Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

From Author Back to Writer

Writing was a new-found adventure–I only started writing after my brain surgeries.

photo credit: Deb Brandon

The bloody brain landed me on an unfamiliar road, strewn with invisible potholes. There was nothing and no one to help me navigate my way around them. I pored through books and searched the internet for insight, something to guide me. I needed stories from the inside, written by other brain injury survivors, not by caregivers or medical personnel.

Unfortunately, the few books by the insiders focused on the trauma, acute recovery, or on aspects of their journeys that didn’t speak to me, such as religious awakenings, obstacles created by inadequate health insurance, frustrations with poor bedside manner. I needed anecdotes about living with brain injury and the changes it incurred.

            It was up to me. I would fill the gap myself. Not only would it help me, but, perhaps it would also help others like me, other brain injury survivors who felt lost.

            During my first year into recovery, I wrote daily about my experiences, emotions, and thoughts. At first, the damage to my small motor skills and short term memory, my difficulties accessing words and my short attention span, produced nonsensical words and sentences. As I healed, my writing made more sense.

            Along the way, I realized that many people were ignorant of brain injury and its affects. Since many of my symptoms were invisible, many assumed that because I looked fine, I was fine.

            I wanted my story to reach a broader audience, loved ones, caregivers, medical-types, anyone who came in contact with brain injury survivors—everyone. I wanted to publish my manuscript as a memoir. To do that, I needed to improve my writing skills—even though the few who read my work praised the quality of my writing, I knew it wasn’t good enough.

            Because of the cognitive damage, the excruciating headaches, and crippling fatigue, I couldn’t attend writing workshops. Instead, I found a writing coach—Judy Fort Brenneman. She taught me to use more engaging language, to write dialogue, to expand on detail, to show, not tell. I became a prolific writer, passionate about my craft. Under her tutelage, my journal-type manuscript evolved into an award winning book.

            The journey to publishing opened up a completely new world. I enjoyed most aspects of it. (I did not enjoy writing the book proposal, and I grew tired of the various edits agents and publishers requested.)

And then the book was published. My world opened up even further. I met writers and publishers, as well as other brain injury survivors. I loved public speaking and interviews. Several publications commissioned pieces—blog posts, short essays. I had fun posting blogs on my own website and keeping in touch with happy readers.  Life was good.

But within a couple of years, though I had a plethora of fond memories, I grew tired of the hoopla. I had other projects I wanted to tackle—a second memoir, another book about textiles.

I set out to work on my second memoir. And got stuck. Nothing gelled. I wrote dreck. It was as if a hex was laid on me. Writing became a chore. In my aspirations to become a multi-book author, I stubbornly persisted. Judy tried to help—she offered advice and suggested projects that might work better.

I felt lost and frustrated. Though I was fine writing short pieces, even they were now a struggle. I became anxious—was this it? Was I washed up as a writer? I descended into depression. I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t transition back from author to writer.

And then it hit me—this was exactly the problem. As an author, I’d been busy with marketing and publicity (standard practice nowadays for authors). My writing was restricted to blog posts and short essays that didn’t require much reflection. I was out of practice—I hadn’t written about topics that spoke to me at a deeper level since I finished my memoir.

I needed to get back in the groove of being a writer.

Once I understood the problem, I figured out how to tackle it, how to transition back into the writer I wanted, I needed, to be.

I began slowly, first by vomiting on the page for fifteen minutes a day. From the daily vomit, a few gems appeared, which I expanded, in the early days of my recovery from being in author-mode, into blog posts, and later into essays. I’ve now completed an essay I’d had trouble with over the previous two years, and well into another.

I’d broken the evil spell.

I am a writer, and writers write.