Day Zero: What I had to decide before I started writing…

Posted in FINE: starved without physical evidence, Writing on March 12, 2011 by Melissa Henry

It took me a long time to get started on this project because I wasn’t sure if I had anything new to say. There were/are a lot of books out there on eating disorders and even more memoirs, so why should I add to the ever-growing pile? But I had even more questions to answer before I put words down on the page so let’s back up…

Before I began writing, throwing everything I had at this project, I needed to know:

1) Is there a need for it?

2) Do I believe in it?

3) Am I willing to do anything to get my book into the hands of readers?

The answers were: yes, yes, and yes. Once I had ruled on these questions, I had no problem stripping everything else away from my life to chase down that first draft.

1) Is there a need for it? Before I left my dwindling spare time in the dust to begin writing, I had to see a need for my story. Like I said, there were already countless books on the shelves dealing with similar themes. Many of the stories I read when I was struggling mirrored my own disordered behaviors, but the authors’ physical image so greatly differed from mine that I often questioned the seriousness of my illness. While these stories compose a very real part of the eating disorder community, they are not the average image of an eating disorder. Not all women/men who starve themselves are emaciated, some aren’t even thin, but what they all have in common is a very serious disorder. If you’ve read my pitch for F.I.N.E.* at www.melissa-henry.com, you’ve heard me say that eating disorders are about physical evidence and that at a size 10, 12, 14, I didn’t have any. Feeling I didn’t fit into society’s image of what an eating disorder should look like hindered my recovery. Rationally, I knew I couldn’t be the only person who had ever felt this way and so it became clear that this story could potentially begin to fill a very real void.

When you have a partial manuscript in hand and are ready to start querying agents, this is the million dollar question so figure it out early.

2) Do I believe in it? I knew I had to believe in my project because if that intensity didn’t come through, I couldn’t expect anyone else to get excited about it. It’s similar to a job interview. If you interview with a prospective employer you must make them understand that the position they are offering is the one for you, the end-all be-all, your dream job. They have to know that you believe in their company, their work, and that you will join the company softball team. When you believe in your product, whether it is your skills as an employee or your 300-page opus, there is no halfway.

3) Am I willing to do anything to get my book into the hands of readers? A baseball nut I am not, but when I was deciding how much to throw at this project I thought of Babe Ruth. 714 home runs and 1330 strikeouts. I know, I know, it’s a tired quote but it still rings true: “swing for the fences.” I realized the only way I was going to be disappointed in the outcome of this project, published or not, was if I didn’t give it everything I had. I may not be a baseball fanatic but I do play poker, so maybe we’ll change that to “I’m all in.”

In future posts I’ll tell you how I zeroed in on my goal and found the time to make it happen. We all have busy lives, kids and parents to take care of, real jobs that pay the bills, but I’ll show you how I made it work.

What questions are important to you? I’d love to hear how you decided to start writing or what questions you’re still trying to figure out before you open that first Word document and start tapping away.

Up next: Too Busy to Write: How I found the time…

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Podcast: A Peek at the Prologue

Posted in FINE: starved without physical evidence, Podcast on March 5, 2011 by Melissa Henry

As promised, I’ve joined the world of podcasting!

As a reader I’ve always enjoyed hearing an author read their own words and so I’ve decided to share mine with you. Soon you will see a new podcast RSS feed button over there by the blog RSS feed button, but for now you can visit my podcast page at: http://www.melissa-henry.com/podcast/. So download it, subscribe to it through iTunes…whatever works best for you.

If you have a moment, I would love to hear what you think!

Best,

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Posted in Eating Disorders on February 26, 2011 by Melissa Henry

It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so what better time to ask yourself “what can I do?”

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has been working for 10 years to prevent eating disorders and reduce stigma around an illness that takes more lives every year than any other mental illness. This week NEDA is asking for everyone to: “do just one thing to help raise awareness and provide accurate information about eating disorders.” They have a great list of things you can do, big and small, to help. Visit their National Eating Disorders Awareness Week page for more information.

If you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you may have seen some of the amazing things people have been doing this week. Here’s a quick recap…

Dena and Sonja have been knockin’ it out of the park with their documentary film, No Numbers: Identity Beyond Measure. I haven’t seen the film yet as Canadians seem to have all the great ideas, and I’m a bit south, but they have some great stuff on their blog that focuses on recovery and optimism, rather than numbers. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Dena Ashbaugh was named Inspiring Woman of the Month by author, blogger and speaker, Andrea Roe. For the entire story visit Andrea’s site: You Are Not Alone.

From the No Numbers Blog I linked to the National Eating Disorders Information Centre who has launched a campaign aimed at the fashion and marketing industries. “Cast responsibly. Retouch minimally.” See their eye-opening video and if you like what they have to say, sign their petition.

Jenni Schaefer, author of Life without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, chimes in on awareness week at eatingdisorderblogs.com.

If you haven’t checked her out yet, click over to Lori Lieberman’s blog, a registered dietician with some great insights.

In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Caitlin has been posting survivor stories over at Operation Beautiful.

Don’t miss Beth’s story over on her blog To The Fullest.

If you’d like to share your story, please see my website for details: www.melissa-henry.com.

Now just a few thoughts from me…

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, there is hope and there is help. It doesn’t always need to be some grand gesture or intervention, sometimes it’s just saying, “I’m here if you need to talk.” When I was struggling, I was fortunate enough to have someone in my life who said those words, and said them often. Without judgement or agenda, she allowed me the space to talk even when it was about everything but the eating disorder. Simply offering that kind of unconditional support can go a long way.

If you are working in recovery now, practice some self-care this week because the road in long but it’s worth it. You just don’t know how much it’s worth it yet. When I was in that place, I hated those words and practically growled at the people spouting them. Now I believe them; I apologize for the growling. So if you’re not there yet, at least allow yourself to believe in the possibility that they’re true.

For more information on eating disorders you can visit NEDA or call their information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Take time to take care of yourself this week.

 

 

 

Next week we return to our regularly scheduled program:

Day Zero: What I had to decided before I started writing…

Everything I Learned, I Learned at Workshop

Posted in FINE: starved without physical evidence, Writing on February 19, 2011 by Melissa Henry

The only writing class I took in college was “Writing in the Sciences.” In science, writing is fitting your words into distinct categories: introduction, methods, results, and conclusions, whether its a paper or a poster (think glorified grownup science fair pictured right…a presentation I gave on neuroarchitecture differences in autism…worlds away from creative nonfiction). For me, creative writing became about making those distinct categories disappear. No theatre-goer wants to see the wires attached to Peter Pan, and no reader wants you to tell them how everything connects. Readers want to discover your story, trust that they can, they’re smart people. The best advice I’ve ever received: show don’t tell.

To figure out whether or not people could “discover” my story, I took it to workshop. On a whim, I enrolled in a three-part, yearlong, creative non-fiction workshop. The course description promised their potential students a quarter on “How to get started,” followed by “How to keep writing,” and ended with “How to get published.” It was perfect. My whims are often so much better than my carefully laid plans.

For me, workshop became the litmus test, my little focus group filled with writers who would tell me whether or not I had the chops to write. But that wasn’t my first thought about the course.

Initially, my thought (an incorrect one) was that I wanted to be taught by an expert, reviewed by an expert. Even I had had an expert at my disposal, a bespectacled little being I kept in a box on a shelf, I would not have gotten the kind of feedback I needed. I am not an expert on every single subject, and I can’t expect my readers to be either. They’re going to be diverse in their understanding of my subject, in the kinds of books they read, etc. and to reach all of them, I would need to hear from all of them.

My fellow classmates were the experts I actually needed. They generated ideas and asked questions about my stories, highlighting what was working and what holes I needed to fill in. In your head you see the whole story, from the Technicolor landscape of your surroundings to the micro-expressions of your characters. When another reader misjudges the emotional valence of a scene, you know you need to go back and rewrite.

What surprised me the most about workshop was how much their writing informed my own and, I hope, vice-versa. We were all writing on different subjects and yet, the way another writer crafted a sentence or anchored their story to a world event, sparked ideas in all of us. Our experience was as diverse as the subjects we were writing on; we were all at different points on the literary craft spectrum. If I had only sought the advice of a single “expert,” I would have missed out on some really important stuff.

Now for a little news…

I’m excited to enter the world of podcasting and will soon release the prologue to my book FINE: starved without physical evidence! Follow me on Twitter or visit my site www.melissa-henry.com for the latest updates.

Best,

Many many more posts to come on my workshop experience but, as promised, up next:

Day Zero: What I had to decide before I started writing…

Website Launch for FINE: Starved without Physical Evidence…It’s here!

Posted in FINE: starved without physical evidence on February 12, 2011 by Melissa Henry

It’s here! After much consideration and preparation, I’ve launched the website for FINE.

Over the past year and half I’ve been chasing down a first draft of my memoir, FINE: Starved without Physical Evidence. I’ve taken classes, workshops, spent many many evenings with fellow writers, and had a blast while doing it, along with a healthy dose of anxiety.

This work began with the purpose of giving a voice to those who have struggled with a disorder that takes more lives every year than any other mental illness, and who had no physical evidence to show for their struggle. As a woman who had spent more time living with an eating disorder than not, in a normal-sized to over-sized body, I felt there was a very real need to explain not all eating disorders are visible. Feeling that I didn’t fit into the image of “sick” left me internally conflicted during treatment and ultimately hindered my recovery. It’s my hope that FINE will offer insight and validation for those who have experienced similar struggles.

Click over to my website at: www.melissa-henry.com and learn more about my book.

If you’ve recovered from an eating disorder and ever felt like you didn’t fit into the image of what an eating disorder should look like, submit your story.

I want to hear from you.

With permission, your stories will be posted on melissa-henry.com and together we can give voice to a very real issue so many of us have struggled with.

Best,

Many thanks to Prof. M-rock (dogged supporter, mentor, neuroscientist-extraordinaire, mommy of two, rockin’ snowboarder, and person I feel privileged to share genetics with) who encouraged me to honor my priorities. Much love.

300 pages?! Where I started…

Posted in Writing on February 5, 2011 by Melissa Henry

Staring down a full-length project is like standing next to a pile of lumber and saying you’re going to build a house. It’s daunting to say the least. I knew I was shooting for about 300 pages, tops. Later 300 turned into 400 when I realized a) I had more to say, and b) the old rule goes “cut 20%.” This is where some might want to tuck tail and run, but when you break it down it’s really no 10,000 sq ft Tudor.

I think the single greatest thing I learned fairly early was:

Don’t start at the beginning.

Maybe it works for some people, or maybe this simple idea is apparent to everyone else.

I decided to start with what inspired me to write the story: the crisis. Ah, conflict! And we’re back to scene construction, my last blog.

Since I was writing scenes, I had the flexibility to jump around without leaving too many frayed edges. The scenes were contained by their goal, conflict, and outcome. I wrote these initial scenes as they came, and they landed anywhere from chapter 4 to chapter 24. I didn’t have to stress or bite my nails wondering how to fit them together, I just wrote. For a long long long time I just wrote. It was freeing, not having to write something I didn’t feel inspired to write. This produced a sizable chunk of work, giving me a puzzle I could start putting together. Next, I took my “chunk of work” to workshop.

Follow me on Twitter for the latest updates, melissa-henry.com launches soon!

Up next: Everything I Learned, I Learned at Workshop

Note: A dear writer friend of mine, who began around the same time I did, had gotten stuck in the doldrums of trying to write linearly, beginning at chapter one. Together we started flailing about through our narrative arc, picking up in the middle, heading towards the end, only to arrive at the beginning. Once we began to trust that it would all round out, it did just that. Our middles informed our beginnings and ends, sometimes you just don’t know it until you write it.

Day 1: What I had to learn…

Posted in Writing with tags on January 28, 2011 by Melissa Henry

Day 1. What did I do the very first time I sat down to write my story?

A reader who is usually reading no less than three books at a time, I had some distant idea of how a book is constructed. Like a physics genius blasting apart atoms, I knew I had to get to the smallest component of a book and grow from there. From scenes to chapters, from chapters to a full-length book.

On that first day, I searched the internet for tips on writing an effective scene. I sampled five or ten sites and they all said the same basic thing: goal, conflict, outcome.  It was as simple as that. I’ll say it again…goal, conflict, outcome. I have a feeling this knowledge is innate to writers, that they’re probably born with it, but I had to learn it.

With goal, conflict, and outcome written down as a reminder, that’s where I started. I wrote scene after scene, referencing that hot pink sticky note attached to my keyboard, until I had a folder of twenty or so scenes. Eventually the scenes began to connect, cohere, and like protons and neutrons they should have formed atoms, or rather chapters. This is where I went wrong, I skipped over chapters and went straight to developing four sections of the larger work, but we’ll talk about that later. However, once I had the chapters, those chapters gave structure to the premature sections. Finally, those sections (with chapters after I got my head on straight) fed into one another and they became a first draft.

You don’t have to start out big, I didn’t. I built a solid foundation on the three basic principles of writing a scene: goal, conflict, outcome.

What did you do the first day you sat down to write? Post in the comments section, I want to hear your thoughts!

Though there is a Day Zero post somewhere in the future, there isn’t going to be a Day 2, 3, 4…6205 (yes, it’s been that long). I promise.

Best, Melissa

Up next in the series (likely to be interrupted by random posts): 300 pages?! Where do I start?

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