Strength?

Anonymous asked: When you were writing the book, how did you find the strength to work through such painful memories? How did you write through the especially difficult memories and keep going?

Drawing & Writing Through

I’m not sure that strength is a word I would choose to describe how I worked through Lighter Than My Shadow. From the moment I first had the idea, I knew it was something I would simply have to do, and I think the doing of it was more a matter of resolution than strength.

If I’m honest, I still question whether I really was strong enough to do it.  I waited years, until my eating disorder, the abuse, my recovery, was not a part of my daily life any more, not something I really had to think about. I had left it all behind. Then I made a conscious choice to go back there, to relive it and let it define my day-to-day life again, for as long as it would take me to write the book, and indeed for it to form part of my identity again once the book was out in the world. This had a powerful effect on me while writing, and continues to even now, long after the writing process has finished.

In very practical terms, there were certain parts of the book that were much more painful to work through than others. Writing about the abuse, in particular, which was much more raw and fresh in my mind than my anorexia, was a tough challenge. My natural instinct to protect myself from the memories meant every fibre of my body did not want to sit at my desk and draw what happened. In a way, drawing it felt more real than when the events themselves took place. As it happened I was traumatised, dissociated, watching as though it was happening to someone else. As I drew, I felt it happening to me, perhaps really accepted what had transpired for the first time. It is without question one of the hardest things I have ever done.

How did I keep going? Looking back, I’m not so sure! Apart from the resolution to do this thing, this idea for a book that just wouldn’t go away – and never wavered – I had a lot of support from my therapist, my friends and family, both in preparation for and during the drawing of those chapters. I also came up with some slightly laughable but very helpful strategies. Not surprisingly, I often found I was disturbed and discomfited by things I was drawing and had drawn. When there were several panels on a page I would tape paper over all but the one I was drawing at any given moment, hiding it from my peripheral vision. Sometimes I even isolated as little as a square inch of paper to work on so  I could focus on just a fragment, not letting myself see (and therefore feel) the whole thing.

Most of all – and anyone who is in recovery will surely understand this – my greatest tool, and my greatest challenge, was remembering to be kind to myself. As I immersed myself month after month in my past, old thought patterns began to resurface. Self-hatred, perfectionism, disgust at my body – things I thought I had long left behind – became real and present again. I began to question whether I had made any progress at all. When feelings like that creep in, it’s the hardest thing in the world to be nice to yourself. Taking my time, allowing myself to admit it was difficult. Practicing a moment-by-moment awareness that I was doing a hard thing, yet keeping doing it. Exactly like recovery itself.

I’m still practicing.

A short while ago I invited questions about any aspect of Lighter Than My Shadow, or the process of creating it, an offer which is very much still open. If you have something you’d like to ask, please do contact me and I’ll try to answer it in an upcoming blog post. This post is the first of my responses to those questions.

DELETED SCENES

In the process of creating Lighter Than My Shadow, most of the editing happened at the storyboard stage. I didn’t want to spend time making finished artwork for a scene that might later be cut, so I tried to make all those decisions whilst still working in rough.

Despite all my best efforts, though, there were some scenes that did get worked up into finished artwork but didn’t make it in to the book. Sometimes they just didn’t flow properly with the story, perhaps went into detail that wasn’t necessary or interesting, or confused the message I was trying to get across. Sometimes they were scenes  I’d put in for sentimental reasons: memories that were important to me but distracted from the story I was trying to tell, and this example is one of those.

This scene happens after a difficult mealtime, when I’ve just thrown my dinner across the room and stormed off (around page 159-160, if you have the book). My Dad has tried to comfort me with words but it didn’t help. What did help was the wordless support of our family dog, George.

Deleted page 160

Deleted page 161

Many of the deleted scenes I look back on and am glad they didn’t make the book. I can see in retrospect how they were perhaps clumsy or unnecessary, and know I made the right decision. With this one I’m not so sure.  I can certainly see how it’s not vitally important and doesn’t help the story in the same way as the version that appeared in the book. Still, I’m still a bit sad there wasn’t space for it, to show more of how important George was in that stage of my recovery.

KEEPING TALKING

Katie Green Signing Lighter Than My Shadow

It has been quite a month!

I wrote on my website recently about how strange it is that Lighter Than My Shadow is now finished and ‘out there’. After working on it in virtual isolation for so long, it has been odd (and quite wonderful) to at last be sharing it, and hearing what people think. I’ve spent the month since publication traveling all around the UK for launches, book fairs and events to talk about the book. I’ve been interviewed in The Guardian and I’ve even been on Radio 4.

I spent a long time preparing myself for these months. I knew, to some extent, what I was letting myself in for: that, for a while at least, my identity might once again be defined by the illness I’ve experienced. I decided I was OK with that. But still it’s been weird and hard to stand up and speak and answer questions from strangers who now know so much about my personal life. But it’s also been wonderful to talk. Part of why I wanted to write the book is because I don’t think we talk about the difficult things enough. And so I intend to keep talking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use this website going forward, especially the blog. I’ve still got some more things I can share about making the book, including a considerable number of ‘deleted scenes.’ But I’d also like to open the conversation, and use the space to answer questions – about the book or about recovery in general – so if you have a question please do contact me. I’ve loved hearing from everyone who’s written to me in response to the book so far. Though I sadly haven’t had time to respond to every email individually, I have read and appreciated them all. Thank you.

 

 

THE BOOK IS HERE!

After years and years of hard work and preparation, Lighter Than My Shadow finally went out into the world on October 3rd. The above photos are from the launch party in Foyles, Bristol, taken by James Phillips.

It’s all been terribly exciting, and you can now buy copies of the book in actual bookshops as well as directly from me at several upcoming events or online, where of course I’d be delighted to sign it for you.

 

Drafts 2, 3, 4…

Never Good Enough

In truth I don’t know how many drafts I went through. Perhaps four or five of the entire book, but some sections were certainly reworked much more than that. Some sections have changed very little from that first draft, others are unrecognisable.

Perhaps I don’t need to tell you that I’m a perfectionist. It goes hand in hand with anorexia (though I’ve recovered from one, I’m not sure there’s any hope for the other). With that in mind, I’m sure you’ll understand that I was never going to feel ready. To go through one final draft and decide “That was it, it’s finished, now I’m ready to start drawing,” was never going to happen.

I know that’s how my brain works, but still, I was expecting the final draft to be more…done.

What decided the final draft, in the end, was time. I wanted this book to come out in 2013, the year I turn 30, and therefore I needed to set pen to paper in 2012. Or perhaps earlier than that, but it was 2012 already so that would have to do.

ABOUT THAT FIRST DRAFT…

First Draft 1

I felt really embarrassed by my first draft.

First of all, the drawings! People are often amazed when I say I knocked out a first draft in three weeks, but that was only possible with the most basic, gestural drawings. I was mostly only drawing for myself, and I knew which characters were which, so they had very few distinguishing features. It was really just about getting the bare minimum on paper to give the sense of the structure and pacing of a scene.  There was no point in spending any longer on what were, essentially, disposable drawings. I conveniently forgot I would have to show them
to one of the most prestigious publishers in the country!

First Draft 2

The best parts of it I could only just tolerate to read. For the most part it made me cringe. It was clumsy, obvious, clichéd and lacking the subtlety and emotional depth that I wanted to create. I sound like I’m berating myself and being incredibly harsh, but actually the process was just coming to accept that this is what a first draft has to be. As Graham Linehan said (in an interview for Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe), the first draft is just toilet paper.

In addition to the (large) bits I felt were complete rubbish, there were the bits I left blank. So much of the story had been unbearable to sit with, I’d just about managed to get a sense of how long those scenes took in the story. I’d not been able to to plan to any extent beyond that, to even begin to draw what had happened. There were panels, pages, and even great chunks up to 14 pages long that had no drawings on at all.

First Draft 3

So in February 2010 I sent Jonathan Cape 500 pages of work that made me cringe, and prepared myself for hearing feedback on work in such a raw state that I would never normally show it to anyone.

SITTING WITH IT

What happened during those three weeks tested my stability in recovery. The flashbacks, which I’d had to induce by choice, were indeed overwhelming as I had feared, and I was completely alone with them. With my mind finally going to the places I needed to write about, I couldn’t run away, distract myself, eat (or not eat) as I always had done before. I had to sit with it, sit with it, sit with it.

And write it down.

Write It Down

This post is the fourth in a series about a writing retreat I took in 2010. Please click here if you’d like to read from the beginning.

TRIGGERS

For years I avoided triggers. For me, that meant avoiding anything specifically relating to eating disorders and recovery, any information about dieting or weight loss; anything that might upset my long-fought-for fragile balance of not hating my body to the point of wanting to obliterate it.

It also meant avoiding sex. Not only the physical act but books, movies, anything that reminded me of its existence. Sometimes even the word was enough to trigger a flashback, and words like rape or abuse had even more power. (As a result of thinking about triggers, I’ve given some thought as to whether I should give ‘trigger warnings’ for posts on this blog. This cautionary note explains my feelings on the matter.)

When I was on my writing retreat and finding it difficult to reconnect with those emotions by choice, I decided my best way forward was to try and trigger myself. I set about reading a stack of books I’d diligently avoided for years…

Triggering Myself

It worked.

This post is the second in a series about a writing retreat I took in 2010. Please click here if you’d like to read from the beginning.