Writer's Tool Box

To grow, to transform, to become.

What is writing for you?

This year I am writing a novel.

It is February 27, 2021 and I am words deep in writing a fiction novel. This week though I am going to share an excerpt from my unpublished memoirs. I wrote my memoirs in November of 2016 during NaNoWriMo. This little excerpt talks about my journey into the writing of my memoirs.

I thought that I would share this excerpt this week for inspiration and because I believe when I wrote the words, “Who I was at the beginning would not be who I was at the end” is an accurate description for me with this novel writing journey as well. I find writing to be a process of growth and transformation.

A Key Theme: To Write

I began with the records I wrote in years past. I sat cross legged on the dark grey Berber carpet as the steam from the bathroom was forgotten. In front of me sat a small cardboard box. I felt a small connection to the Toastmaster wide slot toaster box that was so dilapidated it was unclear how it still preformed the honourable job I bestowed on it, to preserve my journals. Twelve of fourteen were housed here and 2 in a shoebox.

Journaling is an ancient tradition. However, my first journal entry was dated December 28, 1990. I wrote, “Today was a bad day.” The journal itself was the ugliest little book I had ever seen, and it was actually meant to be an organizer. It was hot pink with the image of animals playing instruments wrapped around it, and it was no bigger than the width and length of my hand.

Interestingly, I hadn’t been aware that there was a difference between a journal and a diary. The idea threw me for a loop because I had always just opened and wrote. A journal was more than a log of events, it contained thoughts, emotions, reflections, problems, and self-assurances. It was a tool that could be used to evaluate one’s life, and it seemed there was a science and a formula to it. What I thought was a diary, a log of events that I kept under lock and key, was actually a journal because as I read I found that my emotions, problems, reflections, self-assurances, and thoughts were all written in those logged events.

I wrote every day until the fall of 1998 when my entries started to become sporadic and stopped altogether from June 1999 until December 2000. All fourteen journals were different shapes and sizes. I had carried these private memory books around with me since 1990. I thought to burn them all once, and it was a near thing. I had them beside me outside the woodstove. I had the doors thrown open and the flames inside seared my skin as I sat contemplating destruction. The flames beckoned with bright fingers of reddish-orange, but at the last second I realized that I couldn’t part from these records of myself, of a story not yet told. The sound of the woodstove door closing banged like a robbed sarcophagus.

I realized that part of me had wanted to destroy evidence of feelings, thoughts, and emotions before they could be used to hurt me. That was the reason I found myself balancing in front of the fire all those years ago. I had experienced that age old encounter where somebody had read my journal, not once but numerous times. Clearly there was a disconnect somewhere about the idea of confidentiality. Regardless, in all those instances something I had written and they had read became a problem for me, and here I was sitting at the edge of the abyss deciding to burn or not to burn. That was also how I felt as I embarked on a journey to break my own confidentiality and read what I once wrote.

I was in my mid 30’s seeking treatment for mental health. A key theme kept coming up over and over again: journaling. Journal they told me, “journal, write.” After my dedication to these journals of my youth I thought this activity would come easy. I was aware that journaling had positive benefits from insight into moods and behaviours, to growth and development, stress relief, boosts for self-esteem, and assistance in healing, but I just couldn’t get into it. The more I tried the more I felt like I was failing at it. Journal therapy was stressing me out.

Instead of trying to force a journal entry out of myself I started writing about what mattered the most to me, my boys and my role as their mother. This activity had a satisfying effect emphasized when my first article was published by Parents Canada and my second by Mamalode. It was an ecstatic feeling that hummed in my veins and I craved writing something more. I had finally found my voice as a writer, and a healing way to write.

I was ready to commit myself to a course of action that would destroy all possible ways of going back. Who I was at the beginning would not be who I was at the end. Although I knew that it would be a painful exposure, I also knew that it would be a slow burn with smoke but no fire.  I knew that eventually the fire would lose its ability to shine, consume, and destroy.

By Shari Marshall – 2021

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