Category Archives: Writing

‘Twas the Day Before Publication

And all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

Well, the first part of that is true, but in reality I’m definitely stirring part in panic and part in excitement.

Learning to Breathe has been an idea, a hope, a dream of mine for a decade, and tomorrow it becomes reality as anyone, anywhere, can choose to buy it, borrow it and read it.

There is something particularly terrifying, because people are not just reading my words, they are reading the story of the worst days of my life.

But as I sit here, with a pile of books, that I wrote and that others have turned into this beautiful looking book; I can see that the promise of restoration and redemption on which I pinned my recovery for all those years, finds some fulfilment in the book that I began to write when I was at my darkest.

I began to write because I wanted to make sense of what I’d been living through; but I finished writing and started editing,  preparing it for publication because I believe that whilst the church has come a long way in terms of mental health awareness, we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding.

We may know that 1 in 4 have a mental health problem each year – but do we understand the effect it has on them, their families and their work?

We may know that suicide is the leading cause of death for young people – but do we understand why- and, more importantly – how to hold out hope?

I have only written my story, my perspective, but it is my hope and my prayer that it will lead you on to listen to the stories of those in your midst who are struggling, to equip yourselves with understanding so that you can begin to know how to help.

And whenever the terror of the reality that my story is there for anyone to consume – that’s what I remind myself of – that ‘Learning to Breathe’ was not written merely for my own catharsis – but so that others may glimpse something of God’s compassion and kindness for those whose minds are lost in their own darknesses.

Because, as Psalm 107 proclaims: “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”

I’ve told mine, not because my story is anything but ordinary, but because the God of our stories is beyond extraordinary.


You can pre-order it from SPCKAslan, Amazon, and Eden

Editing is Surgery

Editing is a strange business; editing your life story is even stranger.

It is, as I put it to a friend yesterday, a bit like performing surgery on yourself.

Some of the surgery is cosmetic; word choice and grammar, other parts of it are deeper and a bit more complex.

There are certain parts that I’ve been loathed to let go of; sentences that I sweated over or that I like the look of but that actually add nothing to the story.

It is the cuts that will hopefully make a better book by the time it reaches the shelves.

Dissecting the words I have written about my life is surreal. I hadn’t expected to re-live so much of it as I’ve read, corrected and tweaked. I thought that the re-living process was over and done with in the first draft; but there is something about rereading that has awoken old memories, long forgotten feelings bubbling up from the seabed of my mind.

It has shifted long laid sands in a way that writing the book didn’t; but in a less personal, more objective way which has meant that I’ve seen the ways God has moved a little more clearly. It’s an incredible, if not exhausting, privilege.

There is something so refreshing about editing, stepping back to view it as a whole book, a whole story, even though I know the story is still continuing after the last page is done and dusted. It is delicate, detail work rather than the broad brush stroke of a first draft, getting into the nitty gritty of why I’ve written what I’ve written and how it can be better.

Editing is surgery because it’s detailed and complex, but also because it hurts a bit. The best thing, is that you know that the hurt will be worth it, because what will emerge will hopefully be something far richer than it was in its untouched form.

 

 

 

 

5 Books That Have Shaped My Writing #BookLoversDay

On National Book Lover’s Day – I wanted to share some of the books that have shaped my writing…

Sometimes, you read a book and it remains with you long after the last page has turned; more often that not these books for me are ones I can’t read without a pen and notebook next to me. Here are a few quotes from these books – the ones that have left their mark on me and on my writing.

Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen,

“When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

Wasted, Marya Hornbacher

“Bear in mind you have a life to live. There is an incredible loss. There is a profound grief. And there is, in the end, after a long time and more work than you ever thought possible, a time when it gets easier.”

Finding God in the Ruins, Matt Bays

“To find our redemption, we must be willing to visit the scene of the crime and, unimaginably, stay there for a while. It will take some time to survey the damage to sit in the ruins with God and acknowledge its full impact on our lives. But if we are ever to take our power back, this necessary evil must be part of our journey.”

The Harry Potter Series

“Numbing the pain for a while only makes it worse when you finally feel it.”

Rejoicing with Lament, J Todd Billings

“When worship expresses only “victory,” it can unintentionally suggest that the broken and the lonely and the hurting have no place here. The message can be, “If you want to fit in, first get your emotions in order so that you can be positive, and then go to worship.” But the Psalms help show us that bottling up or trying to “fix” those emotions ourselves is not the right way.”

We All Need a Cheerleader

On Wednesday I pressed ‘send’ on the full first draft of my book.

It will probably be a different book by the time it hits the shelves, but the idea that I’ve written a whole book feels strange.

It’s been all consuming for the past few weeks; long days and long nights with my eyes glued to my MacBook guzzling coffee as if it were under threat of extinction.

But I’ve loved it.

It’s been amazing to have a few weeks where I’ve written almost full time and been ‘in the zone’. It’s been a luxury – but it’s also been a necessity so I that I could actually meet my deadline!

I’ve made my office space into a place I love being, adorned with rose gold, quotes and pale pinkness which doesn’t necessarily fit in with my husband’s aesthetic for the rest of our home!

Despite this, though, writing is a lonely occupation and I’ve been so grateful that my husband has been on his summer holidays; partly so that someone else can make me lunch(!) but also because having a cheerleader when you feel like you’re writing complete rubbish is invaluable.

Stephen King writes in his memoir/writing guide “On Writing”

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to makes speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

We all need to be believed in, we need cheerleaders, whether its in our parenting skills, our work, our art and I’m incredibly grateful for the people who are cheering me on.

Writing a book is like running a marathon I think (not that I have ever or will ever run one), I’ve just got to the first rest stop, had a few glorious days off, and in looking back at the last nine months what I see most clearly is my team of cheerleaders who’ve sent tweets and texts, cards and chocolate.

So this week, be someone’s cheerleader, an encourager, because I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes!

And now I just have to wait for it to come back from my editor – and to pass the time I have to keep writing because I’ve got three talks to do next week!

I Write To Make Things Real

“I find I need to put things into words before I can believe that they are entirely real.” Frederick Buechener

I’ve always read to make sense of the world. When I was first diagnosed with depression back in 2004 I devoured every book and memoir Amazon could deliver; I did it again as my mental health worsened and I came up against other issues.

And as I’ve been writing the book, I’ve come to realise that if reading helps me make sense of life; writing helps me to create something out of the chaos that life can sometimes feel like. I don’t know how to make things real until I’ve written them down.

As our country has been rocked again and again in the last few months with terror and the Grenfell Tower fire, I’ve reached more and more for pen and paper to come to terms with what surrounds us.

We all have to find ways to come to terms with the world around us; for me its words, for others it may be movement or images, but I can’t help but think finding a way to understand the world we’re living in is a massive part of growing up.

Putting things into words makes me feel less alone and less powerless.

And in the wake of the last few weeks – I think we might all need to find ways to feel less alone and powerless.

And tonight as I’ve written, the words have made my heart ache and pray for those who’ve lost loved ones and homes.

Piecing Together My Story

Our memories are funny things, aren’t they?

Some things we remember with an almost film-like quality, others are half formed and still others are fragmented snatches of time stitched together.

As I’ve been writing, I’ve been faced with huge gaping holes in my memory. Some of those holes are the natural ones of growing older and not needing to retain every experience in minute detail; others are empty because I was empty.

Marya Hornbacher writes:

“Madness strips you of memory and leaves you scrabbling around on the floor of your brain for the snatches and snippets of what happened, what was said, and when.”

The times when I was most unwell, I remember the least clearly; it is partly an act of grace that I can’t recall the agony, but I’ve always found it unsettling.

As I’ve been writing about those days, I’ve read old diaries and I’ve called on those who walked with me through the darkness to help me remember. They too have gaps – I had probably underestimated quite how painful it was for them to watch my fight – but they have helped me sketch out the bare bones of who I was and how I was during those times.

The piecing together of others recollections has helped me enormously; not only in writing the book, but in understanding my own story of which I’ve only had half-written chapters and enabled me to see the grace of God more clearly than I ever have before.

Frederick Buechner writes:

“It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still chose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later.”

In hearing others’ recollections and beginning to understand who I was during those years, it’s shown me not only the gift of the amazing people God placed around me, but how He worked through them to show me more of His mercy and grace.

It turns out, God writes a more beautiful story that we could ever imagine.

The Writing Risk

Writing is a risky business.

Especially when you and your life is the subject of your writing.

I’ve just pressed send on an email which contains the first draft of a chapter of my book. It’s the first time any part of my book has been read by anyones eyes but mine.

My heart is still hammering a tattoo against my ribcage as my words sit in front of someone whose job it is to edit it, make it better, make it ready for others to read.

It’s strange, because I write things that people (well a few people) read every week for this blog and for the ThinkTwice blog, and it always makes me a little nervous, sending my words out into the world to read. Sending a chapter of my story, one of the most painful times in my life is a different kind of scary.

When you’re blogging, you aren’t telling the whole story, they are snapshots of your life with a lesson you’ve learned. The writing of a whole book means that whilst you don’t need to give account for every event in your life – you have to make sure you tell the whole story – even the parts of your story that devastated you, or filled you with shame.

The beauty of the fear, however, is that I hope it means I’m writing something that will give hope. Mine is not a story that will be released as a “Tragic Life Story” – my story is neither tragic nor victorious – but it’s alive and it’s one where the God of all hope works in the most amazing ways to bring back to life the dry bones of my story.

Learning From Our History

“Oh yes, the past can hurt, but you can either run from it, or learn from it.” Rafiki

Over Christmas, I found myself rewatching the Disney classic “The Lion King” and these words that I’ve heard perhaps hundreds of times before stopped me in my tracks.

As I’ve been reflecting on the years, delving into my history to draw the learning from it and finding the God I serve in the patterns of my past, I’ve sometimes been overwhelmed by the pain of it.

My words have swirled around my darkest days trying to make sense of them; and yet I’ve found myself running from the feelings the stories of my life provoke; both good and bad, because you can’t block bad feelings without blocking all feelings.

Rafiki’s words from the Lion King hit me because I’ve been trying to write my story without letting it move me. I’ve been facing it, but running backwards away from it.

 

It’s something we do often, I think. We face difficult stories, but we run from them at the same time. We run from who we were and how these stories changed us.

As Matt Bays writes though:

“To find our redemption, we must be willing to visit the scene of the crime and, unimaginably, stay there for a while. It will take some time to survey the damage to sit in the ruins with God and acknowledge its full impact on our lives. But if we are ever to take our power back, this necessary evil must be part of our journey.”

This year, I’m challenging myself to sit at God’s feet in the ruins and learn more about who He is and what He is calling us to.

This blog is my first step, to stop running and keep my gaze fixed on the one who gives vision.

#OfferYourStory

Over at ThinkTwice we’ve been encouraging you to #OfferYourStory, whether it be to friends or to the worldwide web to celebrate World Mental Health Day and it seems like a good time to announce that parts of my story and some of the things I’ve learned about mental health and theology through my studies and my life so far will be published in a book due to be released in 2018 with SPCK.

I’m offering my story, not because it’s a spectacular story, but because the God who is writing it with me is spectacular. And so, in the words of Hemmingway, I’m hopefully going to

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

This is a book I’ve wanted to write for a very long time, in fact I started a pages document for this book when I was eighteen after I’d finished my A-Levels. Re-reading those initial thoughts I had on this book last week, I’m quite glad it never saw the light of day as it was quite heavy on the teenage angst! Now however, it feels like the right time to tell this part of my story and weave it together with the stories of those in the Bible who walked through life thousands of years ago and yet still faced challenges of managing emotions and finding God in the dark.

I’m going to be attempting (heavy on the attempting) to be blogging my way through the writing process, partly because I’m intrigued at how it will go but also because I think that sharing stories is really important and I think it might teach me a lot about the God who writes the ultimate story of redemption.

I hope you can join me on the journey of Rachael Sonali Writes  – and maybe remind me to blog if I forget!