There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. —Edith Wharton
It is just past eight in the evening, the remaining light has long vanished from the winter sky. There is a bright star, not so distant in the cosmos, surely Venus, appearing through a layer of hazy clouds. It is a beacon to many, a point of reference, a companion to weary travelers.
I am seated at my desk despite the hour, sipping a Cosmo, contemplating writing. It is a good space to be in—musing how satisfying it is to be a writer, sating a hunger for creative expression.
It hasn’t always been so feel good. For a long time I was in a state of hair-pulling frustration, everything inside me was tied up in knots. Creativity had flatlined.
I was without a beacon.
The writing bug bit me in the recession of ’08 and I couldn’t stop scratching. I had lost a high paying job in project management, loved to create and build spreadsheets, layout the hierarchy of steps to get tangible results. Writing, I figured, involved a lot of building. Block upon block, weaving together pieces of time. It appealed to me and I wanted to build something big, a memoir.
Filled with lusty writerness, I chased after it. Headlong. For 3½ years, I lived and breathed in a writing vacuum, vomiting material onto the page. My initial affirmations, like the treasure map in which I drew to envision my writing goals, yellowed. Fervent pleas to the universe, “help me become a good writer,” faded from my subconscious. I got lost, exhausted, overwhelmed. My manuscript grew far from being a labor of love; it became a labor of labor. It began to kill me—I loved to write, hated to write, wanted to quit, couldn’t let it go.
Being a writer was like being in a bad co-dependent relationship.
A little voice inside my head said, Find a community. Writers with whom to commiserate. Get some validation.
I joined an online group of novice writers facilitated by a published memoirist to showcase my awesome material. We submitted work to be read by one another, held a half hour group discussion once a week to share our feedback.
The published memoirist, a victim of child abuse and neglect, sympathized with the debacles I depicted which in no way compared to her own and in doing so, voiced little critique concerning my writing.
I moved on.
For whatever reason, I had trouble finding a group in the Boston area and ended up connecting on Facebook with a woman named Susan from Sisters in Crime, a national organization that provides networking, mentoring and support to mystery writers.
I was desperate, you see.
Over a luncheon in Portland, Maine with a dozen-plus published Sister and Crime writers, Susan, wearing a floral-patterned dress and bonnet, bridged the gap between yours truly and the others. She said, “This is Lisa. We’re going to convert her from memoirist to mystery writer.”
I sported an uneasy smile.
Halfway through the meal, a hugely rotund very published author (I realize my excessive use of adjectives here) sat down across from me. She addressed the group with details of her latest novel with a pulled pork sandwich engrossed in her mouth. She chirped away as gobs of barbeque sauce painted her cheeks tawny and dripped down her front. The napkin she placed there had long wafted to the floor.
Much later that afternoon, before hitting the prompt to de-friend Susan, I messaged her. I said, “Thanks for the invite to lunch. I’m sticking with memoir writing. Good luck, ‘sister.’”
Bankrupt and broke and sans community, I still needed to be a writer.
The little voice inside my head spoke again. It said, Find a writing coach. Learn about craft.
Come to find out there are thousands of coaches out there. They’re like doctors and lawyers. Some are competent, some are lousy. Some are even soul crushers. I dropped coins in wishing well after wishing well. I wanted a coach who got me, got writing, could give me guidance.
Turns out my hand plucked coaches in one way or another validated my invalidation.
One crunched food in my ear over the phone while reviewing my work. Another quoted me a price equivalent to my former mortgage promising her hifalutin efforts would yield “the greatest possible outcome.” The next one, to whom Dennis paid a chunk of dough upfront, never got around to reading my manuscript. Another, who reacted to my greeting of woe “I’m dying” with raucous laughter, let the editorial backslaps rip: “Let’s be more overt here” and “this feels like it’s come to out of nowhere” and “this paragraph is incredibly vague.”
Call me oversensitive but I’m thinking the last comment didn’t need the punch of “incredibly” and I could have pursued the appropriate action with “this paragraph is vague.”
Making edits, it dawned on me, does not teach a writer about craft.
I returned to being untethered.
The writing got harder.
Like squeezing blood from a stone.
Writer’s block set in.
Eventually, I did the only thing I could do.
I got spiritual.
Research for a Master Teacher brought me to Libby Barnett’s home, renowned Reiki author who has been practicing Reiki for over 34 years.
We introduced ourselves, her living room packed with Reiki practitioner wannabes, the energy vibrant and uplifting.
You could say I dampened the mood. I said, “Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a memoir writer; been writing for 5 years, risked and lost everything, and just hit a debilitating block. I’m dying.”
Libby happened to light up at my eloquent soliloquy.
“Oh,” she replied, “are you looking for an editor?” She turned to the windowsill, produced Kasey Matthew’s memoir Preemie.
“Suzanne Kingsbury is a Reiki student of mine. She can help you―she helped this New Hampshire woman write this memoir that’s now stocked in every Barnes and Noble store in the country.”
Hold the presses.
I heard: New Hampshire housewife, never written a word in her life, every bookstore on earth, NPR interviews, speaking engagements, meet-and-greets, validation, sustenance, success.
This Suzanne had moved a mountain.
My awareness returned to the room. I breathed again, accepted the book Libby was handing me. “Suzanne’s contact information is here,” she said, taking it back to open the front cover.
My affirmations, treasure map of writing goals and fervent “help me become a good writer” pleas, had been shifting molecules in the universe since I put pen to paper.
And, the writer’s block was not an obstacle, but a catalyst.
That evening, I emailed Suzanne informing her that the cosmos had connected us and if she would consider―as a fellow Reiki person―helping me write and get published so I could go on NPR and share my story of debacles and ultimately, earn enough dough to resume paying down my futile MBA loans, buy the dog’s food, and flip the bill for my own hair color.
Suzanne called me the following morning.
She asked for a copy of my 300,000-word manuscript, a body of work spanning birth to present that I had loved, hated, laughed and wept over. I mailed it to her in hard copy; nearly broke my arm carrying it to the post office.
Differing from one of those other “coaches,” she did not get back to me when the light from the most distant galaxy reached the earth, but committed to completing the read within a week’s time.
Which she did.
We arranged to meet at Panera. I had my hair done, coaxed a stylist in an upscale salon to throw in a cut for the price of a shampoo and blow dry on the premise that I was “dying.” Suzanne, on the other hand, did not have her hair shampooed and blown dry. She wore it long and natural, donned subtle makeup, a radiant smile, and a cheerful sundress. Very cute. When I spotted her, I held her massive literary hit The Summer that Fletcher Greel Loved Me up over my face. I figured she’d catch on since she had no idea what I looked like.
She did; she laughed.
I lowered the book.
She found me heavily made up, dressed in a leopard-print top, wheat-colored slacks and high heel Mary Janes.
Over my manuscript, which turned out to be an unabridged mass of skeletal ramblings, Suzanne cited her favorite funny parts, most of which I couldn’t make out because she was laughing so hard and making strained sucking sounds.
(Incidentally, the woman who took Dennis’s chunk of dough upfront but produced nothing, told me she would be the judge of what “funny” was―apparently, she has a particular standard for “funny.”)
After getting some black bean soup into her belly, Suzanne got down to the nitty gritty. She advised me to write on a particular year or a season of doom, not my whole life history. That works only for celebrities and important people. She also noted, repeatedly, to write “in the body,” and pick up copies of Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and Euland’s “If You Want to Write.”
And so our relationship started, the fruition. Suzanne has nurtured me; taught me her craft through her own “Gateless Writing Method,” gently nudged me in firm directions. She is my shining star, my coach, my mentor—my shrink. She is one of those rare people you meet who really knows what they’re doing but instead of having a big head due to much success, she’s a fun and giggly and a down-to-earth person. Which makes for a great writing coach.
Know what else comes with Suzanne? The Gateless Gate Salonistas writing community! Scores and scores of her writing peeps and book lovers. There is so much damn love and inspiration and support, its death defying.
Because of Suzanne and the Salonistas, I am no longer dying. And whenever some of those old frustrations resurface, Suzanne tells me, “Keep going.”
Are you a struggling writer? Had your soul crushed by a nasty editor? Left writing conferences discouraged and in tears vowing to never write again?
Start anew and hook up with us, the Gateless Gate Salonistas on Facebook. We’ve got the novice, the seasoned and the “very” published. Men and women of all ages. Retreats, weekly writing salons. Best of all you’ll receive Suzanne’s morning affirmation; it’s a robust shot of encouragement and inspiration every single day.
Don’t give up, writer. Keep going. Have faith in your abilities, shake up the universe with your wishes and realize if you really work at it and let the words flow freely, your craft will improve. The writing process is magical in that way.
Suzanne Kingsbury can be reached through her website.
Lisa Mae DeMasi is a freelance writer who writes on women’s issues, creativity and the family. She is a contributor to HuffPost, Elephant Journal and her personal blog, Nurture is my Nature. Her work on the creative process has been shortlisted for the Tucson Festival of the Book Literary Award and can be viewed at Shark Reef Literary Journal. When she isn’t writing, Lisa is a Reiki practitioner who specializes in unblocking creatives in all mediums and moving them (with humor and love) to the highest vision of themselves as artists.