doing. In a desperate effort to grapple with what broke me, I put together something for others.
After completing that process, I can say that therapy writing is not necessarily poor quality. Deep wounds create powerful prose. It’s simply intimate writing meant for no one’s eyes but my own. It’s what I can’t say out loud even to myself. It’s where I confess and admit things I’m not ready for anyone else to know. I exhume every emotion, consequence, and ramification associated with my trauma. I write and write without self-editing or exclusion. I don’t worry about making myself or others the hero, villain or fool. I allow seemingly unrelated strands to weave themselves into my story without thought to overall design. I scribble and scribble until my drive to comprehend is satisfied, until what’s eating me is captured in words because definition is the first step in healing. Therapy writing is getting my broken heart, and its cure onto the page.
Where therapy writing ends, publishable writing begins or not. To publish means to make public, so I asked myself if my story could benefit others. It’s a hard decision to share your moment of failure with strangers, but often the more vulnerable a story, the more universal.
Turning therapy writing into art requires craft, and perseverance. Craft means allowing skilled others, a writing group, an editor, or agent, to help you work your words until they are as accessible and potent as possible. Perseverance means mining the truth, the whole truth, so dig deep and don’t give up until you reach the diamonds.
Towards the end of Streep’s speech she mentioned Tommy Lee Jones who reminded her of an actor’s privilege to display empathy. A talented performance fleshes out a character’s complexity so that viewers can relate to individuals they may not otherwise care about.
As a memoir writer, I have the privilege of portraying myself, my place, my struggles, not on the stage, but on the page. I orchestrate my words to transport my audience. Can you see me, dear reader? Can you hear my voice? Can you feel what I feel? Can you fathom what’s at stake? Am I in any way like you?
When a reader, in the privacy of thought, answers, yes, I get you, my work has bridged the gap between two souls, and bridged the gap between therapy writing and art.
Thank you Carrie Fisher, Princess Leah, and Meryl Streep, queen of the silver screen, for reminding me that a broken heart isn’t the end of the world. It’s part of the human condition. And those who’ve suffered, can best comfort others.
So where are you, dear writers, in your struggles, your process? Deep in therapy writing, or rounding the bend towards art? Love to hear your answers.