Writing as Art Therapy

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I started writing a book in November 2008. I wrote around four chapters before I gave up. I had this vision for the book that was VERY specific – it was a children’s book about a little girl who found herself in another world – I wanted it to sound as though it might have been written by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl if they had tea with Neil Gaiman one afternoon.

I was rather proud of those chapters, if I’m honest. I felt they were a great beginning, and I had a solid outline for the rest of the story. But it went the way of every other book I’d ever started. I put it away and didn’t look at it again for several years.

Concept image with If Not Now, When printed on an old typewriter

Then, in 2013, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, and with a great group of local writers surrounding me, I worked on it some more. I changed a lot of the story, making my main character a bit older and adding in a complicated (and unnecessary) love story. I strayed from my original vision, but I added 50,000 words.

Still, when the month was over, the book was nowhere near done. Although I had many ideas, I had lost momentum. Again.

Then came more children, a cross-country move, political turmoil, a new home, and a global pandemic. Not a lot of room for creativity when you’re a mother to four boys and battling myriad health issues, including mental health.

But in late September this year, I signed up for a writing workshop with an author friend of mine. I figured I could surround myself with other writers and get my head down to finally get some writing done. I didn’t originally plan on working on my book. I wanted to write something new and fresh. But this story wasn’t letting me go.

Laptop computer with coffee mug , eyeglasses, fresh fruit and news paper on table

So I dug it out. Some of it had been lost over the years. I only had one draft, which wasn’t the latest, and much of the story was forgotten. Re-reading it, I wasn’t happy with some of the changes I’d made, so I reverted back to the original form, making my character very young once again.

I wrote. And wrote. Thousands of words each day. Chapter after chapter.

The story was telling itself, and every time I felt stumped about what was going to happen, I simply moved on and waited for it to reveal itself. It always did. When the six week workshop was done, my novel was still not complete. But that was okay. Because it had served its purpose. It had given me everything I needed to finish this book.

And it had made me understand that it wasn’t just a book. It was a series.

I am now very nearly done writing book one. I am really happy with it. It tells the story I wanted to tell, but better than I could have written it twelve years ago when I first started. It works better than it would have seven years ago when I worked on it during NaNoWriMo.

I am doing some intensive editing to bring everything together and make it all make sense, but it is almost there. By the end of the year, I will have a completed novel. This is something I have always aspired to. This year, I will have fulfilled a life dream.

a frazzled woman sits at a typewriter with one finger poised to type

When you are someone who has mental health issues, especially when they are as debilitating as mine can sometimes be, finding a reason to keep going can be extremely important. It is so so easy to give up, and it’s such a huge boost of confidence when you find yourself meeting a goal.

I am truly excited that I am at this point. I won’t lie – I’m also afraid. It could so easily go wrong. Often, when I reach this point of ALMOST success, I self-sabotage. I give up, because it is easier to do that than to try something and fail. At least when I do it on purpose, I can keep the failure under my own control.

But I have a good feeling. I think I will actually finish. And whether or not I get published, whether or not I write the second and third books, and whether or not they make money, I will have written a novel.

THAT is all that matters.

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