Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

For the Love of Writing

My original goal in writing my essay “Testing Testing” was to tell the story of my daughter’s first driving test. But along the way, I realized that there was more to it—it was actually a story about my relationship with her. Once I identified the real story, I adjusted the essay to reflect that and it became stronger.

Photo credit: Deb Brandon

Occasionally, a piece doesn’t gel. I know that it’s either because I haven’t yet recognized the story behind my writing, or because I’ve been turning away from the story my brain is calling me to write. Experiencing that “Aha!” point when the true nature of a story hits me or when I recognize the direction I need to take is thrilling.

I also take joy in the reflections and revelations that occur as I write. When I’m upset about a life event or when I’m having trouble processing an issue, I turn to writing to sort it out. It’s very satisfying when the pieces of the puzzle all click into place. I feel like a dog who has finally settled in the perfect spot when I reach the conclusion that some questions will remain unanswered.

Getting stuck on one aspect of an essay calls for a shower. As the water streams down my body, my mind zeroes in on the problem. There have been no more than a handful of times that I have not experienced a “Eurekah!” moment. Usually, by the time I finish drying myself, I’ve figured out how everything fits together. Before I do anything else, I rush over to jot down some notes. I relish those showers. (For minor issues, brushing my teeth suffices.)

Sometimes the emotional content of a topic is tough to face and writing about it evokes strong emotions. At several points during the writing about my recovery from brain injury, I ended up in tears.

My inner critic (I call her Shoshana), ever protective, attempts to keep me within my comfort zone. She tries to pull me away from the dangerous topics. “You’re tired—you need a nap,” “You can’t put off doing the laundry any longer,” or “It’s time to walk the dog. Now.”

All too often I allow her to divert my attention elsewhere. “Your shirking your responsibilities,” or “The dog is feeling neglected.” But other times I recognize Soshana’s antics for what they are and push her out of the way.

When I refuse to yield to her, she’ll try to distract me with something shiny. “You know you really want to open the package that just arrived,” or “This is much more compelling.” Shoshana is very good at pressing the bloody brain buttons: “The headache will get much worse if you continue to write,” or “If you don’t write about _____ right now, you’ll forget.”

It can take a while before I become aware that I’ve been avoiding a difficult topic. Once I do, I know that it’s time to sneak up on Shoshana, so she doesn’t notice that I’m heading towards confronting my demons, until it’s too late.

Poems help say the unsayable and writing prompts help trigger a foray into the danger zone. A different point of view, clustering, or bouncing ideas off another writer can also help. So far, eventually I do end pushing my way into the story. I’m stubborn that way.

And what about that dreaded writer’s block? Last time it happened, it took two years to admit to myself that I was struggling. At the time, I didn’t realize I was spiraling into depression. I questioned my identity as a writer. I was terrified of losing that part of me.

Finally, the combination of COVID-shutdowns and fast approaching retirement drew out the writer in me. In anticipation of my retirement, I felt concerned about ways to encourage the writer in me to resurface, about ways to structure my time to promote writing. The shutdowns brought about the creation of online writing groups which gave me the support and accountability I needed.

I started by spending fifteen minutes a day vomiting on the page—fifteen minutes was a manageable goal. The routine brought the writer in me back to life, reviving that joy I felt in the past.

I love that feeling when something I write zings—whether a prompt speaks to me, a title for a piece feels just right, or when I come up with a particularly good turn of phrase or description that allows the reader to visualize the situation. 

Upon completion of a project, whether a short blog post or a full-length book, I feel as if I am glowing, radiating contentment. And when the feedback on my craft is positive, when I’ve placed a piece in a publication, or have won an award, I fly high.

Writing is my passion.