On Writing Your Truth
Two years ago, I published His Mother! Women Write about Their Mothers-in-law with Humor, Frustration, and Love. The work on that project spanned ten years. I knew from the start that many women I knew would not be able to participate. I was told as much by several. Why? They feared the backlash and talk that would result if they wrote a truthful piece.
Those of us raised in the South are particularly susceptible to that kind of fear. Why? Because we are raised to hide ugliness and “unpleasantness” (as it is often phrased) in order to preserve the façade of perfection. We don’t want people talking about us or our family except in glowing and envious terms. We don’t “air our dirty laundry.” And in spite of what Julia Sugarbaker said, we do not parade our “crazy” on the front porch or in the living room. No, not at all. We call it “eccentricity” and admire it from a cool, but dutiful, distance.
But in my research on the subject of mother-in-law relationships, I found overwhelmingly that the relationship was terribly misaligned. Despite the jokes and television series and hours of long private conversations with our best friends about the problems inherent in the relationships, the realiaty is that on the whole they were overwhelmingly positive. So, I persevered through the process of publication.
That time span was a good thing for me. In my own situation, my story about my mother-in-law changed four times. Those revisions followed the path of her slow demise and the shifting of my relationship with her. My story went from outright anger and resentment, to one of honesty and acceptance, and finally, to one of forgiveness. And that was good for my soul, if not for the story itself.
HOWEVER. And that’s a big HOWEVER. Since the publication of the book, I have had to field questions, mild scoldings, and down-right hurtful remarks about why I chose to reveal private, “for family only” experiences to be devoured by the public. I have always answered these with truth: “My husband suggested that whenever I’m confronted about this story, I should refer the questioners to him or to relay to the questioner exactly how my husband would answer, and that is: ‘She could have written far more and very much worse.’”
I take comfort in the fact that my husband approved every single draft I wrote. In fact, he often asked me why I didn’t tell about when she did so and so or reveal how she handled this or that. My answer to him was always, “First, I think I’ve revealed the most important things. Besides, some of the other stuff, people would just say I lied. They wouldn’t believe it.”
We always share a good laugh over that. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Some people asked me if all of the story was, in fact, true. Had I not thrown in a bit of fictional writing to jazz things up a bit? To titillate? To sell more copies?
The answer is an emphatic NO.
Every word is true.
Why would I make things up when the truth was already so “jazzed, titillating, and would sell like crazy?”
I remember years ago when I first began writing to publish my work, every lecture, course, or book on writing warned of this situation—tell the truth, and people are going to eat you alive. A writer friend of mine, Ryan Crawford, just wrote a true story (“Earmouths,” published in Wild, Wonderful ‘n Wacky, South Cackalacky) and made this statement which I have printed and hung in my study: “You get really honest with folks, and they’ll turn on you every time.”
True. Very, very true.
I thought I’d grown tough enough to take the negative remarks that happen sometimes and are made by both critics and readers. And for the most part, I do well at shrugging them away. But today, I heard one that infuriated me. (And yes, I trust the source that informed me, implicitly. And yes, I know who made the comments.) This was the situation:
“I heard Sandy’s story in His Mother is downright nasty.”
“Uhhh….nasty? What do you mean ‘nasty’? It’s a story about her relationship with her mother-in-law.”
“I know what it’s about. We’ve discussed it at my book club time and time again. It’s nasty. She shouldn’t have written it.”
“Well, ummm…I’ve read the whole book. There’s nothing ‘nasty’ in any of the stories. In fact, most are really sweet. Have you read the book?”
“No. But my book club has discussed her story over and over. It’s nasty. I don’t want to read it.”
“It’s not nasty. It’s a true story, and it’s a story of her being sad that her mother-in-law was so mean and missed out on so much love because of it. It’s about Sandy finally being able to forgive her for all the hateful things she did. It’s not nasty at all. It’s true that it tells some pretty personal things that happened in terms of her mother-in-law’s actions toward others in the family, but it is certainly not nasty.”
“Well, that’s what they say in my book club, and I’m not reading it.”
My response to this: Have any members of this book club read it? I probably know most of the women in this club. If they have read it and feel this way, my first response is to snap: “How in the world did they miss the regret, the sorrow, the forgiveness so entwined in that story. Do they know how to read? Do they understand what they read? And how is it 'nasty'?
But I won’t say any of that. I will simply state what my husband advised me to state, “I could have written far more and very much worse.”
Those opinions sting, of course. But the thing that troubles me most is that people go about spreading these kinds of blatant opinions when they have not even read the story. And not just my story—other stories—good stories with worthwhile messages. What is that all about? Censorship? Jealousy? What is so ‘nasty’ about truth? About honesty? About being real? Where is the ‘nasty’ in any of those things?
Now, had this person (or anyone in the book club) honestly read the book and my story and created an honest critique or review based on facts taken from the writings or facts from anywhere to contradict what I wrote, then that is another thing altogether. Further, why don’t they post that honest review on Amazon or somewhere and substantiate what they say and be “man or woman” enough to sign a name to it. (It might push sales higher! --you know that old titillating thing again.)
Like I always told my children, “I can deal with the truth. But there’s no way to deal with a lie.” And this whole opinion is just that—a lie. This person claimed something about the story and hadn't even read the story.
Readers may not like the story. They may not relish telling their own stories, but they should actually read it before voicing and spreading an opinion about it.
Furthermore, comments like this are sort of like the political battles that rage on Facebook and Twitter and any number of on-line forums. There’s a lot of opinionating going on based on very little fact and research. The all-powerful “they” say something, and people repeat it as the gospel truth.” But spreading untruths and denigrating a book, a person, a place, a thing just because “they” say it, is simply stupid. It is a ‘nasty’ thing you do when you do it. Much like gossip, or political rantings.
I am proud to say I am not “A Nasty Woman .” I do not write nasty things made from lies.
But maybe I’ll write a second volume of this book…wonder what “they” would say if I told the “far more and the very much worse”? hmmmm…..
Happy reading y’all.
And if you are a writer: Happy, truthful writing. Be brave. Be fearless. But be advised that “they” are out there and will turn on you.
Nevertheless, go for it! Write your truth.
“And one day, the girl with the books became the woman writing them.”
I came across this quote on Pinterest yesterday and fell in love with it. I pinned it to my board I named “ME.” Because it is. ME.
My nose stayed in books throughout my grade school, middle school, and high school years. Summer vacations: I packed books. Family trips in the car: I packed books. Study hall on my schedule: I packed books.
I’m sure my parents must have worried over me. I was the quiet child, they said. "She reads a lot," they apologized. My teachers sent home notes that I daydreamed a lot. My friend's parents would say with a sort of sad smile, "I forgot she was even in the house."
Classmates would come over to get help before writing papers for school because they all knew I had really read the book--the whole book! I'd start talking about the stories and hours later, their eyes glazed and fingers sore from taking notes, they'd leave with enough information to do the assignment. I often told them it would be easier if they'd just take notes in class and read the books themselves, but no...they had me for that. I loved retelling the stories. And they knew it.
Of course, it wasn't all nerds-ville. I had plenty of friends. I did my share of partying and dating and all the other things teenagers do. I was even a cheerleader. But I never got too cool for books. NEVER.
When I went on my honeymoon: I packed books: When I went to the hospital in labor with both my children: I packed books. When I went to my children's Little League games, dancing lessons, guitar lessons, tennis lessons, shopping trips with them and they didn’t want me to “help” them choose clothes: I packed books.
I spent hours in a parked car waiting on one child or another, shivering in the cold, or sweating in the heat and humidity of South Carolina weather. But I always had a book to read.
When I taught school and took my own lunch with me: I also packed books. Now, when I travel to visit friends or family: I pack books. When I drive on long trips: I pack books (in the form of DVD’s).
I can remember only a few situations in my life when I didn’t have at least one book with me, usually more, Even now when I take my Kindle, I also pack a real book—just in case the Kindle dies, and there’s no power source, or worse, some maniac takes out the power grid!
I love my Kindle. It can store lots and lots of books. But because I really do fear that downed-grid situation, I still buy real books, too. I have stacks of them to be read. And yes, I still buy more. I fear being in this world without my books.
But, I digress…back to the quote.
I saw it, pinned it, copied and pasted it. And I have thought about it for hours today. How blessed I am. All those books and now to be writing them and even publishing them.
My dream. My passion.
How fortunate I am to be able to sit at my desk for hours at a time and work really, really hard, but not for a moment consider it work.
How absolutely blessed. And thankful. And humbled, I am.
Jeremiah 29:11 “for I know the plans I have for you,"
declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Thank you, Lord.
Summer blossomed in South Carolina with all its usual heat and humidity, and the outlook promises more to come next week in addition to thunderstorms and intermittent heavy rains for several days. But the good news is this gives me time to catch up on correspondence, do a stack of editing, finish reading two books I started last week, and maybe, just maybe, I'll get a little writing done as well. And then there is cleaning my study. (loud sigh)
I clean my study twice a year: January and June. That means not just sorting through old files, stacks of newsletters, magazines, and jotted down notes and quotes I've long forgotten why I wrote down in the first place, but it also means going through the book shelves and sorting the keepers from the give-aways. Books breed in my study....truly they do. Two shelves hold books "to be read," yet every six months the shelves bow lower because I add more books than I read. (And that's not counting the kindle purchases.)
I know why this happens. I confess I am a bibliophile and a hoarder of books. It's as if my subconscious says, "Hey, stock up on reading material because the zombies will invade and destroy all bookstores, and you'll have nothing to read!!!!!" So the end result is that I always end up with more to read than I have read.
It's my life.
I accept it.
My husband has learned to live with it.
But the most difficult part of all this cleaning out is deciding what to keep and what to donate. I fall in love with some books (I am not monogamous in that respect). I fall irrevocably in love forever and ever, and I have to have those on my shelf because to not have them would be to suffer untold grief over the loss of something that has become a real part of ME.
And so the problem grows: too many books, too few shelves. The Friends of the Library and various school libraries are so happy to see me in January and June. They know I bring gifts--free and highly recommended. And I derive great joy and satisfaction passing on my beloved friends, but it is still hard, I tell you, to hand over that volume that suffered the cut in the decision of which one do I love most and "have to" keep.
I know there are others out there with this same issue, and that brings me joy. Joy because as long as there are readers and hoarders, our work as writers will always be a necessity. We will always be needed, wanted, and loved by someone, somewhere.
And in this whirlwind world we live in, it's comforting to know we will not become obsolete.
A few days ago, my writing critique group lost a dear friend. Dave Thompson was a fellow writer and one of the founding members of our group. We have been together some eight years now.
Dave published his first book of stories early on—stories of his boyhood and friends. He presented those books as gifts to friends and family. Those stories highlighted his humble, honest style, strong images, and the heartfelt emotion Dave poured into everything and everyone. Over the years, he also wrote a novel and two books of poetry. His latest book, Poems for People Who Don’t Like Poetry released just a couple of months before his unexpected passing.
As in most serious writing groups, the members share what is most precious, most important, most meaningful to them in their works. And although those revelations are not always intentional, a careful read reveals the true values and the core of a person’s spirit hidden inside the lines of stories, poems, or essays.
And such is the case with Dave’s writings. He was smart, honest, kind, generous, and humble. But what lay at Dave’s core, what motivated his actions and his words, what directed the path he would take each and every day, was simply the prayer that he would do his best in the eyes of our Lord. This prayer is in every single work Dave wrote.
In the writing process, there are several stages we, as authors, must endure. There is the origination of an idea. Developing the idea. Revising the idea. And finally, letting the idea go out into the world. Some writers navigate these stages quite quickly. And I say YAY for them. But Dave and I often teased each other that although we might zoom through the origination and development of a piece of writing, both of us tended to linger….no make that: both of us tended to take up a somewhat permanent residence in the stage of revision. We both lovingly lived in that place we called Revision Land…trying over and over and over again to get that writing just right. And with each thing we wrote, we needed each other and the other members of the group to move us along to letting it go by saying, “Hey! You’re done. It’s more than good. Time to let it go, and move on.”
Without that clear directive, some of us might live in Revision Land forever--never feeling the work was quite good enough to let go. Dave worked hard at his craft. He wrote and revised and revised some more. And most of the writing he did this last year concerned life and his relationship to Christ.
Dave’s writing also reflected that he lived his real life much the same way as he lived his writing life. His words reflected his desire to do more, be better, draw closer to and stronger in his faith. His poems reflected his unwavering beliefs, his doubts of his worthiness, his need for the Lord. And his poems especially reflected the longing to keep improving himself and his service to the Lord.
Through my own grief, I have come to believe all this quite strongly. And while Dave nor the members of our group ever suspected his passing was so near, the Lord knew. He took the book of Dave’s life in His hands and closed it. I smile through tears as I imagine Dave kneeling, his head bowed, tears on his cheeks, a shy smile on his lips, and the Lord saying, “ Hey Dave! You’re done. It’s more than good. Time to let it go, and move on.”
Our writing group will miss the sweet, gentle spirit that we knew as Dave Thompson. But we draw comfort from believing the Lord has called home this faithful servant—one in whom He is well pleased.
Well done, sweet Dave. Well done.
To Purchase Dave's newest book of poems, click the button below:
.by Guest Blogger Crystal Klimavicz
Indie Books Unleashed!
It would be an understatement to say that a chasm exists in our nation today, one that divides not only political parties but genders, races, classes, and more. You can’t read a magazine, visit social media, or go to the grocery store without getting someone’s opinion. Just this morning, I overheard this at the gym: “Well, I’ve lived through two Bush and two Obama administrations, and the only thing that changed was my healthcare. Beyond that, life has pretty much stayed the same.”
Regardless of the ‘truth’ to this opinion, the reality is that the political arena is, for the most part, fought on a much larger scale than the individual worlds in which we live. And in my little world, I saw a chasm that was equally as great, one that exists between the world of traditional publishing and those of the self-published. It is a divide that prompted me to facilitate a change and start something new to make a difference.
Of course, there are the traditional publishing houses and the smaller publishers that have cropped up to meet demand. They may argue that there is an inherent gatekeeper to the system through the agents and editors -- people who ensure a level of professionalism -- within the process.
Some may even say that self-published authors circumvent this gate and promote books of ‘unequal’ quality to go to print. For the record, the J.K. Rowlings, Margaret Atwoods, and Stephen Kings of the world make publishing a book the old-fashioned way look far too easy. Yet even many of them received rejections on their work. Agatha Christie was rejected for five years before landing a publishing deal and Louis L’Amour received 200 rejections letters before Bantam accepted him. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times and has since sold over 20 million copies.
So, what about those people who don’t make it that far? Though the traditional system may weed out some bad books from the good, I would argue that only sometimes is that true. There are wonderful, life-changing, and inspiring novels written by talented people who for whatever reason choose to self-publish, perhaps because of their age, their goals, or perhaps even a belief in themselves. Sylvia Plath, whose talented mind was demise, once wrote, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Fade in Indie Books Unleashed, a brand, new program with a simple, fun concept: Help authors get their books into new markets, into the hands of new readers, and get those coveted online book reviews. This unique program circumvents the traditional methods of book distribution and promotes name recognition for the authors and the businesses who agree to ‘house’ their books.
If you have a book in print that you have self-published, join us today at www.IndieBooksUnleashed.com. And, if you are a lover of books and would like your shop, office, or café anywhere nationwide to be a participating location in the Indie Books Unleashed program, inquire at info@IndieBooksUnleashed.com.
Crystal Klimavicz is an author, instructor, and entrepreneur with a passion for the written word. She loves creating stories that inspire thought and change, as much as she enjoys helping others learn how to write their own.
Her three books include Falling Through Trees and This Side of Perfect in women's fiction, as well as a historical memoir collection entitled The Days of Not So Long Ago. You can read more at www.CrystalKlimavicz.com.
Her most recent endeavor is the exciting launch of Indie Books Unleashed, LLC. IBU is a program for self-published authors that helps get their books out into new markets, in readers' hands, and gets those books read and reviewed. Real-world discoverability for indie writers! Check out www.IndieBooksUnleashed.com for more details and to join.
When Crystal is not writing, she is often playing card games with her two children (and getting beat), or heading out for a run around the beautiful island where they live near Charleston, South Carolina.
Countless writers have compared writing and publishing to giving birth. And while most mothers would say, “No way,” I agree that taking a book from conception to delivery is in some ways a similar process.
Guys, please don’t stop reading. This post is not for women only.
Eighteen years ago, a friend and I shared a chocolate (what other kind is there?) dessert one rainy day. We had met a few years before and formed a solid relationship as writers, readers, and women.
I have always lived in South Carolina. But my friend, while born here, was a military child and had lived all over the world. She returned to South Carolina to teach at a major university. I was Caucasian; she was African American. Married for over twenty years, with children in high school and college, I returned to the university to pursue my passion—writing. She was, comparatively, a newly wed with a toddler, and was my professor.
We discussed many things that day, but when the conversation turned to family, our mother-in-law stories crossed the lines of coincidence. How could that be when our backgrounds were so different? Did others have similar stories? Were most mothers-in-law horrible people? Or was there the possibility that the bad-rap about them could be challenged?
We wanted to know, and right there over chocolate, our book His Mother was conceived.
Later, my friend found she would not be able to participate in the book, but glowing with the idea of a new project, I continued.
TAKE AWAY: Don’t close your mind as to where book ideas can originate!
I needed contributors like a pregnant woman craves food. I wanted both published and yet-published writers, who loved the project as I did. I wanted writers with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities.
I crafted emails outlining my specific wants for the submissions. I contacted writers I knew personally. I asked them for recommendations. I contacted groups and placed submission calls on select writing websites.
Waiting on responses, I prepared my book proposal using models from books and publishers’ guidelines, paying specific attention to books on the market that might compete with His Mother. I focused on how my book differed from these, what it offered that others did not.
I narrowed the hundred responses to eighteen suitable to my focus. Then, I began revising and editing.
TAKE AWAY: Develop a writing network. Join writing groups and associations. Get active in the writing community.
Be specific about your REASON for writing a book, whether fiction or nonfiction. You must have a focus for writing whether you are a pantster or a plotter, or your manuscript will become unmanageable.
Seek the best advice and models for what you write.
Research the market.
REVISE and EDIT SEVERAL TIMES. Your work grows stronger in proportion to the time you allot to this.
With the sample stories in shape and the proposal done, I prepared a list of agents and publishers, and sent out the proposal. Then I waited.
Several rejections later, a flutter of interest occurred. But it came to naught.
I re-submitted the proposal, sent in full manuscripts when asked, and waited again. More rejections, another flutter, but again, it proved false.
Years passed. I grew tired. Frustrated. I distracted myself. Worked on other books. But the urge to get that book out was ever-present.
I revised and resubmitted, again.
Then one fine day, when I felt totally out-done with the project, a contract offer arrived.
TAKE AWAY: (You already know it): DON’T GIVE UP!
After more revision and editing, all was ready, but then came a complication. Three months before the scheduled release, the publisher closed its doors.
But no way was I going to stop the momentum we had built. I owed my contributors. I decided to open my own publishing company, and His Mother debuted right on time.
TAKE AWAY: (Again) Do not give up. Be creative in your solutions to today’s publishing challenges. Believe in your work. Find a way. This business can be painful, yes, but it can also bring immeasurable joy.
e to edit.