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I have been working on final edits for Healing The Writer – A Personal Account of Overcoming PTSD for the last month. An editor gave me tremendous feedback to help tighten the manuscript, and I’ve been making great progress on making those changes.

I have known that it would be a big deal to finish and publish this book, because it would directly expose the lies of my grandmother to the light of day, thereby robbing much of their power. It would also contradict her messages about being a writer. I will reclaim a lot of power by publishing this particular book, because of the subject. Even my doctor said “this book is a big deal.”

When I was 8 years old, my grandmother told me if I ever became a writer, they would “call me crazy and lock me up.” She reinforced the message in pretty hideous ways, which included saying the doctor she worked for could have me committed to an asylum, and then showing me what it would be like.

In one section, the editor suggested I might need to dig further down to get in touch with my experience of the worst abuse. I thought I already had, but as I worked on editing that section, I wrote additional content that was the how that little boy felt, at a deeper level than I had ever gotten to it. Later I had a “feeling memory” where I got in touch with what happened to me on a very visceral level.

I feel different about it now. A therapist I worked with for many years emphasized that we had to expose the lies. He used an analogy several times – he said it was like the old movies where Dracula could never face the light of day. If he did, he would wither up and die. I have experienced that effect a number of times, where facing an abuse will suck a lot of power out of it.

I’m in an interesting place. I feel lighter. I am more ready to publish this book. I’m astonished by how healing this process has been.

It feels like a huge victory, and I’m letting it sink in.

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I haven’t posted a status update on the next memoir I’m working on in far too long. A lot of very powerful things have happened.

A friend nudged me to go ahead with the book, because I could “be editing forever.” I needed the prompt, because this is deep stuff, and it has really forced me to dig deep in my healing journey.

I finally said “enough” with the 4th rough draft, and sent it to an editor for a critique. She did a fantastic job, and gave me some great feedback. She said the book was very far along in terms of being a polished draft, and the voice and storyline were very strong.

She pointed out a couple of areas that needed some smoothing, and I have been working on those for the past month. Just today I had an “aha” moment where I saw how to handle a very pivotal scene. I continue to have the experience that I’ll have some old fears and feelings release, then I can move forward on the book.

I had originally considered self publishing this book. Then I realized I wouldn’t give the book the shot it deserves if I didn’t at least check out traditional publishing. I let go of some feelings around that, and then realized I knew the literary agent I wanted to start with. I had read an interview with her in 2010 in Poets and Writers magazine, and said “that’s who I want to have representing my book!”

Now, her liking and accepting my manuscript is the part which is not in my control. But to submit Healing the Writer to this agent is the part I can control. If she’s not interested, I have a list of other agents I’d like to query.

Things are moving forward. I think I’ll look back in 10 years and realize that this book was healing me on many levels.

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When I began to explore the topic of my writer’s block, I published chapters as I wrote them in Life As A Human magazine. I did that to help me stay focused on the real story in what was a complex and intricate topic, and keep me moving forward with the writing project.  I published 29 chapters that way, and then I was able to see the best way to finish the book.

My friend Karen told me several years ago that she thought Healing The Writer might be the most powerful book I would ever write. Back in April, I read the polished first draft, then set it aside. I think it has taken me six months to fully appreciate the magnitude of the healing journey I chronicled.

Late last night I watched the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus, where he gets to conduct the symphony he spent years writing, played by former students. The final shot in the movie is a closeup of him with a powerful look of serenity on his face – like he accepted what he had created. I think I saw it that way because I had felt myself coming to that same point.

I picked up the Healing The Writer manuscript today and began reading it once more, with an eye to editing needed. I’m ready, and it’s time.

 

Below is the Table of Contents, along with links to the first 29 chapters. (The chapters are in reverse order by publication date in the magazine, and this will give a better idea of how to follow the flow of the book).

Healing The Writer

The desire to express, I was taught to repress,

 Has caused me a block, I wish to unlock.

I pick up the pen, I start writing again.

 I feel the flow –

        And then I stop.

   – Dan Hays October 1986

Part One – Search For Peace

One: Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?

Two: What To Put On Paper?

Three: I Find My Writing Voice

Four: I Hide Out To Write A Book

Five: Scared To Put It In The Mail

Six: I Walk Away From Publication

Part Two – Nothing Left to Lose

Seven: Ghosts Of The Wheat Harvest

Eight: The Query Letter and The Question

Nine: I Abandon A Book – Again!

Part Three – What Mamaw Said

Ten: They’ll Call You Crazy – And Lock You Up!

Eleven: I Capture The Writing Vision

Twelve: The Creative River Flows Once More

Thirteen: The Writer’s Conference and the Fear

Fourteen: What Is It About That Particular Park?

Fifteen: I Can Have You Committed

Sixteen: The Fear And The Light!

Seventeen: Breaking Through – Moving Beyond Writer’s Block

Part Four – Down To The Roots

Eighteen: Red Rocks and Remembering: A Writer’s Road Trip

Nineteen: A Writer’s Journey of Inspiration

Twenty: The Landscape of a Writer

Twenty One: Publishing a Book: Getting One Step Closer

Twenty Two: A Disappointed Writer and a Backup Plan

Twenty Three: The Fearful Writer – Monsters in the Closet

Twenty Four: How My Writing Got Locked Up

Part Five – Freedom’s Just Another Word

Twenty Five: Insomnia – A Writer’s Night Journey

Twenty Six: Confronting the Fear – A Writer Prepares to Publish

Twenty Seven: “I’d Like To Read Your Manuscript.”

Twenty Eight A: A Writer Revisits High School – Part One

Twenty Eight B: A Writer Revisits High School – Part Two

Twenty Nine: I Am A Published Author

Thirty: A Hopeful Omen

Thirty One: Publicity Can Be Rewarding – Or Maybe Not!

Thirty Two: The Origin of Minute To Freedom

Part Six – Moving To The Light

Thirty Three: I Combine Publicity And Therapy

Thirty Four: Healing The Wounded Child

Thirty Five: Preparing To Leave The Dark Closet

Thirty Six: Independence Day

Thirty Seven: Little Danny Set Free

Thirty Eight: The “Don’t” Messages – Deep Damage Healed

Thirty Nine: Deep Healing and Destiny Arising

Forty: The Terror of the Dark Death

Part Seven – Free To Write

Forty One: Writing For Publication as a Healing Tool

Forty Two: Killing The Octopus

Forty Three: A Sign of Healing – The Poetry Returns

Forty Four: Am I Able To Work – As A Writer?

Forty Five: A Sign of Healing – I Become a Freelance Writer

Forty Six: Epilogue

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I haven’t posted in my blog for a long time. I had someone ask me about it the other day, and it nudged me to spend some time writing a post (thanks, Patricia!). What have I been doing? I have been accepting this statement as a reality in my world:

I Am A Successful Writer

For several years I have been working to overcome the effects of abuse by my grandmother when I was 8 years old. The damage was deep enough that it was a source of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The incidents with my grandmother all centered around – becoming a writer.

Healing The Writer

My next memoir will be about the healing process from that abuse. I fought with a writer’s block for many years, and didn’t know why – until I did some inner child work and uncovered the damage. I have finished the first draft, and am astounded by how powerful a book it is. A friend said a long time ago that my healing process has a life of its own – it unfolds at its own pace. He noted that my writing – much of it about my healing process – paralleled that pace, and my books wrote themselves at their own speed,  when I was emotionally ready to own and share that content.

I am settling in with becoming ready to publish Healing The Writer – it will happen soon. I think it has taken a while because the healing is so breathtaking and powerful that I’ve had to get used to it.

Writing Update

When I started coming out the other side of the abuse issues with my grandmother, I was able to go back to work, and looked for a source of income. I set up a business editing service – it went nowhere. I investigated going back to work in the real estate title industry- nothing unfolded.

In the meantime, I was working as a freelance writer – generating travel articles and getting paid for it. I did it for about a year and have said it felt like a “boot camp” for my writing.  I felt I had gotten all I could from it, and didn’t foresee it as a direction I could count on as full time work, hence my efforts to find work in other arenas. I see now I was resisting – trying not to see how powerfully I had been healed.

But I kept having more and more freelance opportunities – clients were seeking me out for my writing talents and skills. Over the first part of 2103, I had to admit how freely I could now write. It was tremendously empowering!

Then in July, I was contacted by the person who I had written the travel articles for. She was with another company, was looking for writers, and said “Dan, you were the first person I thought of.”

That contact has quickly blossomed into more challenging writing assignments – which I very freely and JOYFULLY handle with ease. I’m having a blast! It looks like freelance writing will continue to unfold and progress.

The balance is that I still have plenty of time and emotional energy to publish and publicize Healing The Writer, and begin work on my next book.

I promise to post more on my blog, and flesh out the details of how my healing has led to greater and greater freedom as a writer.

Life is good! 🙂

 

 

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I’m getting closer to publishing my next memoir, Healing The Writer. I put it on my website today as “Coming Soon,” with the front cover I plan to use. DanLHays.com

The woman who edited my first book said she thought this would be one of the most powerful books I would ever publish. I didn’t get it at the time, but I’m beginning to understand what she meant. I’m about to read the whole manuscript for the first time. I published the first 29 chapters on Life As A Human magazine, but have been letting them get cold while I wrote the final chapters.

Book Cover Cropped

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In 1984 as I read The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach, I was astonished by one passage. The author recounted how he took a creative writing class in high school; the teacher declared he would only award a grade of A if a student published a piece they had written during the semester.  Bach was elated when he presented the teacher a copy of the Sunday supplement to the newspaper which included an article he had written.

I’ve carried that concept in mind for years, and it seems to be a valid benchmark.  The acid test for a writer is publication – if I have writing talent, it is to be shared.  There is a declarative quality about having your writing appear in print.  However, for a long work such as a novel or memoir, there is a much longer process involved in reaching publication.  But shorter pieces can be published much more quickly, there are significant advantages to doing so – and several ways to get there.

Blogs have become a common form of publication, and allow the writer to put a piece in the public eye easily.  There is a limitation – with so many blogs out there competing for public attention, and admittedly some of them of varying quality, just how much readership a blog receives is very uneven.  But – it’s a way to start, no doubt.  And I’ve heard recently that publishers are looking more toward blogs as a necessity for a writer, so having a blog carries that advantage as well.  But with no editorial oversight unless the author chooses to seek it, there isn’t input to help craft the work. Another blog outlet is to write guest posts, as I did with “Why Is This Story Best Told As A Memoir?”  But once again, the host just posted the entry without editorial oversight.

I have also used with several outlets like Authors Den and Self Growth.com, which allow authors to publish their works.  While it does give a smidge greater credibility, I just re-published pieces from my blog, as did the other authors.  I’ve heard these sites called content aggregators – they gather information without much effort to evaluate it.

Then last summer I had a writer friend from Twitter ask if I would read a series of posts she was writing for an online magazine.  She was exploring her next book, and wanted to see if the story was evolving in the right direction.  I began reading her articles, which were very well written.  Then I started looking more closely at the magazine, which was high quality and very professionally designed.  My friend was very complimentary of the magazine and the staff and suggested I might write for them as well.

I contacted the magazine and realized something was different when the editor said she would have the President send me the contract for review.  Contract? I thought I was just going to post some blog articles.

The contract stated that the magazine wanted original content, and would have exclusive rights to the material for 90 days from publication. I asked about using pieces from my blog.  The editor said that would be alright occasionally, but they really wanted original content.  Suddenly the dots connected, and I realized I had wonderful new content to explore: I could publish chapters of my next memoir as individual articles, which would help me clarify the direction of a sprawling and difficult topic.

I started to write for the magazine, and it has been a wonderful experience.  I got depth perception for my next book and received editorial feedback which has proved invaluable. I also got reader feedback beginning with the very first article, entitled “Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?”  I didn’t have to wait until the book was published to see how early parts would affect readers.

I’m not advocating trying to earn a living by publishing short works.  I heard a writer comment about making a living as a freelance writer: “If you’re going to do that, you might want to have a spouse with a regular income.”  As I have investigated freelance, it sure seems like that’s a valid comment.  But the legitimacy and  credibility of having works in print is well served by seeking some type of publication of short works – either in a blog, author publication sites, or with an online magazine.  As long as you don’t try to pay the mortgage that way, it can be a rewarding experience.

Originally published in Write By Night.

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On the first day of my creative writing class, the teacher opened the discussion by asking “What is a story?”  She suggested that we begin by defining the word.  Several people responded.  I took a minute to think about the meaning, and then raised my hand and said “A story is something that happens to someone.”  The teacher smiled broadly, nodded, and said “That’s it exactly – at the very basic level, the essence of a story is action.”

So what was the best way to tell a particular story, to describe that action?  Over the next several years I read a lot about point of view – mostly looking at first person and third person, and what were the advantages and limitations of each.  First person is confined to the thoughts of the narrator.  Third person can either be omniscient – using the thoughts of all of the characters, or limited – using the thoughts of one character’s mind. After I experimented with point of view, it became apparent that it depended on the story.

Years later I wrote about a time my Dad’s life when he disappeared for a year, worked the wheat harvest, had a spiritual experience in the process.  He returned a changed man.  After his death I realized I’d never asked him what happened.  I started with the part I knew, leading into what might have taken place later.  I decided to make it a novel, and chose the third person omniscient viewpoint.  I wrote in a more detached style, which allowed me the distance to step back and imagine the events objectively.  I could speak from the perspective of various characters as needed.

When the story was about me, “something that happens to someone” still held true.  Something had happened that I wanted to share, and decided to write about it in depth.  Not an original concept.  Many people have written a memoir for that very reason.  The first person viewpoint had an immediacy that helped me capture the emotions and experience of the moment.  I wrote about the events surrounding the time of my father’s death 17 years ago.

I knew what happened, and had journalled extensively about it at the time.  There was plenty of fodder to refresh my memory of the events.  As I wrote I fell into the mode of  “I did this, that happened, I felt this about it, I experienced, and then next I …”  I was in the middle of the events, with no psychic distance.  To tell that particular story, I needed to be that close.  Yet as I wrote, I could feel the events at a physical level.  My heart raced as I felt unsafe when that strange person entered the room.  I smelled the coffee I drank in a restaurant as I chronicled my feelings in a notebook. I felt the heat of Houston on a muggy afternoon in October; heard leaves blowing in the breeze that only stirred up the heat without relief.

Even more happened.  I had never written down everything that took place the week my Dad died.  I heard the jangle as the phone rang; heard my sister say “better come home, Dad is dying.”  I sat in a darkened airplane and wrote brief notes in a small notebook “it’s too soon, I’m not ready for this.”  I walked up to a hospital at night in Tulsa, wondering if it was just my imagination because of the lights, or was this huge building really pink?” (I saw it the next day, and sure enough – it was pink.)

I looked down at my father lying in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat, barely heard the nurse saying he was already functionally gone, and the machines were keeping him alive.  I returned to the room after the machines had been turned off, and his breathing had stopped.  I stroked my father’s forehead, something I never would have dared if he were alive.  I walked into to the “Grief Room” at the hospital, where no one was attending to the needs of my family, sitting and crying all alone.  I pushed down my feelings because someone had to make funeral arrangements, and the task fell on me.

Later in the week, I visited his office at the hospital, heard his boss describe how he had spent his last several years helping others.  I drove just outside Tulsa and walked across his 5 acre pecan orchard, then used his chain saw to cut down a couple of dead trees, a project he and I had shared.  I sat at the dinner table at my parent’s house and went through my parent’s financial papers to reassure my Mom.  I stepped out in front of a packed church to deliver his eulogy.

Of course it was cathartic to write down those experiences – isn’t that one of the biggest benefits of memoir?  I felt the events, experienced them in a deeper way than before, and could release some of the emotional charge they contained.

As the memoir continued I wrote about the events after my Dad died.  I met with a minister to discuss an reservoir of old anger I had discovered – anger at my Dad, anger at God.  I dreamed a man was chasing me with a gun.  I did an inner child exercise, and remembered a violent incident with my Dad when I was a teenager.  Then came some intense healing work.

I did an exercise to cut cords to the feelings I was carrying from generations of my family – an ancestral burden that had weighed me down greatly.  Many nights I released terror from the violent incident.  I relived the violent incident on a feeling level several times.   I wrote down ways I had changed, and burned the papers, to let go of who I used to be.  I dreamed that there was a tiger living in my house.  I knew it was my rage, and had to be dealt with.  I made a commitment to release that rage in safe ways.  There were a number of other healing experiences, and by the end of the memoir, it all led to a new sense of forgiveness for my father.  I wrote down my tremendous gratitude for the whole experience.

Then something happened which I hadn’t envisioned.  After I published the memoir, which I called Freedom’s Just Another Word, I had numerous people say they benefitted greatly from my experience, from reading about my journey and the steps I had taken to heal.  I was genuinely surprised.  I hadn’t seen that coming, but was delighted that it happened.  That was not the reason for the memoir – it just was something I needed to do.  For me it was an enormously healing process.   But if writing a memoir could yield additional rewards like that – helping other people heal and grow – then it was a huge success.

 Originally Published in Laura Schultz Now

Photo Credits:

“Good Question” e-magic @Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

leaves in the wind: jans canon @flickr.com.  Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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