Since my book “The Breast Cancer Companion” came out in 1993, I have frequently been asked how to write a book by people who want to share their experience with others going through cancer, or who just want to write down what they learned or any other number of reasons.
My response is usually fairly simple. “Just sit down and write.”
Studies show that writing about what we have gone through can be very therapeutic. For me, it was a way to take it out of my body and put it on paper so I could put it away and take it out only when I needed reminding about something.
When I tell people to write they usually say something like, “I can’t write. I always got bad grades in writing.”
It makes me want to send a letter to every English teacher out there and ask them not to destroy the confidence of those who are learning how to put their feelings on paper. I would start with mine, remembering the damage she did to my fragile ego when I was trying to write my first novel in the eighth grade. I think it had a lot to do with my handwriting, which was and still is illegible.
I made Cs in English in high school and always thought of myself as a bad writer. That was because of things like spelling and commas, which had nothing to do with what I put on the page.
That changed when I found my calling as a journalist and learned the basics of grammar and form and got a typewriter. I was compelled to tell the stories of those who lived complicated lives and as a feature writer for newspapers and then CUREMagazine. I found tremendous satisfaction in helping those going through cancer by telling the stories of those who had already been there.
But most of you just want to record your story. So, to start, just write.
If you never have written, begin with words. If you type well, type, or get a legal pad (my favorite for years) and make notes. I also like a lined book with colored pencils to allow for a creativity. This may also help you find your focus. If you are writing and feel the urge to make something red or put a box around it, then do so, and pay attention to your feelings – they are telling you something.
Don’t think of should.
Don’t think of “can’ts” or high school grades.
Don’t think of English teachers who told you that you can’t write. Just write. No one has to see it.
If your goal is to get published, look at the publications already out there that you want to break into. If it is a magazine, look at what topics they cover and the kind of writing they like. As a journalist, my book was based on interviews, telling the stories of those I interviewed.
If you want to write first-person, think about doing blogs for a publication or for yourself. There are ways to create your own blog page. It may take a while to get it out there, but you never know what can happen once you do. Write from the heart and don’t compare it to anyone else.
If you want to get serious about it, look for a class at a local college on writing.
A favorite way for me to start a new topic is to meditate for a moment and clear my mind. Then write whatever comes up. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it being a sentence. Just put the words that come to the surface on the paper.
When I am blocked, that is the best way to clear my pathways. Hold the pen above the paper or the fingers above the keyboard and put down the first word that comes up.
I helped facilitate a group called “Engaging the Spirit at the Cancer Support Community.” The group comprised of some fairly sick folks, and one I will never forget was a mechanic. He had a glioblastoma and knew that his time was short. He asked me to help him write some letters to his daughters and wife before he died, and I found him some of the lined composition books we used in school. In two weeks, he had filled one from cover to cover and when I asked him if he wanted to share some with the group he began reading some of the most amazing poetry I had ever heard. He and his spirit had connected in those pages, and when he died, his wife read some of his poems to the crowd before he was interred. Someone at the funeral from the Cancer Support Community was so moved that he asked if he could read all of his writing
Words last forever. Putting your life on paper will help you find resolution.