1. What was the impetus or inspiration to write your story?
I tried very hard not to write my story. In 2008, I started graduate school at the University of Western Connecticut MFA program. I was determined to become a witty travel writer—a David Sedaris meets Barbara Kingsolver out on the open road, if such a thing is possible! I swore I would never write about relationships or marriage.
Yet every time I sat down to write, my marriage—and my disillusionment and unhappiness—crept in. For my very first assignment I tried to write about a trip my husband and I took to Mexico. I wrote 30 pages to arrive at the 15 I turned in, and the piece was a mess. Luckily, my mentor, author Mark Sundeen, took the time to read carefully and discern that it was not really an essay about a trip to Mexico. It was an essay about a 30-year-old woman trying to figure out if she could reconnect to her husband and the life they’d built together over the previous 10 years.
She could not. I could not. Over the next two years, I found myself writing a memoir about my divorce as every aspect of my life unraveled. Time and again, I tried to write something else, but I was always drawn back to my own story. I learned that sometimes we have a specific story that needs to be told and there can be great power in heeding that. I know now that writing that story helped me save my own life and create a new one better aligned with my true dreams and values.
2. What were some of the struggles that you faced in the writing process? How were you able to overcome them?
Most of my struggles were emotional. I wrote as a way to find answers in my own life, often tackling questions and issues I hadn’t admitted out loud to myself or to my husband. This made writing an extremely emotional process layered with intense guilt—my ex-husband was not an evil man; I was the one hurting him by asking for a divorce. I was also writing about things still ongoing in my own life. I didn’t know how things were going to turn out, much less how to end chapters. Some chapters had to sit for months before I could give them a proper resolution. I also worried a great deal about writing a story that not only exposed my secrets and flaws, but also exposed my ex-husband and my family.
Three things helped me get through the process. First, I learned to focus only on the writing before me. I could worry about sharing it (and hence, the reactions of others) after I had a manuscript to show for my efforts. Secondly, I found a lot of freedom in the Artist’s Way, a book by Natalie Cameron that taught me to foster my own creativity and introduced me to morning pages—essentially, three pages of handwritten brain dumping to get ride of mental clutter and closer to my own truth. I learned to let the act of writing be a safe and creative space in my life and not something to fear.
I also had tremendous mentors who didn’t judge me. They provided a fair sounding board for my writing, and also cared about my well-being. They taught me that it was okay to let a story rest while I lived my life—that just like my life had it’s own timing and rhythm, the life of a story did, too.
3. Is there a place, routine, or ritual that you have when writing? Is there an environment that allows you to be the most creative?
For creative writing, I write best in the early morning hours. I like to wake up, let the dog out, get a cup of coffee and climb back into bed to start with morning pages. It’s best when it’s still dark out and I’m writing only by the glow of a bedside lamp. It creates the sensation that I’m in a safe cocoon, and it’s a signal to my inner censor that this draft doesn’t have to be good. It just needs to uncover the story. (I should add that I write all rough drafts by hand for the same reasons!)
Now that I’m in a new relationship, it doesn’t always work to take over the bed for writing. I’ve trained myself to write during the light of day now, in 90-minute increments (with the timer actually going). That’s long enough to get something done but short enough that it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming amount of time. I’ve also had great success writing first drafts on airplanes or waiting for airplanes—there’s no place to go and nothing else to do.
4. If you had to describe yourself in three words only, what would they be?
Determined. Adventurous. Homebody.
(I like to think the latter two can coexist).
5. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
Rock climbing in Thailand. I moved from Minneapolis to Colorado after my divorce, and I now live 9,000 feet above sea level. I crave tropical forests and humidity! Not long after moving here, I met my boyfriend of two-plus years and he introduced me to rock climbing. It’s a physically and mentally demanding sport that in many ways parallels the writing process—you make progress by taking small steps and learning that you can move forward even when you’re afraid. That’s a life lesson I always need to be reminded of, and I would love to explore it in Thailand.
6. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future? Do you have any exciting plans or projects coming up?
I’ve begun my first novel about a young girl in Northern Minnesota—the place of my roots—coming to terms with a newly created wolf hunt. I’ll admit, I love fiction after pouring my heart and soul into a memoir! I’m also launching a new business as a writing coach, and as part of that, a website called WritingStrides (www.writingstrides.com) dedicated to helping writers navigate the writing process. Not just the nuts and bolts of writing, but the emotional hurdles that come with it.