Thursday, April 5, 2012

Writing to Heal or Writing to Sell by Amanda Adams

A TO Z NOTE: If you're looking for my Blogging from A to Z Challenge post for today, just scroll down a bit (after you read Amanda Adam's guest post, of course -- it will be worth it, because Amanda is giving away a signed copy of her memoir Heart Warriors: A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease.

Anyone who leaves a comment on this post -- and this post only -- will be entered in the drawing. You have until midnight tomorrow night (Friday) Mountain Time to enter. I'll use random.org to select a winner and I'll announce the name here on Saturday.

I first met Amanda while forming a new Northern Colorado Writers critique group. Her story was so compelling and her writing so good that I had no doubt she would soon be published. That seems like yesterday, but here we are closing in on the release date for Heart Warriors from Behler Publications. I couldn't be more thrilled. Amanda and her family are doing a great service by telling their story and calling attention to congenital heart disease. I'm paying attention. I hope you will too.

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Writing to Heal or Writing to Sell by Amanda Adams


In my journey as a mother guiding her child through twelve heart surgeries, I knew many moments when writing a book was the last thing on my mind. Yet, I also knew pivotal moments that led me to believe our story must be told and I would eventually write a book. I kept that thought in the back of my mind for several years before taking action.

Between my son, Liam's, diagnosis while he was still in my womb and his third open heart surgery, I sent group emails to the people who loved us to inform them of his progress. Right before Liam's third open heart surgery, two months before his second birthday, I discovered Carepages.com at the family library at The Children's Hospital. Carepages is a free medical blog for patients or their families and was founded by parents of a child with Congenital Heart Disease. It became my lifeline to the outside world to give status updates on Liam's care and my thoughts about it.

Ironically, during my Master's program in the Journalism and Technical Communication school at Colorado State, I took a course about the healing power of narrative and how it works. I took this class years into Liam's care when I'd logged several surgeries and doctors' appointments on Carepages.com. I knew that my narratives helped heal my pain about Liam's life-threatening interventions, but I didn't know exactly why until the class.

The power of healing through narrative is two fold. First, when we write about our painful experiences, we reframe the facts based on what is most important to us. When we contemplate our experiences and consciously select what we communicate to others, we exercise a certain level of control over a series of events over which we really have no control. Also, what we choose to keep to ourselves provides deeper insights to our own pain. Whether journaling privately or blogging publicly, the reframing process is empowering.

Secondly, and especially with public blogging or group therapy, the power of narrative heals because we receive support and feedback from our social network. This acts as both validation and encouragement.

This is the gist of writing to heal. Whether a woman is going through the pain of infertility on a support group's message board, or a man is blogging about his cancer battle on the New York Time's website, each is processing their grief and moving toward a a place of healing. This is very different from writing to sell because it is a purging and cathartic process intended primarily to benefit the writer.

When we write about our pain to sell a book, the intent is to benefit the reader. While I can attest that even the most seemingly well-adjusted of us will still find catharsis and discover new strength in writing a book, that is not the goal of writing to sell. The goal of writing to sell is to help your reader through the gifts of universal truth, unique insights, lessons in grace, and a powerful and authentic voice.

I can assure you that unless you are already famous or your experience is beyond unique, you must have a unique perspective and/or a powerful platform to effectively sell your experiences. For instance, there are two million Americans with congenital heart disease, so there are two million mothers like me fighting for their kids. So, why should anyone want to read my book? Because I'm not only a mother and a fighter, but I'm a writer and was a writer before I had children so the bedrock skills are there. I founded two nonprofit organizations, planned and hosted parent medical conferences, work with legislators, doctors, and charities from all over the U.S.A. to advance the cause. I've also counseled dozens of expectant and new mothers, so I know what they need to hear not just because I was one of them but because I've been talking to them for years.

Many mothers and their children have even more harrowing tales and many have lost their children, but they are not all writers, they are not all community leaders, and they don't all know about the pain of others on a similar journey. Tens of millions of Americans have endured cancer, lost a spouse or a child, or suffered a similar pain to a multitude of others. All who suffer should consider healing through narrative for the benefits it offers, but not all of them should consider writing a book to sell.

Simply stated, if we're willing to take the the money of the wounded and members of their support systems, we must offer them something greater than more pain. We must offer them insights and opportunities to heal. As a published memoirist, my best piece of advice to other aspiring writers is to identify exactly what you have to offer your readers before you even consider publication. Everyone has a heaping helping of personal pain already. If you are not in a position to offer up more than your pain, then keep writing to heal and revisit publication as your journey progresses.

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Amanda, thanks so much for being my guest today. It's an honor to have you here.

Readers can find out more about Amanda and Heart Warriors at her website and blog. You can also find Amanda on Facebook with her author page and the Heart Warriors page.

12 comments:

Karen Walker said...

This is a very powerful post because it is oh so true. Patricia, thanks for guiding me here yesterday. Amanda, I wouldn't be where I am in my life today without the healing power of writing - first journals, then my memoir and now my blog. Thanks for sharing your story with the world
Karen

Lisa said...

Amanda has been a strong voice in and for the CHD community for years. I look forward to HEART WARRIORS as a fellow heart mom and member of Amanda's Hypoplast Right Hearts group.

Thanks for helping spread the word!

Lisa Schaffer

Kathryn Craft said...

This is a very powerful message. There's much wisdom in these last two paragraphs! Thanks Amanda and Pat.

j.a. kazimer said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm amazed and humbled by your courage.

Susan Spann said...

Great post, Amanda - and big thanks to Pat for hosting it. I particularly like your comments at the end - that authors bear a debt to readers that transcends merely sharing and extends to offering opportunities to heal. Fantastic insight. Thank you for sharing your story.

MimiTabby said...

Thank you for your powerful post. I am grieving because a close family member is considered "terminal" Maybe i will use your suggestion and write. The pain is devastating and any little bit would help.

Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

Jillain Broce said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think your book will help many people(not only heart parents) heal.

Greengabardine said...

Amazing insight about the power of writing to heal. I've never heard this put so succinctly, but it is so very true. From my experience with a special needs child, I know pain led me to a place of isolation, but writing helped free me from that. Especially because while I wasn't ready to talk, I was ready to write and paradoxically, writing moved me toward being able to talk. A full circle of healing. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts on this subject, Amanda. Continue the good fight and my prayers are with you and your family.

Kelly Baugh

Patricia Stoltey said...

Amanda, thank you so much for your excellent post. I'll continue to spread the word tomorrow about the book giveaway.

irishoma said...

What a courageous and an inspiring post. Sending prayers your way.
Donna V.

pam2spicy said...

Thanks Pat for bringing Amanda's thoughts to our attention. As a member of one of her first critique groups I saw her powerful story develop. Very wise and helpful words.
Pam Wolf

Little Leon said...

Very powerful words indeed. I have always found writing cathartic, but more so since my son was born with CHD. I use my blog as a tool to let my thoughts and fears out and also to let other parents, with or without a child with a life condition. That life carries on. As normal or otherwise !

Occasionally someone says I should write a book, but time and skill are not on my side at the momen. Leon is my focus for now. But who knows what the future holds....

Helen purdy