On A Writer’s Investments

April 11, 2018 § 30 Comments

z Laura GilkeyBy Laura Gilkey

These are the first words I am typing on my brand new laptop computer. I bought the laptop, I told myself, so I can write when I need to write, where I need to write. An investment, I said.

My husband went to the techy store with me, wholeheartedly supporting my investment. He believes in me, the poor guy. We chose a middle-of-the-road laptop, no bells or whistles, not a huge amount of memory and a three-digit price tag, not four. I just need it to be fast, I said. I need it to keep up with me. With all of this writing I’m going to do.

This investment came just two weeks after I invested in attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Tampa, an hour’s drive north of where I live. I was so proud of myself for committing to it, despite a near-crippling case of Imposter Syndrome. I catered the conference to my own particular palette these days: memoir, grief, research, trauma. I was riveted by three full days of panel discussions with incredible voices who tell incredible stories. I filled a legal pad with emphatic notes. My mind was brimming with words like intersectional and liminal and narrative arc. I couldn’t wait to get home and write. Of course, first, I made a list of more than twenty books referenced during the conference, books I clearly must read before attempting to properly tell my story.

Three months before the conference, I invested in a writing coach. She is someone whose work I greatly admire and whose opinion I value implicitly. I chose her because six months ago I invested in her online workshop for mothers who write, and it was exceptional. I produced good work during those ten weeks, and I learned a lot from her, and from the other mothers taking the class. So I hired her. Which is so great. Except that I’m not giving her anything to work with. Since our agreement, I have sent her fewer than twenty-five pages of manuscript. And that was two months ago.

But hey, I haven’t been procrastinating, I tell myself. I’ve been doing field work. I’ve been studying the barred owls that will play so indelibly into this story. I’ve been keeping a detailed journal of their behavior and of my experience observing them. And I’ve been writing the letters to my son. I have to write those. More than a hundred now.

I am completely procrastinating. Jesus. The laptop, the conference, the owls. This essay. As much as his story burns in my chest, as much as I know I cannot live with myself if I do not write it, I don’t want to. What is my problem? I wrote for 772 consecutive days when Benjamin was sick. I shared my writing with a blog audience that grew to several hundred per evening. I didn’t edit myself, and I certainly didn’t care who was reading what I wrote. I wrote because I had to. I wrote to survive.

I know I need to write now. There is something so big at stake here. But I don’t want to recount the chronology of my son’s death last February. I don’t want to go deeply into the pain Benjamin felt when his liver and his spleen grew to twice their normal size. I don’t want to smell that occult blood again or feel the unwelcome shift in the alternating pressure mattress or watch him try to push away the inevitable. He was nine years old.

I do want to convey the joy he brought to our family, though. To the world. That was a big fat note I wrote on my legal pad at the conference, and starred: to capture the magnitude of the loss, you must capture the magnitude of the joy. And I need—need—to delve into the unmistakably divine events that have happened since his death. I have no idea what will come out of those pages. That’s why I need to write them.

One of the AWP Conference panelists I saw—twice, actually—offered readings of her “craft essays” as accompaniments to each literary piece she read. These were breakdowns of her observations, not about the subject matter, but about the process of writing it. To be honest, I didn’t quite understand why she felt the need to write them, let alone share them with other writers, but now I do. This procrastination of mine, this series of investments, this anguish is just another layer of the storytelling experience. It helps me understand the importance of the knowledge I hold, because of Benjamin. It tells me to be brave, like he was. To go into the pain. I will tell his story and I will do it right here on this laptop, so help me God, and I’ll do the best job I possibly can.

Laura Gilkey is the mother of two sons: Banyan, a healthy, rugby-playing adolescent, and Benjamin, who died of leukemia in February 2017. Laura’s writing through Benjamin’s cancer treatment is archived at BenjamintheBrave.com. Additional work has been published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Mommy Magazine, and Pulse Voices for Medicine. Laura co-produced Maternally Yours, a weekly community radio program, for five years. Guests included CNN Hero Robin Lim, Right Livelihood Laureate Ina May Gaskin, and Dr. Maya Angelou.


§ 30 Responses to On A Writer’s Investments

  • No imposter located. Thank you, Laura. You wouldn’t necessarily think so, but your painful words this morning give me strength.

    • caralembo says:

      Thanks for sharing this here. I just found Brevity and am submitting a few of my wordpress.com blogs about care giving. I adore your positive attitude about your writing being an investment. It is time for more of this positive outreach for those of use who consistently write, have a story to tell, information to share, yet need to make the place, time and technology available to us in order to succeed! Keep your eyes on the prize…you will get there!!!

      • caralembo says:

        And most important to express is my own heartfelt feelings you bring up when speaking about the loss of a loved one. God Bless You!

  • I don’t hear an imposter. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Just write or do research or let the thoughts percolate in your head before you put them on your new computer. It’s all the creative process of writing. You have so much to share with your readers.

  • What a beautiful, heartfelt post of the writing process, so similar to the grieving process. Both ned and want to be worked out in the heart before they can be realized in the head and put down on paper. What a strong and determined mother/writer/woman. Keep going. I want to read/learn/feel more.

  • hebronkimari says:

    Its encouraging, the piece of work in your post has ejected some new energy in to my self, your strong self and determination has realy encouraged me here in african continent. keep the fire burning.

  • Peg Conway says:

    You are brave! Thanks for sharing. The insidious imposter syndrome is always lurking.

  • I’ve written a bit about grief, and if you can’t get to the page, then the other stuff really is good work. You can’t write it all at once. Give yourself time; you will get it done. Also anniversaries are hard.

  • You ARE brave. Laura! Thank you for your precious words.

  • Lindsey Graves says:

    This is so touching. I struggle with the same feeling— having the need to write and recount my accident and hopefully help others, but not wanting to feel the pain again while I write it.

  • Mary says:

    Here’s what struck me: “But I don’t want to recount the chronology of my son’s death last February. I don’t want to go deeply into the pain Benjamin felt . . . I do want to convey the joy he brought to our family, though. To the world.”

    My niece Maggie was diagnosed with ALL when she was 2. She died when she was 9, a dozen years ago now. I don’t know how to write about that time in my family’s life — especially in my sister’s life. We all know stories about pain and suffering. But how can a writer get at the joy in such a short life with immense challenges? If you can write that, I really want to read it. And my sister will, too. The fieldwork and the writing about writing count. I’m glad to hear about your investments.

  • I can definitely relate to “writer’s investments.” Been there and still there. You are brave and you will tell your story. It will minister to other people. You will find your flow in the perfect time. Peace to you!

  • joey elizabeth says:

    Let us be imposters together in Portland next year. In fact, we can find a few others and have a panel of our own. I was also in Tampa and was certain I did not belong with all the writers who took their writing so seriously. I came away with sticker from WITS Alliance “Writing is Revolutionary” and it has become my daily mantra. I am convinced more than ever that words and language can help people cope with the unimaginable.
    I am a nurse who tries to get parents to write while I am hanging the chemotherapy. Your words give such strength to others who know your pain and joy.
    I have already pushed “Print” and have shared your story. I’m going now to your blog.
    Thank You!

  • katehopper says:

    All of this–the investments, the research, diving back into the joy–is important work, Laura. In the end it will be evident on the page. I have no doubt about it. Now get me those 10,000 words. 🙂

  • Love this post. I can relate as a new writer myself. I’ve taken classes, written a book and started a blog. Each post has a piece of my heart and each like is a breath of fresh air. Thanks for sharing your journey as it brings solace to others.

  • Julie Lambert says:

    You can do it, Laura. I’ll be waiting to hear of your book!

  • Kay says:

    That really sticks out to me. Rather than avoiding writing, I’ve been dealing with my own grief process by building a book about it, but because I don’t plan to publish it within the next few years working on this project is still a way of procrastinating from my current series which is now very behind and was due to be finish in February. February! It’s been so long. But just sitting down and writing literally just one word on my actual work a day has been so helpful. It lets me ease back into the work and out of the procrastination.

  • Maggie says:

    You are amazing. And I love to read your words like I love to create art. Because they are connected, by nature to that magical Place of creation. You were born to write! So glad you’re continuing on that path!!!

  • sirpositive says:

    Thanks for your precious word Laura it encourages me

  • Vagabond Rose says:

    Ha!! So totally get it. Its taken me my whole life to figure out how to even get close to healing some stuff that affects me all the time yet happened ages ago. What you said about expressing both – the joy and the suffering YES! I’m starting with the joy – that’s easy. I figure the other stuff will come later. Lucky me though, no one is’ following’ me yet so it is still just for myself. Easing into this public platform gently I am…

  • aklotz2014 says:

    Laura–so moved by your words. Thank you.

  • Thank you for this, Laura, and for letting us learn about Benjamin’s and your family’s journey. You are making my “investment” of time spent reading really worth it.

  • kjboldon says:

    The investments _are_ investments, no italics needed, because you are doing work and need tools. I really like this piece and how you’ve woven together things everyone can identify with–the procrastination, the fear of being an impostor, and some of your learnings from AWP–with your own particular story of grief. I want to read more, so please keep writing!

  • blankpaper11 says:

    As I began to read your words, I thought, “Is she writing about me?” The investments in tools, time, and pieces of our souls that it takes to be a writer can be extreme. And then I read about your son…my sincere condolences! He will live on through your investments and the written word. Thank you for sharing your journey and best wishes!

  • xdarkjuvex says:

    Great post, is very empowering to those whom are beginning to start off in writing. Thank you for sharing your journey, it is heartfelt.

  • tripathyj says:

    It is amazing when we get to know about real life tales so deeply inspiring.

  • Marcus says:

    If you sow, you will harvest. Keep sowing and caring for those sprouts. Best, Marcus.

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