I’m excited to introduce you to Denise Bossarte, a self-proclaimed thriver, award-winning writer, and artist. I met Denise when she contacted me for help with polishing her book proposal. Denise’s subject is one that takes a lot of courage to examine in writing, and I know other writers will benefit from reading her story. Take it away, Denise!
(Update 04.24.21: Denise’s book, Thriving After Sexual Abuse: Break Your Bondage to the Past and Live a Life You Love, is now available! Learn more at https://thrivingaftersexualabusebook.com/.)
Writing takes a lot of courage. It doesn’t matter what you are writing about; you are putting pieces of yourself down on paper. And if you want to publish what you write, your poetry, your novel, your nonfiction book (traditionally or self-published) then you are stepping up to a whole other level of courage to believe that your writing is good enough and your work compelling enough for other people to want to read it.
My first effort at courageous writing was in fiction.
Genesis of My First Novel: My Process
My first novel, Glamorous, started off literally as a dream I had while living in Atlanta. I was sick with bronchitis, as I often was in the winter. In that state of too-tired-to-sleep, I daydreamed about a PI and a case he took that had paranormal aspects to it.
It was years later that I decided to write the full novel. My good friend was writing a science fiction novel, and we would meet once a week to talk about his book. He went on to be a very successful self-published author and was eventually picked up by 47North, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Amazon Publishing. I had my friend there to guide me through the steps to get a novel self-published—all I had to do was write it!
Some authors plot out every detail for each chapter on sticky notes or notecards. Some just jump in and see where the writing takes them. I did a combination of both. I am a data analyst by trade, so I’m used to working with structure, and I needed a bit of that to feel comfortable knowing the main points of the novel. For that I used what had worked so successfully for my friend: I followed his interpretation of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need into beats for a story with four parts: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, and Martyr.
And I let the artistic side of me daydream about the characters’ background, motives, and behaviors as well as the plot. Each chapter I would run through my mind like a movie, exploring what would happen and how the characters would react, what they would say or do.
Once I felt I had the “screen” version firm in my mind, I would sit down and capture it on the page. Usually I spent about two hours of writing per chapter. And I had to learn the hard way to just be brave enough to put down whatever flowed through the keyboard and worry about perfection later. Trust that it was good enough and that I could make it better later, otherwise I wouldn’t get farther than the first sentence!
Courage came into play once again when putting my work in front of development editors and having to hear them say how much work my manuscript needed. I had slaved for months on the book, and it was heartbreaking to learn I was still very far away from a publishable book.
So I put on my big girl pants and dug into it. I learned to be vulnerable and open enough to take what they said and make it my own, to put it into my own voice. And the results were a night-and-day difference in the quality of the story.
A Sea of Red Ink
Next act of courage was getting my book in front of a copy editor. I knew the overall story was good, now to get feedback on the details.
I have been through a lot of schooling (three advanced degrees’ worth) and I have never seen so much red ink (font) in my life! It took me three full passes through the editor’s feedback before I was sure I had it all.
But all that work was worth it when I came to a point in the story where I had put a major plot twist and saw that my editor had not predicted it! In fact, she inserted an image of a sitcom star in total shock with the message, “This is me right now, literally.”
Spoiler alert for the image below!
Self-publishing my book and building an author platform and audience took me into different landscapes of courage, but I had belief in myself and my story, and I forged ahead.
Entering a Contest
This past fall, I stumbled upon The Wishing Shelf Book Awards. I had submitted my novel earlier to the Readers’ Favorite book contest and received a five-star review but no award. I had also submitted my novel to the BookLife Prize Fiction contest, receiving less positive feedback and no award. I had stopped submitting to awards because (1) they are expensive, and (2) I felt the reviewers who were reading my book and deciding its worth for the awards were not really appreciating it.
But The Wishing Shelf Book Awards is different. The books are read by two reading groups who rate the books and then choose the winners. Real readers! I decided it was worth entering, because each author would receive feedback from the readers about their book regardless of whether they won
an award. And I also employed my moto “It’s an automatic ‘No’ if you don’t even try!
And would you believe that the 22 readers loved my book, and I won a Bronze Medal in the Adult Fiction category!
Writing Nonfiction Takes a Different Type of Courage
The success with publishing my novel in 2018 gave me the confidence that I knew how to do the “self-publishing thing.” So I turned my thoughts to writing nonfiction.
I had been wanting to share my story of childhood sexual abuse. I had written a collection of poems that captured my healing journey from abuse. But I didn’t think anyone would publish just the poems. And as a survivor of trauma, I did not have the full memories of my childhood that would allow me to write a memoir.
Then the story broke about Dr. Larry Nassar, the osteopathic physician for the United States Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team, about how he abused girls and young women for years. My heart broke for them, and I asked myself, “How could they ever deal with everything they went through?” Then a small but strong voice inside me said, “You can help. Write your story of healing, and share it for girls and women like these gymnasts.” That was the genesis of Thriving from Sexual Abuse.
In my confidence, I thought I could use the same approach to writing that had worked so well for my novel. Think about it, then just sit down to write on a schedule, one chapter per sitting.
Boy, was I wrong!
I struggled for months trying to get started and could not get past the fear—fear of going back into those dark places, fear of being vulnerable and opening myself up to experiencing those emotions to be able to share them with other survivors. My fingers would freeze up, my throat would literally close off, and I would be reduced to tears of frustration and shame over my inability to write.
I am a writer! I have proven that with my novel and subsequent short stories in my series. Why couldn’t I get past this block, the fear, and start writing?
Need for space, self-compassion, and emotional support
Because I hadn’t given myself the space, self-compassion, and emotional support to find that place of courage I needed. This was a different kind of courage. This wasn’t just putting down a story that I made up; this was putting down mystory. Reliving my history and finding a way to bring out the meaning of what I learned and how I lived my healing journey so that I could inspire other survivors. No, no pressure there at all!I am a writer! I have proven that with my novel and subsequent short stories in my series. Why couldn’t I get past this block, the fear, and start writing? Courageous Writing: Guest Blog Post by Denise Bossarte @AmTrivingAfter… Click To Tweet
I realized that I had to let myself write when I could, what I could, and how much I could at each sitting. I had to just pick up a topic and write about it, even if I didn’t complete a full chapter when I sat down to write. This wasn’t a novel, so I didn’t have to start at the beginning and write to the end. I could jump from one healing activity or practice to another as I was inspired. I could leave the writing of my abuse to when I had the full courage to do so, which I gained one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, one chapter at a time.
And I could not write after work when I was mentally fatigued from work. I had to write on Sunday mornings from 6:00 am to 9:30 am and then go to church. Going to church and being with my loving community helped uplift me and counter all the intense emotions inevitably brought up by writing about my story and healing.
And it took me two years of Sundays to write it. Slowly, gently, patiently, courageously, I wrote.
I decided that this nonfiction work would be one I would submit to literary agents and publishers because I wanted as wide a reach as possible. So I learned about query letters, querying, book proposals, and the traditional publishing process.
And when I saw that the BookLife Prize was holding its inaugural nonfiction contest and unpublished manuscripts could be entered, I reminded myself that “It’s a ‘No’ if you don’t try,” and I entered.
And Thriving is a quarterfinalist in the 2019 BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest, Self-Help Category as an unpublished, unedited (professionally) manuscript.
In an eloquent and empathetic manual, Bossarte recounts her own traumatic experience with childhood sexual abuse before laying out a blueprint for other survivors to heal themselves. Emphasizing that the work is not a ‘tell-all’ of her own abuse, but instead a helping resource, Bossarte offers tangible strategies for readers to reclaim their lives and move forward.” —BookLife Review
As Candace wrote on social media, “though her book has not yet been published, it is THAT good.”
So what’s next on my courageous journey? Building my author platform and sending my book out to literary agents. You can read about “Why the ‘Thriving After’ Blog Was So Hard to Start Writing” on my blog, Thriving After.
My advice to writers who are struggling to find their courage at any point in their writing journey, from starting a book to publishing a book, is this: Believe in yourself, believe in your voice. You have the courage within yourself to do what you need to do—just give yourself the time and space to find it.
Denise Bossarte is an award-winning writer, poet, photographer and artist.
Her paranormal thriller novel Glamorous is a Bronze Medal winner in the 2019 The Wishing Shelf Book Awards. Her unpublished* manuscript, Thriving After Sexual Abuse: Break Your Bondage to the Past and Live a Life You Love is a quarterfinalist in the 2019 BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest, Self-Help Category.
*Update 04.24.21: Denise’s book, Thriving After Sexual Abuse: Break Your Bondage to the Past and Live a Life You Love, is now available! Learn more at https://thrivingaftersexualabusebook.com/.
Denise lives in Texas with her husband, Randy, and their literary cat, Sapphira.
Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, writing coach, and book proposal specialist who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining the author’s unique voice while helping them create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.
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