Tag Archives: Writing

A Fiction-Writing Shrink?!?

I live in a medium-sized town where I run into a minimum of ten people I know every time I go to the grocery store.  Often, these people are past or current psychotherapy clients.  More often than not, I have my children with me.  My clients have seen me in restaurants, in a bathing suit at the swimming pool, marching in the fourth of July parade with my daughter’s junior girl scout troop.  One former client was my daughter’s favorite camp counselor.  I have attended parties where clients were fellow guests.  They see my name in the paper as the new member chair for a local secular-humanistic Jewish family group.  In other words, unlike some therapists, my life is no mystery to my clients.  Seeing as my practice currently involves no individuals, and I see strictly families, this is less of an issue than it might be for some.  Families like to know that I am a mother.  Couples and individuals like to imagine I am simply their therapist.

To be fair, I’m pretty visible around town.  People know me as the biracial—black, white, Jewish, family therapist.  I’ve done talks on parenting, Multiracial Jewish Identity, Body Image and Talking to kids about Race.  People know what I think … about some things.

But a novel (un-agented, unpublished, but a novel all the same) exposes a much deeper, weirder piece of me: some form of my own reality skewed by the warped lens of my wildest imagination.   Writers of good fiction are supposed to take big risks.  How can I do that while responsibly adhering to the NASW Code of Ethics?  A fiction writing therapist opens herself up to all kinds of questions.

Are my characters based on my clients?  (Deliberately?  Never, ever.  Subliminally?  Maybe.)

Do I really think like my characters? (Some part of me has to, right?)

And what about this blog itself?  Where I’ll be writing about my ballet-dancing, eating-disordered past (which inspired Birch Wood Doll, my novel), as well as the more complicated aspects of being biracial?  In order to write at all, I’ve had to free myself from these worries.  I am not a private person by nature, which serves me as a writer, even if it presents a challenge for me-the-therapist.

My therapy practice, like everything else I do, has to be compatible with my personality.   I refuse to be fake and constrained with my clients, to answer their questions with the artful dodges we were taught in social work school.

For example:

Client: have you ever used drugs?

Therapist: I’m wondering if you’re asking that because you’re concerned that I might not be able to help you if I haven’t shared your experiences of drug use.

…Really?

As long as I’m writing fiction and blogging, I won’t practice individual psychotherapy—where your relationship with the client is the most important part of the work, where clients  hold onto their own stories about who you are.  Families generally like knowing I am a whole person with a family and experiences of my own.

The best thing to do—the only thing I can do—with my writing and my life, is be honest and open and me.

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Inspired by a Productive Year Gone By

One of my daughter's accomplishments from 2006

Happy 2012!  Now that we’ve had a little over a day to test out the new year, I’ve been searching for some nice post topic to mark the calendar change.  But I’ve learned that sometimes, when your own fountain of inspiration is down to a trickle, it’s best to turn to the wisdom of others.   

Two days ago, between coming up with some New Year’s resolutions and composing a to-do list for our New Year’s Day bash, I happened to check out the blog of author, teacher and writing mentor, Lisa Romeo, where she explains a wonderful idea called the “I DID It List.”

Many people ring in the new year full of hope and possibility, setting all kinds of goals for self- improvement, some of which may be more realistic than others.    But I love Lisa’s idea of saying goodbye to the past year by acknowledging all that got done.  Read her whole post here.

Lisa, thanks for the inspiration.   As a person who tends to focus more on what I haven’t yet accomplished than on what I have, I found the idea uplifting.   From now on, whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the will-I-ever-find-an-agent-and-then-a-publisher-and-then-sell-this-book blues, I will look at this list:

In 2011, among other things related to my family, I finished revising my novel, began shopping it to agents, made a lot of headway on novel number two, drafted a few short stories, and started this site.   I also had the opportunity to do the choreography for a production of Mary Poppins at my kids’ school, as well as teach a course in musical theater where the kids performed “Tradition!” from Fiddler on the Roof.  Lastly, I perfected my turkey-brining and mastered an amazing recipe for lemon bread.  All in all, a pretty good year. 

Homecoming! Didn’t Quite Make It But …

They’re ba-ack!  Jon and the kids got home at seven o’clock last night, bringing down the curtain on what were, for me, an amazingly productive three days.  That said, I will certainly not make my finish-the-draft-by-midnight on 12/3/2011 goal, though having my eyes on that prize kept me much more focused than I would have been otherwise.

What I did accomplish was:

  • Writing over forty pages—some of which I believe is imminently usable.
  • Restructuring my outline.  The original one had grown a little stale and outdated now that I was actually realizing the characters.  The new one is pretty clear-cut and, I believe, doable.
  • Giving voice to a character who was previously mute and therefore carried around a blackberry so he could communicate by texting people around him.  Boy that wasn’t working, though I hadn’t had time to figure it out.  Little details like that can really clog up the works.  (Why was he mute in the first place?  Because of a trauma I’d eliminated from the story a few months back!)  So, nixed the mutism, nixed the Blackberry.
  • Pared down the number of alter-egos the protagonist had.  Dissociative Identity Disorder is complicated; people can have more than thirty alters.  But asking fiction readers to keep track of more than three is pushing it.
  •  Identified the need for a true psychiatric consultant who specializes in DID.  Not just schmoozing with my psychiatrist friends over coffee here and there.
  • Also, though this was not on my agenda, changed the theme of this blog, since for some reason “PILCROW” had stopped showing my tagline: Writings on Body Image and Identity.   This new theme is “CORALINE.”  The header photo, by the way, is from my daughter’s dance class when she was about five. (2006ish.)

So, all in all, a hugely productive few days.  And the best part of all was seeing my family again and realizing how much I’d missed them.  Those hugs when they came through the door, my daughter’s whispered, “I really missed you … like a lot,” were worth more than ten finished drafts!

A One-Woman Write-a-Thon

Writers' fuel ...This is it.  I’ve just packed up everyone’s toothbrushes, snow gear, Harry Potter and Redwall books, kissed my husband and children goodbye and watched our old, green Pathfinder chug down our hill, around the corner and out of sight.  Goodbye to the three people I love most in the world, hello computer.

It’s my big Chris-Hanukah gift: Jon’s taking the kids away to his dad’s in the Berkshires, leaving me two and a half totally kid-and-him free days (and two nights) to hammer away at my second novel.  My goal is to finish a really, really rough draft of this book by midnight on 12/31/11.  (Actually before, because I think we may have plans that night.)  Right now, Unnatural (working title)—the story of a guy with dissociative identity disorder who believes one of his alter-egos killed his lover—is actually miles from done.  I’ve got an outline and about two hundred fifty pages that aren’t necessarily in any kind of order (it’s told from three perspectives: the guy, one of his alters, and his shrink).  But I’ve got hope, determination and a full sack of my new favorite coffee blend.

Is this doable?  I don’t know.  I have no frame of reference for what it’s like to try and accomplish something when school pickup isn’t looming, when you don’t have to drive people to tennis, tap-dancing and piano, when your working sessions aren’t accompanied by the drone of your own inner-mom voice whispering: you’re ignoring your family; they need you; they’ve been on the Wii for three hours!  Though my belief that people without kids write whole novels in a single weekend is probably misguided, I am letting that notion fuel me.  I’m at the starting point: full of hope and enthusiasm, but realistically viewing this whole thing as an experiment.  I promised my husband that I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make the goal.  (But I’m sure gonna try!)

So … I’ve answered all emergency emails, made a last phone call to my mom to explain why I can’t talk on the phone for a few days (except to say goodnight to the kids).  As soon as I finish this post, I’ll start.  Wish me luck and inspiration.  I’ll let you know how it goes.