It’s coming up to four years since my stem cell transplant, and these kind of anniversaries are always very thought-provoking. There’s the ‘Wow, aren’t I lucky to be here?’ thoughts, and quite a lot of reminiscing, and a feeling of being disconnected from my pre-chemo life too. Going through that kind of experience tends to do things to one’s outlook on life.
But the ‘thing’ I marvel at the most is that I have also been writing more or less consistently for those four years. In fact it’s about six months more than that as I started blogging way back at the beginning, in 2013, and if I hadn’t have been diagnosed with lymphoma (and one of my lovely authors hadn’t suggested it), I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have started writing at all. The catharsis has been incredible, and the very act of pouring my heart and soul (and medical procedures) into a blog very definitely helped in my recovery. In fact I would go as far as to suggest it to anyone who is going through hard times, as it’s an excellent way to process one’s thoughts. For me, in particular, the blog format worked because when I tried writing my thoughts in a day book (bought for that reason) way back at the beginning, they were dark and negative and angry and I felt as though they were festering quietly when I wasn’t writing, a bit like characters in a Discworld novel. Not healthy at all.
Everything changed when I started writing with the intention of other people reading my words. Reframing a truly horrible experience (oooh, say, a bone marrow biopsy for starters) into something that is more palatable did me masses of good, and very much brought out my previously unused dark sense of humour. I say that because I’m pretty sure my sense of humour was a lot different before I was ill – definitely closer to the light side. Which is a bit weird when you think about it, but then as I just said, being diagnosed with cancer does something to your head, and that’s even before the chemo. Which is another thing, actually. Although the long hours on the drip were indeed horrible they were also good thinking time, as were the twenty-three days in isolation after the transplant. Nothing like a lot of silence to focus the mind. Which is how I got involved in mindfulness, I guess but that’s not what this blog is about. So moving on, I do feel pretty lucky really, that all of this unleashed the writer within. And from where I’m sitting (at my laptop obvs) there’s no way she’s goin’ back inside. Ever.
Just as a quick aside as people do ask from time to time, I’m delighted to say that at my recent appointment with Joe everything was good and the blood tests were fine. Phew. Let off the hook for another six months then.
Anyway, back to my increasing love affair with words. Considering my day job is publishing books, you’d think I have an understanding of the deeper workings of a writer’s mind, but looking back to those days before I was ill I realise I was nowhere close. It always amuses me when I’m introduced to people and the inevitable work question pops up. As soon as they discover what I do for a living my new acquaintance very often launches into a little monologue about how much they want to write and how they never have the time, but they really do feel there’s a book in there, and in fact other people have told them they really should write, but how do they go about writing it? Pre-cancer, I used to just encourage them to write when they felt ready and a whole lot of similar platitudes because my role was to be on the receiving end of the finished manuscript, rather than the actual getting-the-words-on-the-page part of the action.
But now I have an entirely different view. The reason for the ridiculously long gap between blogs (sorry about that) is that I’ve been finishing my second book, which I am delighted to say has nothing to do with cancer or writing a blog. I can’t say much more at the moment as I’m still sorting out a publisher, but what I can say, hand on heart, is that the book virtually wrote itself and I really didn’t have much choice in the matter; every moment when I wasn’t writing I was counting the minutes until I would be again, which felt way weirder than feeling the need to write a blog. Almost every day I was awake early, typing away before work and up at the crack of dawn at weekends, because the characters were literally bursting out of my head, demanding to be heard. This was a whole new ball game compared to the blogs, which do still well up in my head and demand to be written too (like this one), but in a completely different way. And they are one helluva lot shorter for one thing – we’re talking a couple of hours – whereas obviously writing a whole book takes a lot more time and stamina and definitely the total love and support of one’s family. Stephen has been incredible, managing to be shopper and chief-cook-and-bottle-washer as well as my creative muse, as the need arose. In the light of this amazing experience, my authors – and actually anyone who has managed to write an entire book – have gone up massively in my estimation.
And so my advice to would-be writers has changed.
If you feel you will explode if you can’t get the words out, you’re ready to write.
If you’re asking, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ so you can get back to writing, you’re ready to write.
If you don’t want to walk, cook, do the shopping, or in fact just about anything else because it will take you away from the words, you’re ready to write.
Going back to the catharsis of writing, I know that some of you have followed the progress of my lovely brother and his family as they supported my sister-in-law through the horrific experience of early onset Alzheimers Disease. After years of total dedication to her care, which cost every ounce of their energy and love, they have now in a sense been set free, as has she. If you want to read a stunning blog that will rip your heart out, go to Otherkosh.blogspot.co.uk. Have the tissues ready.
With warm wishes for your good health,