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How I Discovered I Had Writer’s Trauma and My Recovery

Did you know that the writer's trauma is a thing?

Of course, we both know about post-war trauma, an abusive relationship, or addictions that can leave their indelible marks, but writer’s trauma — who knew?

Ann Handley, apparently.

If you haven’t read Ann Handley’s book, Everybody Writes; Your Go-To Guide to Writing Ridiculously Good Content, it’s a must read!

Finding Ann’s work wasn’t difficult, but it was an accident.

Once I landed on her website, in roughly the time it takes to choose between chocolate or vanilla, I clicked the “buy the book today” button, went directly to Amazon and did as the button instructed.

About five seconds later the book arrived a-la Amazon Prime. I tore open the package, brewed a cup of tea and started reading her book that instant.

I was eleven pages in when I read the following; “Part 1: How To Write Better (and How to Hate Writing Less) the later for the recovering or traumatized writers.”

Wait, …what…? Hold on; traumatized writer, …recovering? What gives?

Laid-back as the Big Lebowski, Ann tossed this bomb into her introduction as an afterthought.

I could almost see The Dude himself peering over the rim of his sunglasses at me, saying, “You can’t be worried about that shit. Life goes on, man!” or as if Ann had said; “Why everyone knows about writers trauma.

Everyone but me!

The Discovery Process

Ann’s mention of “the traumatized writer” stopped me cold. I put the book down and left it on the coffee table for a day, or two.

Meanwhile, the comment poked and prodded me, then shook me from the denial I’d been in — that I’d had writers trauma, and been in recovery… for nearly three years!

But wait; I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Sometime before Ann’s off-the-cuff remark, there was an email I’d written to a friend, to catch up on our lives. Quicker than a three-minute egg, my friend shot back a reply; “Holy crap! This was a great email, Tarini, you should be a writer!”

My first thought was, Hmm… clearly, she hasn’t read my book.

The second was: If I hear that one more time, “you should be a writer, Tarini,” I’m gonna, …well, …I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’m fixin’ to do somethin’!

The truth is, I wrote a book and published it. On this score alone, I’m a writer. The fact that said book only sold 100 copies (to my closest family, and friends), is beside the point.

I’ve written for obscure publications, various online publications (like here); gazillions of business emails — and gobs of killer personal ones, too; sales decks out-the-heenyatch, “About” stories, blogs — ghostwritten blogs, web copy, and cover letters galore!

My biorhythms may have been off that day because my friend’s comment was innocent enough, even still, it hit me like a bowling ball hits the pins, and topples them in a perfect strike.

That email brought on something of a perfect storm, arriving when a cush job came to an end, and I had time to figure out how I was going to make my living doing more of the stuff I love and less of what I, or others, think I should.

I closed my computer and went for a walk.

To passers-by, I’m sure I had a homeless woman’s vibe… you know the kind… half-crazed, having a full-blown conversation with the air? I say this with a deep respect for homeless women  because although I wasn’t precisely homeless, I was damn near.

I was, however, aimless and having a Come to Jesus Meeting with myself.

The Post Publishing Blues

If you ask me, writing a book is a lot like pregnancy. Editing is like delivering a baby, and the publishing part — for me — was traumatizing, and left me with a bad case of Post Publishing Blues.

Like pregnancy, the writing part comes with the expected weight gain, awkward cankles, and painful hemorrhoids.

In my own case, it was that interminable period where I imagined I was writing something coherent …  with all its finger and toes … and as the writing went on, the work got bloated, awkward and cranky.

At some point it took over my life, the way my son did during late-term pregnancy, kicking and elbowing me in the gut to signal he was ready to come out and was making his way to the exit.

Then came the editing. The moment where my editor kindly worked like hell to decipher my meaning, and insisted I bear-down, take deep, cleansing breaths and kill my “darlings” (as Stephen King said), in order to deliver something remotely worth reading.

But this is where the pregnancy metaphor falls apart.

Short of taking a vow of silence, shaving my head and retreating to a cave, I all but divorced myself from writing… and that book!

Unlike childbirth — which was the most remarkable event of my life — once the challenging, but exhaustively rewarding work of editing was done, publishing was a colossal disappointment and an embarrassment.

It was Ann’s choice words that woke from denial, and helped me sober-up to the reality of being a writer.

Life is a series of small and large disappointments that leave their marks.

It is normal to retreat after a traumatizing event, and tend to our wounds so we can heal, dust off, find new footing, and muster the courage to rise again.

My Not-a-News-Flash Epiphany

In time we must bravely reenter our life, do the things we loved — be it writing, horseback riding, or ____(fill in the blank).

To write isn’t about getting published, it’s about doing the work of writing… a crap load lot of crap writing… and keep on writing.

For me, writing is its own reward, but I needed to discover this the only way one could — by writing.

Anne Lamott posted a Tweet recently, saying this same thing, as only Anne can…

“You are going to have to give and give and give, or there is no reason to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have gone on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.” —Anne Lamott

Oddly enough, it was Anne Lamott’s work that inspired me to write that book — she and David Sedaris that is— now Ann Handley joins them like my writing sobriety sponsors, reminding me that to write is a gift I give myself, and by writing one word-at-a-time I’ll learn to be a better giver, and a writer.

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