Guest Contributor - Russell (Russ) Womack - Author and Editor
Updated: May 12, 2019
Welcome to an article written by someone who is also in the writing and publishing arena. Please continue to come back to my blog to gain valuable insights in all areas of creating publications. Free tips and treasured thoughts are shared here for your edification.
Thank you Russ for sharing from your novel "Orange," as well as some of your thoughts on writing and editing.
" I suffer when I write.
I suffer because I write what I know, and what I know is a painful childhood; not all bad or unpleasant—many good times for sure; but the painful ones still take center stage with familiar scents from my childhood home or a voice in a crowd that sounds familiar—like my mom calling me.
I can almost hear God through the warmth. I swear I can smell His presence through the warm coral petals of the camellia. It’s kind and it’s gentle.
There’s something about gentleness, like a hand of encouragement on a shoulder after a hard day. It’s a place where I can exhale and relax, loosen the grip of my fists, and release every noticeable muscle from its tense state of being. It makes me slump, and I bow forward just enough to smell the freshly cut grass from Saturday’s chores. The scent of grass smells green to me, as if green had a smell to it, and a personality, too.
My mom killed herself when I was 12, and yet at 51 years old I feel 12 in an instant when my senses fall into that familiar place. That Easter morning was the first time she didn’t go to church with us. I thought it was odd, but knowing that I’d be searching for Easter eggs after service watered down any questions as to her absence.
When I was taking communion, she was killing herself.
She was swallowing a bottle of pills. I never got the chance to say goodbye, and for the next 37 years the memories, the guilt, shame, hurt, had been tightly stuffed down inside me.
It had to come out, and the result was my first novel, Orange.
It was rather quick and didn't take long because I had such peacefulness about it all. I tilted my head back, tilting the pill bottle, too, while the rattling pills tumbled out of the bottle and into my tear-filled mouth. As I kept the bottle angled, a stream of morning sunlight came through the window and passed through the bottle and into my eyes. It gave off the most beautiful orange I had ever seen.
You see, I suffer when I write because I must revisit the past and relive it in order to bring it to life once again, breathing a new angle on it. The first draft was messy and angry, but very detailed—a characteristic of my writing that I’ve always had—an effort to bring the reader into my mom’s mind, the smell of her room, in an effort to bring the reader into a state of understanding and empathy.
I was angry at my mom and dad, at the world who judged my mom and judged my family. I was also angry with God.
I know how it is to be judgmental, angry, spewing false accusations based on previous hurts. A few decades ago I had an angry conversation with God, and many more would follow, fueled by a dirty laundry pile of accusations that I would throw in His face with all of the remaining sooted energy I had pushed down over the years.
But as the second, third, and fourth drafts were written, it became cleaner, clearer, and forgiveness, grace, and a new understanding of who I was came to light. The suffering through the details forged and molded a beautiful story of how great God’s forgiveness and grace really is.
And looking back while I scribble a few final words in this book, I'm confident that God sat next to me all those years, arm around my shoulder, whispering with a loving tone, "I'm always holding onto you, even when you're not holding onto me." You see, God has unrelenting patience with us, waiting for us to realize that we depend on Him for each breath that we take in. We will never outdo His love. We will never outwear His patience. We will never outrun His reach.
Personally, Orange has made me a kinder and more patient person. No longer quick to judge, but rather quick to listen and a desire to understand. I’ve been blessed with hearing stories from others who’ve been in that dark place where breathing doesn’t seem so necessary, and I’ve heard how Orange has given them a new perspective, and in the process lifted the judgment and shame of ever thinking of such a thing as suicide. It has taught me to cherish every moment, to love greater, to listen. It has also taught me to be careful with our words—that the last words mean the most.
Make your last words worth every previous breath, because if the last words aren't said when they should have, and if the last words are never captured by God and the heart of the person who desperately needs to hear it, then no other word, whether shouted up to heaven or whispered on earth, ever truly matters.
As an editor, I know some others suffer when they write as well. Many do it for the same reason I do—because we have a story that must be told in order to help others who are still somewhere on their journey through the dark places. It gives purpose and meaning.
I always first perform an initial read through of a novel prior to even making one edit. I do this because I want to hear and know the author’s “voice”. It’s important to me because I don’t want to remove their voice during the editing and proofreading process. There’s a balance between a comprehensive edit and keeping true to the author’s voice and tone. I don’t want the novel to sound robotic and one-dimensional, for that would negate and dissolve any respect and honor of the author’s story. Fixing the grammatical and spelling issues is far easier than stepping into the shoes of the author you’re working with.
But it’s worth it, and necessary.
Maybe one day I won’t suffer when I write. Maybe one day I’ll float to the top and find myself in a place where joyful and pleasant memories outdo the hurt. But for now I know that what I have experienced has great purpose and meaning, and that makes the suffering worth it."
Please check out Russ's book, Orange, available on Amazon.