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Corbin Lewars on rape, miscarriage, sex, marriage, divorce, and writing what you really feel

Posted Feb 27 2012 5:31pm

Two weeks ago, The Fertile Source published an excerpt, “ Losing Sweet Pea ,” from Corbin Lewars’s memoir, Creating a Life, now available as an e-book .

When writing about devastating moments in our lives, like miscarriages, it’s tempting to hold back. Can you talk about the process you go through as you decide what to share and how much to share?

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a child and use it primarily to rant and grieve when I’m struggling with an issue or person. I often warn my boyfriend and kids, “If you read my journal, know I only feel that way about you sometimes.” For me, writing about something is a way to stop holding back. Memoirs that are constrained or where the narrator is removed or stoic are painful for me to read. I continually shout at the pages, “But how did you really feel!”

Readers want to relate to the struggle and the more specific the author is, the wider range of readers she’ll draw. As Jung says, “That which is most personal is most common.” Maybe some of my readers haven’t had a miscarriage, but by describing my sense of feeling like a failure, the hopelessness that I would never have what I wanted, my fear, and frustration with the medical community, I am appealing to emotions and struggles the reader has experienced.

When going through a difficult time, such as my miscarriage or divorce, I write, talk, write again, talk more, and walk a lot while contemplating and grieving the experience. The first few rounds of writing are explosive drafts. I vent and cry on the page, with the sole purpose of getting the words out and not caring if they are eloquent or make sense. All the while, I tell myself, “No one will read this, this is just for you.” I do this to get myself to be as honest and brave as possible. It takes several drafts to get there. A great exercise I learned from Natalie Goldberg is to stop midsentence and say, “What I really meant to say was…” This helps cut through some of the fear and pretenses.

All emotional writing needs time to percolate. While writing Creating a Life, I finished a draft and paused. I told myself, “You told the story, now you need to feel the story.” I gave myself a month off from writing and instead spent the time remembering and feeling that time in my life. Then, I was able to deepen my draft with more courage and willingness to reveal my emotions.

I feel I owe it to my readers to be completely honest when sharing my thoughts and feelings about a hardship. In order to be comfortable doing so, I tell myself every step of the way, “No one will read this, it’s merely for my process.”

Do you have a personal threshold where you have decided, “Okay, I won’t go there and I won’t share that”?

If I’m going to share something, I share it all the way. Until I’m ready to do that, I keep it in the draft, walk, talk stage or merely let it percolate in my brain for a while so I can formulate how and why I want to share it. I don’t share merely to titillate or shock, I share so other people can stop feeling as if they are alone. Miscarriage, rape, sex, these are topics people shy away from. Yet feeling isolated during hard times only makes people feel worse. 

You are a woman writer who specializes in memoir. You’ve written a book about becoming a mother, and taking charge of your own life as well as the birth of your first child. You also write about motherhood, divorce, parenting, and sexuality through both your columns for two Seattle area newspapers and literary journals. Who are your readers? What do you think they’re looking for from your writing? What are they plugging into and why is it important?

I was joking with a friend that my readers must think I live a tumultuous life because so much of my writing is about my struggles. In actuality, my kids are at a great age—independent enough, but still want to be with me–my writing is flowing, my partner supports yet challenges me in ways I’ve never experienced and I love the classes I’m teaching and my coaching clients. “But no one wants to hear that,” I laughed to my friend. “That’s boring.” 

I was exaggerating, but in general, my readers gravitate towards me because of my willingness to reveal myself, my flaws, and my deepest fears and insecurities. And I do so with humor. I’ve been asked several times to write an advice column, to which I shudder. I don’t want to tell people what to do, but I do hope to inspire them to make the changes in their life that they desire, yet are frightened by.  

I appeal to men and women who are in transition and thinking about what they want out of life. Although my memoir is about pregnancy, I heard from numerous men who related to the book because it’s also about creating a life for yourself. Ten years later, I’m still writing and still creating the life I want for myself. Readers like to know that’s possible, that they’re not stuck and don’t have to settle on what society, their partner, or parents told them they should do.  

Many of our readers are also writers who might want to explore publishing short things or books for e-readers. Can you talk about what prompted you to turn Creating a Life into an e-book? What’s been the response? 

Being a Luddite, I resisted making Creating a Life an ebook for over a year. I assumed my readers were grassroots people like me who wanted to hold a book in their hand, not read it on a screen. I was wrong. By making it an ebook and selling it for $2.99, I was able to reach a larger audience than I was reaching by giving readings, speaking about the book and writing about it. With an ebook, Amazon (or wherever you choose to sell it) does the marketing for me, so I don’t have to. And since the price is significantly lower than a print book, more people are willing to purchase it and give it a try.  

The response has been tremendous. It was number one in the pregnancy and motherhood section off and on for several weeks and remains in the top 100 best selling ebooks in these categories. 

Please tell us about your memoir in progress. 

After a year and several hundreds of pages, I decided my memoir needed time to percolate. I started it with the intention of it being about my divorce, but it’s ending up being about my strained relationship with my mother; my family’s struggle with addiction and denial; and falling in love and maintaining perhaps the first adult relationship I’ve had with a man. The continual growth and learning I gain from my relationship with my partner plus my mom’s cancer knocked my second and third draft sideways, until I finally told myself “You are living this memoir, you can’t write it yet.”

While I live these experiences, I am writing a guidebook for women, particularly moms, who are going through a divorce. I offer not only my own experience of navigating an amicable yet still heart-breaking divorce without lawyers, as well as references from experts, and countless of other women’s experiences. It’s light on the advice and in tone. The main message is, “Yes, this sucks at times, but ultimately, you can grow and flourish from this experience.” My story and the other women’s stories are proof of that. A mid-size press has expressed some interest and if that falls through, I’ll probably publish it as an ebook by the end of the year.

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