How to Write a Book about Illness
Wait until you are well enough to sit at a desk and work at a keyboard.
Go to your favorite bookstore; see an ad for a writing coach.
Call the unknown coach as soon as you get home.
Tell the coach you don’t know how to write; she will scoff at this.
She will say you need to kill your darlings.
Eventually you will begin to write about your illness, even if you’d rather not.
Writing about your illness will create an undertow; it will grab hold of you.
Do not struggle; do not try to return to shore.
Write all the details you remember.
Write about the protectiveness of denial.
Write about pushing hard against every symptom until they take you down.
Write about dazzling high fevers.
Write about multiple blood draws.
Write about a rash that can’t be soothed.
Write about boredom, loneliness and fear.
Write about hopelessness.
Write about knowing the edge of death.
Do not soft pedal.
Do not avoid bad smells, nightmares, the prospect of sacrificing body parts in order to live.
You will cry when you write about your baby boy replacing you with his babysitter.
You will cry about everything else you lost.
Write about the helpers: the sound of a shaman’s drum, the love of a teacher, the one visitor who came every day without exception.
You will cry when you write about the smallest beginnings of recovery: the simple act of a walk outdoors on a sunlit morning.
Write about your gratitude
When you think you’re finished, go alone to a cabin on a lake shore and read the whole manuscript out loud to your dog.
There will be a blizzard.
And a power outage.
It will be very cold.
You will tell the dog that the book isn’t working; that the book will never work; it is too long, too boring, disjointed and complicated.
You will want to throw the book into the lake; don’t.
When you return home you’ll realize you’re done with your old writing coach.
You’ll think it’s also time to be done with the manuscript.
Put the failed book in a box and shove it to the back of a closet.
Do not touch the book for eight years.
Let go of your day job and enroll in an MFA program; you will learn you really are a writer.
You will meet a new coach who thinks your book is worth saving; hire her.
One day everything in your car, including your annotated manuscript, will be stolen.
You will weep as if your dog has died.
Your new coach will remind you she has another copy.
Together you and she will cut and stitch and revive the bloated manuscript.
You will finish it.
It will be published.
You’ll be glad you didn’t throw it into the lake.
You will begin the next project.