“I can’t publish a book. I’m not a real writer,” I said to my peers when they pushed me to publish. I discovered a passion for writing after retiring from four decades of nursing. Classes for beginners such as Bones of Storytelling with details of story structure gave me the foundation that I needed. Close critique of assigned books taught me how to build tension, consider the reader, revise, stay in my zone and write (instead of surfing the web). I loved the mental exercise and camaraderie of my classmates.
Five years passed and my story spilled out, eventually taking the form of a memoir. My instructors encouraged me to keep working but to go deeper, to say more. Some days I felt like I’d been turned inside out from the sharp memories that emerged; sensory details–like White Shoulders, the fragrance of my high school days, slow doo-wop oldies with falsetto voices on the car radio, and the swish of my prom dress–scenes that bubbled up with astonishing clarity.
In the beginning, I used a pseudonym. There was no way I would put my name on the story that exposed my secrets to the world. A pseudonym gave distance from who I am and the person in my manuscript. But in time and with advice from publishers, I knew I had to use my real name and own my past, accept my mistakes and let go of my shame. Finally, I made a huge step forward when I searched my document for my character’s name, ‘Susan’, and replaced it with my real name. It felt like taking a plunge into a frigid lake, but I knew it was the only way to authenticity.
If you are thinking about writing a memoir or have started, here’s what I’ve learned:
#1. It’s never too late to begin.
#2. A memoir without your true name may as well be fiction.
#3. Cut deep until your blood gushes out. The writing must be that honest.
As a nurse specialist, Cathryn cared for hundreds of patients with chronic wounds. Her mission is, and has always been, healing. After retirement, she found her people in the writing community of Reedsy, The Attic Institute of Writers, and those in her writing critique group.
Cathryn raised two daughters with whom she enjoys close relationships. Her greatest pleasure is watching children discover all that life has to offer. Cathryn makes her home in the wild and wonderful Pacific Northwest with her husband and three terriers.