This is the second post in a series about the writing experience — first-hand accounts of the hardships and joys of the creative process. Judy McManus, a gifted writer, client, and former student penned an outstanding first work, and she’s already working on another. Here’s what she has to say about the experience:
The Music of Her Life is my debut novel. This story is one I’ve kept inside for years and is very close to my heart. It is a story about my family and is loosely based on my mother’s life. It was an emotionally difficult book to write.
Writing about ones so close to me and knowing the hardships of their generation helped me understand the struggles they endured. My book was written for The Greatest Generation. Their lives, their music, and their sacrifices shall never be forgotten.
Writing about the tremendous loss and scrutiny my mother went through during WWII, the late 1940s, and early 1950s, caused me to second guess myself and wonder if anybody cared about her struggle. On the other hand, writing this helped me realize how cruel society was to women during that time. My single mother put up with sexual harassment in the workplace, and she was called awful names because she was divorced. That scrutiny filtered down to her children. No one cared about her feelings or circumstances.
Was it hard to write such a personal story? Yes, it was. Did I want to give up? Yes, a few times. I struggled with the entire writing process. I suffered writer’s block at times. Not about the subject matter but how to deliver it in a professional way while throwing a little humor into such serious subjects. As my mother did in the book, I turned on the songs of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw and got a fresh perspective. I was determined to press on and finish the story that has been the ongoing subject of conversation between my sister and myself for years. We were the ones who were scrutinized along with our mother, and bringing that into the open was difficult.
It was almost sad when I submitted my “final” (really?) manuscript to be formatted and proofed. I was finished, or so I thought. When I received my proof copy of the book, I didn’t cry. All I could do was look at that 460-page tome full of MY words, created from MY brain, and smile. After saying, “I can’t believe it,” no less than 100 times, the tears began to fall.
Then came the hard part. Being a perfectionist, a disease not to be wished on anyone, I thought my book should look a certain way, be formatted a certain way, and last but not least, not have one typo. Finally, after hearing from excellent readers, I realized even major authors backed by big-time publishers usually have typos and a few mistakes. After driving everyone involved crazy, I was told in a most tactful way, “Stick a fork in it. It’s done.” I did, and to me, my book is something to be proud of.
With that said, I feel I succeeded in delivering the story, my way. I wanted the narrator to sound as if I was telling the story to a friend, and it moved them to tears. I was told once, while writing the book, “If it makes you cry, it will make your reader cry.” Since the book was published, my readers have told me how it touched them greatly and brought them to tears. Mission accomplished.
My new book is in the works and after learning so much while writing the first one, the writing experience is much more gratifying, and the words seem to flow in a new way. The pace, the points of view, and the format seem so much easier. I have one person to thank for that and it is my editor who taught this newbie the way to make my story flow and make sense. So many individuals helped me through the extended duration of a dream accomplished. I’m excited about my new novel and look forward to the idea of writing as I go. I know it will flow smoothly since I wrote the hardest one first.
~ Judy McManus