I am working on yet another essay regarding some facet of the cancer experience as it is related to a change in our marriage. I wondered last night: just how long will I be writing about cancer? It will be four years in June since we got the news that David had cancer, and yet here I am still writing about it.
As I sat with David during his Wednesday chemotherapy sessions, I wrote. That is how I work through the feelings and the fears. I write. My friend Mary H. does the same thing. When she had thyroid cancer she filled several journals during her treatment. I have no doubt she will someday use parts of those journals to write an essay or a poem. She has written several poems about cancer and they have appeared in cancer magazines. That is what writers do.
How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Just one, but they will sit down and write about it afterwards.
I didn’t know what I was writing as I sat there in the chemotherapy room, I just knew I had to get it all down on paper. Midway through David’s treatments I realized I was writing a book, and I was as surprised as anyone else. This was going to be the book I wished I could find at the beginning of our journey; a book of hope and inspiration, a book that talked about the nitty-gritty of the experience, but that also left the reader with some sense of having just read a good book about a marriage relationship.
Since then, I have written at least a dozen pieces that have cancer as either the main subject or at least a starring role. Of the 24 pieces I’ve sent out since the end of November, 12 have mentioned our cancer experience.
“I didn’t realize you could change some parts of your article and write about the same thing over and over,” a friend once observed after reading a second essay I’d written about the death of my son’s dog.
Well, yes. But not exactly.
I learned a long time ago to reformat and change an article to fit another market. Occasionally, I have written and submitted something good, gotten it published, then changed it for the better and had the revised article published as well. (the story of our dog Shadow is one example) But usually I don’t set out to revise something. I prefer writing something totally new for each publication and contest. But as I am writing, I do find the same sentence popping up in several pieces. I cannot tell you how many times I have “juggled bills and babies” in my essays. It just works for me because it says so well what I felt like during much of my marriage; juggling bills and babies. So someone who has read a lot of my writing (such as my friend Mary who often critiques my writing) might think to themselves; This sounds so familiar. Didn’t I read this already?
What I don’t do is send out the exact same thing, unless I write an essay that isn’t accepted. When it comes back to me, (and now that is most often by e-mail, the snail mail rejections are few), I take a look at it with fresh eyes, maybe do a little revising, then send it out again. Finding a good fit for a piece is difficult sometimes, especially if I have written it with a specific market in mind. Two years ago I wrote a piece intended for Guideposts. When they rejected it I couldn’t think of another magazine it would work for and I filed it. It was that piece I read at a recent women’s meeting, where there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when I completed it.
“You should send that to Guideposts,” one woman murmured.
Well, yeah, but they already said no. So I pulled out my trusty Writer’s Market Guide and looked for a similar Christian publication that might be looking for inspiring essays.
My aforementioned essay about my son’s dog was rejected twice, then sat in a file folder for several months until I noted that a new magazine was looking for dog stories. They snatched it right up and sent me a $250 check. Sometimes you just have to wait for the right time.
So, yes, I write about cancer a lot, because the undercurrents of my life’s experience reverberate with what David and I went through. I write about childhood poverty for the same reason. Or couponing, homeschooling and mothering. The experience of cancer and caregiving is now a part of me.
So, how many times can you write about the same thing? The answer is apparently; ad-nauseum.