Be brave, be honest, be a writer – Cara Sue Achterberg

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By Cara Sue Achterberg

My teenage son has a t-shirt that says, Careful or you’ll end up in my next novel. He’s currently in college studying creative writing (Yes, I do appreciate your sympathy, thank you very much.)♥

It’s a funny line, but there’s plenty of truth to it. As writers, we can’t help but mine our own lives when we write fiction. Unless we’re writing science fiction or fantasy (and even then I’d argue you’re still writing from experience), the images, phrases, characters, and dialogue we put on the page are products of the lives we’ve lived. I’m not saying you have to murder someone to write a mystery, but the murderer’s living room might look familiar and his best friend might be that guy who harassed you in middle school.

My new book, Girls’ Weekend, which came out May 3, is my second book, but really, it’s my first.

Ten years ago, when I was knee deep in mommy-land, I fantasized about leaving. When my daughter threw a tantrum or my baby barfed (again) or my oldest forgot his lunch for the fourth time in one week, and my husband wondered why I wasn’t in the mood, I wanted to leave. Just get in the car and go.

Not that I ever would.

But I wanted to.

I am not any of the three main characters in my book. And yet, I am.

I didn’t realize this until after the book was written. When I examined the lives of Meg, Charlotte, and Dani, I saw bits and pieces of my own life. It couldn’t be helped.

Girls’ Weekend allowed me to explore my greatest fears as a mother and as a woman from the safe distance of my laptop keyboard.

Meg leaves for the girls’ weekend still reeling from the loss of her three-year-old child, two years prior. Everyone assumes she has moved on, recovered, but what mother ever could? Losing one of my children is the one fear that can keep me up at night, bring me to tears over a late carpool, or turn me into that paranoid mother who won’t let her children have a sleepover or go anywhere on New Year’s Eve.

There were times when writing Meg, I became so depressed, I had to close the laptop and go seek sunshine or at least a hug from my toddler. When I started writing, I wasn’t sure how Meg would survive. Sifting through her emotions made me brave. Now that I have two teens who are driving, there are moments when I wonder again how she did it.

Writing Charlotte brought me face to face with my own questions about love – marital love, to be specific. I have never had an affair, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wondered. I’d wager that most women have also. The old boyfriend reencountered on Facebook, the interesting guy at work, even the neighbor who always flirts … what if? Writing Charlotte was fun, but in the end it gave me a greater appreciation for my own husband and for the safety of his love.

And Dani. Maybe she was most like me. She faces a crisis of identity. How could she be forty and still not feel like she had grown up? Her life is half-over and what does she have to show for it? She wrestles with the path not taken. Writing Dani affirmed for me that I am on the right (write) road, but in Dani I was able to voice my own questions about how painful (and common) it is for women to give up their own dreams in favor of raising a family.

Maybe I’m a writer who wears her heart and her life on her sleeve, but my guess is that all writers do whether they intend to or not. Being a writer makes you vulnerable. You take something inside you and you put it on a page. And then you leave it there for everyone to see. Serious scary stuff. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

I’ve been writing for a long time, and I know that until I got brave and started to take risks and be honest and stop worrying about what everyone would think/say/assume, my writing career didn’t take off.

When I get the chance to speak to newbie writers in workshops and classes, that’s always the message I hope they hear – be brave, be honest, and never doubt that what’s in your heart is enough. The technical stuff can be learned. The forms can be mastered. It’s a willingness to bare your soul that makes you a real writer.

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer and blogger who lives in Pennsylvania with her family and an embarrassing number of animals. Her first novel, I’m Not Her, was a national bestseller. Her second novel, Girls’ Weekend, is out now. Cara’s nonfiction book, Live Intentionally, is a guide to the organic life filled with ideas, recipes, and inspiration for living a more intentional life.

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