You Don’t Need a Partner to Dance: The Power of Personal Writing

Recently I heard author Jill Lepore speak at the KC Public Library. During the Q and A session, someone asked, “Jill, you’re a staff writer for the New Yorker. How did that happen?”

“Well,” said Jill, “you know those cheesy old paintings where the hand of God reaches down through a cloud? It happened like that.”We all have those “hand of God” moments. For me, one such moment was when my friend, author Bernadette Stankard, suggested I send my book to her publisher, Central Recovery Press. I did and they were instantly interested. Just last week, I received the beautiful new edition of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. Soon available, as they say, in “bookstores everywhere.”  

So many hands, human hands, have helped me edit and shape this book and I am grateful to each person who contributed ideas and insights. I am also grateful that I gave myself permission to write these stories.

For me, writing is about learning to dance on the page.

While I write, I picture a woman living in a trailer in North Dakota.  In the evening, she sits in a brown living room, her husband in a lounger watching television, her son sprawled on the floor doing homework.  She picks up my book and is transported, connected to the deeper parts of herself.  When her husband asks, “Why are you crying?” she hands him the open book. The noise of the television blurs as he reads.

“You’re not really a writer until you’ve been published,” a journalism professor once told me.

The more I write, the less I believe him

The tender manuscript goes out, primped and dressed up, clean and on good behavior, ready to meet the right editor. The process of getting published is akin to looking for love: a blend of alchemy, philosophy and fate. For every one of my stories that unfurl themselves in the pages of a magazine, I have a stack of shy sisters, waiting to be invited onto the dance floor so they can reveal their billowy brilliance.


I invite myself out onto the dance floor. 

Last week, I received four pieces of mail that weren’t from major utility companies. I knew from the solemn brown of the envelopes that three were rejections. One was a card. Like a good child swallowing medicine before eating cake, I opened each rejection. Two were forms. The third said, “Gee, good story. My ex-girlfriend is also from Kansas.”

The card was from the daughter of my dear friend, who had recently died. As a way of sorting through my own grief, I’d written her daughters a letter, describing how much I admired their mother.

“Dear Deborah,” her daughter wrote me now, “Your letter meant so much to our family. I made copies for my sisters and we are carrying them around in our purses. I read the letter to my cousin in Texas.  We both cried…”

As I read this card, my stack of rejections grew insignificant. I remembered why I want to write: simply, to connect with people.