Why I Write: My Cancer Story

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Seven words kick-started my writing career. “It’s not good, kiddo, you’ve got cancer.” That was almost 5 years ago when the doctor showed up on my doorstep in scrubs, straight from work.

It was 5 years ago that I started taking writing seriously.

I had two types of breast cancer.

I was 34 years old when I was diagnosed and had been contemplating what I wanted to do for at least the prior 5 years before. I found myself getting caught up on technicalities or writing: finding and making time to write, questioning my quality of writing; wanting to do a blog but not sure the proper name to give it… then being afraid that I would look stupid juxtaposed to those amazing other blogs.

The list of excuses goes on. I won’t bore you with them.

But, the biggest fear I always had was that if I did the “thing” I was supposed to do with my life, then I would die sooner. My clouded thinking kept me from writing.

Sure, I was a closet writer. There was nothing that could keep me from writing. It was the sharing of my writing that was shoved to the black hole of the closet.

But hearing that I had cancer solidified one fact for me: if I don’t start sharing my writing I may die before I get to do the thing I most wanted to do with this life.

It’s true, prior to my cancer experience I had a national magazine that paid me for an article but never actually published it. The letter that read “Dear Author,” was enough to satisfy me for a while. But, somewhere inside I just knew I wanted to do more with my writing. Once wasn’t good enough for me anymore. And besides, only the editors got to read it so in some ways that just didn’t count.

It was time to put myself out there. It was time to write and share it. The desire of my heart was sent to heaven and blessings poured down.

Blessings Pouring Down

Once I decided what I wanted to do, my eyes were open to opportunities. After voicing my desire to write, the cancer center asked me to write an article for the monthly newsletter. And since writing workshops encouraged giving of your talents to start building portfolios, it was a no brainer for me.

Though, let’s be honest here, a big portion of me wanted to be paid for my effort. I mean, really, I knew the time I put into my writing. And who doesn’t want a paycheck? After a little internal debate I took on my first free job.
After one article the cancer center told me I needed to write bigger. They told me I needed to expand myself beyond a simple newsletter that would reach a handful of people. I needed to get my words on bigger paper.

This one free newsletter act landed me speaking assignments and it gave me even bigger opportunities.

Soon, the doors started opening. A national cancer magazine, Conquer, contacted the cancer center looking for stories. The editor called me and asked me to write for her.  I even got brave and asked if they could pay me a little something for my time (yikes, scary). Though most of the articles were donations she agreed to pay me for mine.

I worked hard on that article. It was my first real debut afterall. I mean the first one that people besides the editors would read.

After Conquer received my article she called me asking if I was a “professional writer or something”. Booh-yah!

“No. I’m just a girl with a passion for writing.” I am still just processing her words. Wow. Biggest payday ever.

“Did you take some writing classes?” she asked. She had some professional writing background and taught writing classes at a university.

I was a little embarrassed as I had to answer, “No. Just the basics in college. My degree is in nutrition.”

“Well, keep writing. You have a way with words.”

I don’t tell you this to brag. No way. I tell you this because I don’t want you to doubt your abilities. Your passion will be the vehicle to your success. I had no training in writing just a deep love for it. Doors will open in unlikely spots if you put yourself out there. Take advantage of every opportunity to share your passion. Other doors will open.

CANCER STRIKES AGAIN

So. My brave meter started rising. I decided to do that blog I had been thinking about (and overthinking about).

Soon after I decided to follow through with putting together my blog. I stopped worrying about picking the best name out there and just did it. I just plain started to write and publish my writing. I was so scared putting my 1st post out there but soon 1 post turned into over 100 posts and I was doing what I was meant to do. I was asked to join the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog and have been writing for them for a few years.

And somewhere in the middle of all of that cancer struck again.

Just 18 months after finishing chemo, radiation, and surgeries I was diagnosed again with cancer: metastatic breast cancer. It’s stage 4 cancer, which is incurable. It spread to my ribs, my backbone, my right hip, my right arm. The spots were small and they felt it was manageable. Not curable, just manageable.

The last 2 years I have been fighting stage 4 cancer. It has since spread to every vertebrae on my back, my liver, my lungs, my spleen. I don’t tell you this to make you feel bad for me. Absolutely not. I tell you this to let you know that there comes some sort of emotional healing when I write. That the pains of my condition are weakened because I can write. Feeding passions heals heartache and brings power into your life.

And that life is precious. Don’t waste time on wishing you could do the things that you wanted to do. Chase your dreams. Make them happen.

My trials gave sustenance to my writing.

Thank You

I’m glad that the doctor showed up on my doorstep 5 years ago. I’m glad I’ve been able to walk through this cancer journey so I could write. My heart is full of joy from following my desire to write all along while my body is filling up with cancer. I’m glad I took that chance 5 years ago. It has gotten me through my hard times with cancer. Writing has been the healing medication to my soul.

I did only one simple thing: I decided I was going to write. And how it has filled that hole in my life. How it has enriched and blessed my life.

So if I have just one word of wisdom to pass along it is this: Decide to follow your heart, then get to work. Write. And take advantage of those free writing opportunities, you never know where it will lead.

Today I have written my last blog post for TTOF. I want to thank you for your amazing support and opportunity I have had to share my writing journeys with you. There is a time and season for all things. It has been my blessing to be able to have this season with you. But, the time has come for me to focus on my family and maybe do a little writing through my personal blog as I feel necessary.

Thank you for sharing and commenting and keeping me afloat in my writing journey. What a blessing all of you have been to me. May your writing journeys explode your heart and fill you with the joy as I have found in simply thinking through my fingers.

Have a wonderful day… that’s my plan.  

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christie-perkinsChristie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing, blogging, and is a nonfiction junkie. Her stage 4 cancer doesn’t knock down her passion for life and writing. Not a chance. A couple of magazines have published her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her on her blog at howperkyworks.com.

 

 

It’s Not as Spooky as You Think: A Brief Word on Ghostwriting

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A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the book launch for a biography I ghostwrote. The entire project was one of the best experiences of my life — I helped a woman tell the story of her faith-affirming journey as she struggled to care for a husband who’d been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

You can find out more about that project by visiting: http://www.pattiepperson.com/

It was a great opportunity, the kind of project that reminds me why I love my job.

ghostwriting photo.jpgBut I was surprised to discover that many people had no idea what a ghostwriter was. Even other writers were asking me about what I did as a ghostwriter and how I felt about it. So I’ve decided to give a brief sketch of this corner of the writing profession.

In a nutshell, ghostwriting is just like it sounds. It’s when you do the writing, but someone else puts their name on it. You’re there in spirit only. You’re paid to write what you’re told to write and the employer owns the copyright, has complete creative control, and, if they so desire, can pretend you don’t even exist. *makes vaguely spooky woo sounds*

That may sound terrible but it’s really not. If I poured all my blood, sweat and tears into a book that I created and someone came along and took credit for it, that would suck. But much like you pay a photographer to make you look good in pictures; a ghostwriter can help you look good on paper.

To date, I’ve worked on three books as a ghostwriter. One was for a financial planner who wanted to put his professional knowledge into an easy-to-digest self-help book. Another was for a health advisor who wanted to give his political ideas a proper grounding in book form and the third was the autobiography mentioned above. Each project was unique; and none of the people who hired me were trying to “trick” anyone — as one person asked me. Ghostwriting is a valid editorial option for people who have a great idea for a book — and the knowledge, resources or experience to validate the project — but don’t want to take the time to learn the writing craft to get the work done.

If you’re a writer looking to earn income through different avenues, ghostwriting is an interesting option. You get to live in someone else’s shoes for a bit. You get to open yourself up to a whole new world. And you get paid while doing it! I got a quick education in finances — something people pay good money for. I consider myself much more well-informed about national health care policy and I’ve heard (and then written) some insane horror stories on how the bureaucratic side of things is affecting our country. And walking in the shoes of a woman who had the worst thing she could imagine happen to her has strengthened my faith in ways I never saw coming when I signed on to do the project.

For writers considering a career as a ghostwriter, I’d say the number one quality you need (other than the basic skills any writer must acquire and strengthen) is empathy. If you can fully immerse yourself in another person’s story; if you can lose yourself in someone else’s life and take on their voice like it’s your own; and if you can make yourself curious about pretty  much anything, ghostwriting might be an option worth exploring.

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Crystal Liechty is the mastermind behind the Educating Mom webtoon, which details the always funny and often inappropriate hijinx involved in homeschooling three mischievous children. If you’ve been to college lately, you might have seen one of her essays in the Elements of Arguments textbook (Macmillan Press). When not homeschooling or torturing college students with argumentative essays, Crystal can be found watching Korean dramas, teaching herself Kpop dances or in general working as an unofficial ambassador for South Korean culture. Find out more about her online comic by visiting pleasedontcallchildservices.com. You can also find it on Facebook.

Writer Beware: Speed Bumps Ahead

There are moments when a writer feels blocked. No words come. The story stalls. You’re staring at a brick wall. Every writer needs their own bag of tricks for overcoming Writer’s Block. (One of the best: a deadline.)

Speed Bumps

You might not have heard of another writer condition, one similar to Writer’s Block, but it differs in a significant way. I call it Writer’s Speed Bump, and knowing how to treat it is critical. Continue reading

Social Life

Since I began to write as more than a hobby I’ve been told you have to ‘have a online presence’, ‘the days of the reclusive writer are over’, ‘Myspace is where it’s at’. Only some of that turned out to be true. To start my online presence I joined Myspace and every other social media I could type my name in. before long I had my name in everything and was coming up for plans on how to make each account different from the next.

Then reality set in.

There was clearly too much to do. We’re given 24 hours in a day and some of that time needs to be spent on writing. Like actually writing. Who could imagine such a thing? But how are you going to do that when you’re spreading yourself thin on multiple platforms?

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In the past couple of weeks I’ve been seeing the mass exodus of Instagram users to a new platform called Vero. the familiar sensation to follow suit and not be left behind…then I thought better of it.

I’m not saying that I’m a hero, but when the call arose I stood up and said no.

I’ve learned that if something is the next best thing or the Facebook killer chances are it’s not. Remember Ello? How about Google+? Heck, even I don’t remember Peach. These things come and go. And by the time you learn how to build a brand on there it’s dead and you haven’t written a thing.

It’s true that the time of the reclusive writer is over and social media can have you connect with so many amazing people from across the world. If it weren’t for social media I wouldn’t be on this blog. But it has to be used responsibly.

As a writer it’s your job to, well, you know, write. If social media is hampering that then remove it. At the very least make your social media work for you. For myself my Facebook posts to my Twitter. My Instagram posts to my to my author page and my Tumblr. And my blog posts everywhere. That’s kind of it for me. Three main social media outlets that I use sparing throughout the day. With what few hours I have this works for me. What works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone but the issue is in finding your own balance. Whatever your social media outlets may be just remember to write, write, write! Also if you join a new site read the terms. This Vero thing keeps your posts as their own, along with some other very shady stuff.

Until next time have a writeous day!

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or building the inkslayer army you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. You can read his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem, along with a few projects with his other daughter. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Hey you! I see you! Toiling away! Biting your nails with worry! Not sure you’ll ever make it/do it again/finish that book/be successful. I totally get it! This writing thing is tough! It’s only for the strongest, most awesome people! Which is why you deserve a gold medal no matter where you are on the journey.

 

Celebrate YourAccomplishments

Here. I made you some! So stop moping and start celebrating every little thing!  (These are words I’m saying to myself as much as you.)

Got a great book idea!

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Started writing a book!

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Completed a first draft!

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Sent your writing to CPs or beta readers!

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Conquered the impossible revision!

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Polished your MS to a shine!

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Revised even after you thought you were done!

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Sent a query!

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Got a rejection!

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Got a request!

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Got a new CP or writing buddy!

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Attended a conference!

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Entered a contest!

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Pitched to an agent/editor!

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Got an agent!

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Revised with an agent!

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Almost emailed your agent seventeen times in one day, but restrained yourself to only two times!

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Went on sub!

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Got an editor rejection!

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Made it to second reads!

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Made it to acquisitions!

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R&R!

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YOU SOLD A BOOK!

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Revised with an editor!

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Survived copy edits!

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ARCs!

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Your book has a cover!

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Your book is on Amazon!

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First review from someone you don’t know on GR!

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First trade review!

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A starred review!

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Book launch!

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Survived people emailing you with the errors they found in your book!

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Started writing the next book!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.

 

A Study In Humanity

One of my passions is buying and selling vintage décor. I’ve been to a lot of estate sales, and they are a fascinating study in humanity. Estate sales are basically indoor yard sales where everything in the house is for sale. They’re usually run by an outside company that prices the items and receives a percentage of the profit. In most cases, the homeowner has passed away and the remaining family members need help sorting and managing all the belongings left behind.

At first, I admit it felt intrusive—even disrespectful—to traipse through someone’s home alongside all the other eager buyers, snapping up people’s earthly possessions for bargain prices. How would I feel if my whole life was on display, up for sale, reduced to boxed-up objects carted away by strangers?

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But soon my perspective shifted. Apart from the typical trappings of daily life—bedding, dishes, sofas, clothing—I started to pay attention to the fascinating touches that make every person precious and unique. I began to see these sales as a form of tribute to the people who had passed. I’ve found old family photos, love letters, and recipe boxes stuffed with carefully copied, hand-written recipes. I’ve purchased trophies, amateur artwork, and travel-worn suitcases.

Every house is different. Every life is one of a kind.

My favorite spots to explore are the garage and the basement storage room. Those spaces tell endless stories: there’s the man who stockpiled rocks and fossils; the seamstress with boxes upon boxes of fabric and ribbons and patterns; the family that collected antique tools and kitchen gadgets. All were people with their own dreams and passions, loves and losses, disappointments and triumphs.

Inevitably, many of the homes also contain the typical objects associated with the end of life: walkers, orthopedic shoes, oxygen tanks. There’s no avoiding the twinge of sadness I feel at the sight of those reminders that life is fragile and finite. Plenty of those items could be found in my own home before my mom passed away. But such reminders are important. They keep us rooted in our own humanity.

In my mind, these sales are more than a means to keep my business afloat. They are a source of Story, a prompting to pursue my passions, and a visceral nudge to make the most of every day I am granted in this life.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.</div

Depression & Writing

I went months without writing.

I sent lots of emails and drafted blog posts and proposals and such, but when it came time to really look at my fiction, to really dive into the craft, I could find all kinds of things to do besides write.

There were some big life changes that happened. I’d like to say it was just that.

There were some nuances I had to figure out with my mental health and body chemistry. I’d like to say it was only that.

But the reality was I was in a sort of writing depression. I felt like, for the most part, I’d gotten the big D depression that impacted my overall life under control, I’d been able to return to a new normal in most of the other aspects of my life, but when I thought about sitting down to write, all the negative everythings started swirling, growing ever heavier, and I started to look to TV episodes I’d already watched, mindless games I wouldn’t normally play on my phone, EVEN laundry during my free time. I didn’t care what it was as long as it felt like an okay excuse justify my reasons for not writing.

I was scared of my book.

I don’t write scary books.

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I had to really explore where my fear was coming from. When I started this story, I was at a writing retreat and cranked out 16,000 words in two days. I knew this story, knew where it was going, knew what the character arcs were – I was cruising. But when I came back from that retreat, I started realizing I was, in fact, engaged in a wrestling match with my mind, one that I thought I’d already won. I tried to work on this book but couldn’t. I took months to play around with another book, started to like it, then received a recommendation from my agent that this one, this really hard one, was probably where my writing should go next.

And I just – I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure that I could write this book. I felt – still feel – strongly that this is a story I can tell, that it can resonate with readers in a way that will be meaningful.

So . . .

So.

The first thing that I did was go back to the drawing board. I looked at the story I had, where I wanted to the story to go, where things had become stuck before. I got insights about character arcs from my critique partners, I read craft books, I looked again and again at this document, and then closed it, making myself keep focused on the story I wanted it to be.

And I put A LOT of effort into taking care of my writerly self, just as I have learned to do with my mental self. I fed my mind words – good, good words – to remind myself what they looked like. I took the time to find representatives of my characters, to dive into their personalities, where they live, what they want. Still didn’t write a word in the manuscript. I went to movies – the movies that were getting great buzz – and let myself sit and absorb and fall back in love with story.

And then I revised the first two chapters. It took a long, LONG time. And I sent those two chapters to my critique partners and held my breath. I was prepared to hear that they needed to be dismantled, re-written. I was ready for them to say I needed to start over again.

They didn’t.

The whole meeting, the critiques were super nit-picky. Do you know what that means?

The foundation of the story was good.

As anyone with mental illness will tell you, the moments when you can tell what is truth and what is just a thought with no power, when you can identify the source of the thoughts, things start to get better. This is also the case (and has been the case) when I have these kinds of slumps. I have to fight, and clear all the distracting chaos. I have to be able to see the things that my not-quite-well brain & writerly mind have tricked into existence for what they are – lies.

Yes, this kind of thing can happen to all people. Maybe it’s a little worse for people like me who have regular mental health issue. And I know there are all kinds of people who say there is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is absolutely a kind of creative block. Our job is to do the really hard work to determine, first, what we are experiencing; second, if we need to push through or pull back and heal, and third; have the courage to open the manuscript, to trust our creative soul, and to craft again.

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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.