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I never wrote a word before my son was stillborn in 2005. Well, that’s not strictly true.
I kept a diary for years and had extensive correspondence with various pen pals growing up. I remember riding my bike down a long hill on humid summer days to check the mail daily, eager for the breeze. I was looking for envelopes with brightly colored Lisa Frank stickers.
Sometimes they appeared. But I never considered myself a writer.
Then my son was stillborn, and I was wrecked. I spent long hours copying the prose of Marilynne Robinson, yearning to understand what had existed and what had been taken from me.
Still, I had no words of my own.
One winter’s day, I got a call from Jo Ann Beard who wanted to know how I was doing. Jo Ann is one of the most highly regarded essayists alive today. I’m a big fan of Jo Ann, beyond honored to call her a friend. I said something that hinted at my efforts to write and then added something like, “but who would read it?”
Jo Ann said she would.
This is so uniquely Jo Ann. She is as deeply kind as she is whip smart. I have never forgotten that she called, that she asked how I was. That she invited me to tell my story by giving me an audience. I stood there with the phone in my hand. I felt as though a godlike presence was on the phone because she was, oh, she was.
So I wrote my story.
It was clunky and raw. All the details were in there. The name of the charge nurse, the colors of the wall. It made me feel better to document the past. She made me write down everything before full-throated, trauma-choked memory made me less sure.
I sent this account to Jo Ann. She wrote me back a beautiful letter I treasure. She fleshed out my son’s existence to me, and I cannot convey what that means. Not ever. It preserved me.
Then I met writer Edie Meidav. I took the account that Jo Ann had asked me to draft and showed it to her. Edie persuaded me further that my story was worth telling. She taught me to trust my voice. She taught me to write.
Edie is considered to be one of the best writing teachers by her peers. Her kindness and encouragement is legendary. When she and I were first becoming friends, I remember dropping off a manuscript at her house while she was packing to go to northern California for the summer. Her kids were splashing in kiddie pools, and there was some happy chaos afoot.
Edie is beautiful inside and out, and had on cut-off shorts and a halter-top. “Sorry about the Leaving Las Vegas vibe,” she said, smiling warmly.
Truly great writers draw people towards them. They see stories in everyone. They ask you to sit awhile. They ask you to tell your story in your own words.
This is what to do if you have never written before.