A few months ago, I wrote a blog post here about a writer friend of mine, Kennedy Ryan, whose son was diagnosed with Autism when he was two. I said she was a fighter. I told you she was inspiring. Today, I’ve invited her to share her story here, so you can see what I mean. I think you’ll love her as much as I do. ~ Kimberly
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I’ve always loved a phoenix rising from the ashes as the perfect image of rebirth, but mine rose from a river. On the long hot days of summer, along a riverbank, I recovered something I didn’t even realize I had lost. My imagination.
For as long as my memory stretches back, I have always wanted to write. I used to make up stories on my grandmama’s back porch, using a dirty old mop as my long-haired heroine. I wrote poetry. I wrote short stories. Then later, I wrote articles. Even later I obtained my journalism degree. Writing came to me as easy as breath, and was as essential. I would literally talk out loud when I was alone, in character. I had voices in my head, and I loved to hear the cadence of their speech. To air out the dialogue trapped in the walls of my mind. Somewhere between college and marriage and having my son, the voices went quiet. Drowned out by the necessities of earning a living and maybe just growing up. Maybe just going through.
My son was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. A lot of kids with autism are obsessed with water. Mine is like the poster child for water obsession. Literally every day during the summers, we are at fountains, swimming pools, rivers – some body of water. Not only is it fun for him, but usually wears him out and helps him sleep better. A couple of summers ago, his water of choice was the Chattahoochee River. We would go for hours. While he frolicked, I’d often sit on the riverbank and just absorb the beauty and days-end solitude. And then I heard a faint, scratchy-voiced whisper in my head. A trace of sound in my mind I almost didn’t recognize. As I watched the river, sometimes churning and sometimes placid, it told me a story. Characters started forming. Dialogue between a hero and a heroine ricocheted in my head. Instead of blocking it out, I started listening. I wrote notes on my phone’s Post It app. Played stenographer for the characters’ conversations. Took pictures of the river for setting cues. By the end of the summer, I’d assembled the makings of a novel, but was too scared to sit down and start writing. I couldn’t quite figure how to get those voices out of my head and into a word count on my laptop.
I thought back to those earliest days before I’d even considered myself a writer. I’d just been a kid, and my imagination had been my best friend and my favorite toy. Adult inhibitions hadn’t hindered me. I’d spoken aloud and alone. Fully inhabiting the characters in my head. Fully expressing their emotions for me to hear. I wondered if that would work now? So I tried it. In my kitchen. In my car. In the shower. Just started speaking the dialogue as I heard it, and it unlocked a door that had been barricaded for years. Barricaded by responsibilities and burdens and fears and worries. Everything I had allowed to weigh me down in the hard-to-bear years since my son’s diagnosis pressed against that door and held my imagination hostage.
And my voice was the key.
I started typing in August, and in a few months, had completed a novel. I thought it might be one of the best things I had ever written, but I couldn’t be sure. My husband and a few friends thought it was awesome, but they loved me too much to be unbiased, right? So I joined my local RWA chapter, surrounding myself with people who were serious about becoming published authors. They showed me how to polish my raw gift with the skills of writing craft until that little book shone. I entering writing contests, and used the feedback of every judge to improve the book.
For ten years, I had been working a full-time job, running my foundation for families living with Autism, and of course, taking care of my son. There hadn’t been much space or time in my life for things I wanted just for me. Writing was an indulgence I had denied myself, but as I talked to these writers and heard their stories, I realized I wanted to be a published writer. I wanted to share the voices in my head with the world.
I had signed up for my first writers’ conference, and a friend asked if I’d be pitching my novel.
I really didn’t know what she meant. She explained that agents, publishers, and editors flew in from all over, and we could schedule a 10-minute slot to pitch our novel to them. I thought, why not? It would be great practice if nothing else. What did I have to lose? So I rehearsed my little spiel about the book, swallowed the knot of fear in my throat, batted at the butterflies in my belly, and pitched to an editor and an agent. I cannot overstate how elated and shocked I was when BOTH the editor from New York and the literary agent asked me to send my full novel for them to consider. I’ll never forget that day. Not ever. Even as I tried to manage my emotions; remind myself that they weren’t making any promises, that it didn’t usually happen this fast for most – excitement still coursed through me over the next few months every time I thought about them reading my book.
Three months after I submitted my novel, the literary agent contacted me saying she wanted to represent me. Not long after that, the editor from New York emailed me about publishing my book. Most people I’d spoken to said it took years to get published, and many of them were still trying. And it had happened for me in a matter of months. I didn’t take it for granted. I was so incredibly humbled and grateful.
I look at my life today – still running my foundation, still taking care of my son, but now writing full time. I am astounded by this fresh chapter. This blank page waiting for me to write the next words. That silence in my head has been filled with more voices than I can sort through some days. The characters, the ideas, the stories – they flood me like that rushing river that started it all. And I listen and I write and I joy in this thing that I know I was created to do. It is a fulfillment I had forgotten I wanted, but now that I have it, I’ll never go back.
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I’m rewriting a story. I’ve been rewriting this story for the past two years. Every time I pull it out, I stare at the words on the screen, then decide I’d rather become a tightrope walker without a safety net. Instead of writing, I fold laundry, walk the dust bunnies, and stare out the window at the still falling snow.
So I put it away, only to pull it out a few months later. And the process begins once again.
Stare, think, jump in the truck and go visit my mom.
I’ve finally figured out that there’s an invisible wall between my current thought patterns and the way my brain worked when I first wrote this story. Back then, I wrote angst. Oh, how I loved to torture my characters, putting them into a world filled with emotional pain. Thumbscrews to the wall. Such writerly fun.
But then I went through a rough patch, a year when I desperately needed laughter in my life and couldn’t dredge any up. So it came out in my writing efforts.
I drafted four romantic comedies, relishing in the snark that showed up on the pages. Laughing with my heroes and heroines as they dealt with family and each other. I discovered a new home for my writing and a new voice to go along with it.
Still, this story drew me back. I loved the hero and heroine and desperately wanted to share them with the rest of the world. Soon laughter spilled onto the pages and my new voice crept into the manuscript. Every time I pulled it out, I bounced back and forth between the old story and new story, between my old voice and new voice, attempting to reconcile the two and find some balance between them.
I’m back at it again, torn between the angst and the humour, attempting to find a structure in which I can incorporate them both. Or maybe I’m just procrastinating, putting off the inevitable difficult work ahead or the realization that this manuscript can’t be fixed, that it needs to go into the deep dark recesses of my computer hard drive and vanish forever like a fugitive on the run.
What do you think? Have you ever decided to rewrite an old manuscript, only to discover you’ve changed and can’t change back? Have you ever had your voice change midstride, then tried to incorporate the new with the old? Have you ever read a book where the author seemed to struggle between two very different author personalities?
Come share your experiences with me. I’m walking on a tightrope, hoping someone will toss me a safety net.