Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., FT has been a bereavement care specialist for 32 years and is Executive Counseling Director for hundreds of funeral homes throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is the author of the award-winning The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life (She Writes Press, 2016). Described as “touching and vividly human,” The Space Between “offers a testament to love’s enduring and transformative power throughout our lives and in our closest family ties.”
I am the perfect example of the adage “it’s never too late to live your dreams.” I wrote as a child but life had other plans for me. Decades flew by and I would tell my friends, new boyfriends, and husbands I wanted to write a book. Events and insecurity intervened. Fear of failure held me hostage preventing my accomplishing the one thing I claimed I always wanted to do.
On my way to not writing a book, I wrote in my journal and started stories I never finished, certain they weren’t good enough. I had no clue that published authors also write “shitty” first drafts but, unlike me, they keep working on their craft. Instead of continuing to write, edit, and finish a project, I acquired college degrees, husbands, boyfriends, and heartbreaks. I saw a few therapists hoping someone could fix me.
As I’m sure is now clear, I was a master of diversion, distraction, and procrastination, having successfully not written or published a book for decades. A journalism professor I met during my twenties, provided the ideal excuse. He said many writers don’t become authors until they are in their fifties. The decades of my life continued to tick away as I told myself I had time.
I was lucky because I did.
My route to writing and publishing was lengthy and circuitous, filled with potholes of excuses. My attitude and perceptions changed after my mother’s death. I was 56 years old. I stretched past self-doubt and inertia and jumped on opportunity when I read a newspaper ad announcing a memoir writing class in my community. The classes provided focus and accountability.
A slip on wet tile interrupted my progress. The resulting flight into the air ended with a direct landing on my shoulder. I seized the pain of my shattered shoulder, which left me helpless and housebound, as my chance to focus on my book. My shoulder was the (no pun intended) break I needed. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, using only one hand, I slowly plucked out the first draft of my memoir.
When I read the finished pages, I knew the story was good, but the writing was flat. I didn’t know to fix it. I’d later understand from reading Lisa Cron’s wonderful book Wired for Story that writing and reading engage different parts of our brain. Thus, prolific reading of good books does not necessarily translate into good writing.
I didn’t let this uninspiring draft stop me. I searched the internet and discovered that Jennifer Lauck, author of the New York Times best-selling Blackbird, was coaching writers. I contacted her and with hard, tedious work, recognized the elements necessary to create a good story.
Although encouraging, Jennifer was also not shy about critiquing and copiously editing my work. Instead of viewing her critique as rebuke, I began to relish the opportunity and lessons it offered for improvement. I learned to embrace critique as an important gateway for a writer to hone their craft. To this day, I apply Jennifer’s lessons when I read and edit my work.
Eventually, I joined Jennifer’s online group. Through writing and submitting eight to ten pages each week, The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life was born. When I left Jennifer’s group, I began to work with Linda Joy Myers. Linda is President of the National Association of Memoir Writers and author of the recently released beautiful memoir, Song of the Plains. With Linda’s guidance, I finished the book I had started in Jennifer’s group.
I grew a lot from writing and exposing my work to others. Good writing comes from a willingness to listen, learn, edit and rewrite until you’ve crafted the words that will make readers want to journey with you on the pages you’ve created.
While I wrote, I continued to read memoirs and books on writing. I recognized the importance of showing not telling, using only the details which move a story along, and, as Stephen King advises, “killing your darlings.” I also realized that memoir demands creating the linear story of events while offering insights learned, or what we call “takeaways” for the reader.
I hope your “takeaway” from this overview of my writing journey is that the struggle is worthwhile and you’re never too old to achieve your dreams.
Creating new dreams is part of the fun in being alive. Included in mine is my goal of meeting Dani Shapiro, Sue Williams Silverman, and Joyce Maynard, whose depth of self-discovery through beautiful writing continue to inspire me as I work on my new memoir.
The Space Between
As a bereavement care specialist, Dr. Virginia Simpson has devoted her career to counseling individuals and families grappling with illness, death, and grieving. But when her own mother, Ruth, is diagnosed in 1999 with a life-threatening condition, Virginia is caught off guard by the storm of emotions she experiences when she is forced to inhabit the role of caregiver.
In a quest to provide her mother with the best care possible, Virginia arranges for Ruth to move in with her―and for the next six years, she cares for her, juggling her mother’s doctor’s appointments, meals, medication schedules, transportation needs, and often cranky moods with her own busy schedule. In The Space Between, Simpson takes readers along for the journey as she struggles to bridge the invisible, often prickly space that sits between so many mothers and daughters, and to give voice to the challenges, emotions, and thoughts many caregivers experience but are too ashamed to admit. Touching and vividly human, The Space Between reminds us all that without accepting the inevitability of death and looking ahead to it with clarity, life cannot be fully lived.
Use the links below to learn more about Virginia or to purchase her book:
Where to Buy The Space Between
11/13/2017 10:13:29 am
I’ve know Virginia for 60+ years, growing up across the street from each other. After not being in contact with each for over 40 years we found each other by serendipity. Unbeknownst to both of us we had be living within five miles of each other for over 10 years. Sadly I didn’t get to see Ruth before she passed away but I was able to reconnect with Virginia and Ruth through her poignant and selfless sharing of her role as a daughter and caregiver. Virginia’s book gives other caregivers the insight of her path to healing her relationship with Ruth by providing their loving and honest story. Kudoes to Virginia on her award winning memoir and I eagerly await her next book.
11/14/2017 11:25:01 am
Thank you, Madelyn. I never would have made it through some of the roughest parts of my childhood if it weren't for you. Your support has been a vital part of any success I may have achieved.
11/13/2017 09:36:17 pm
Thoroughly enjoyed this “What’s Your Story” and the message that dreams can be achieved at any age. I would add that fiction and memoir mirror one another in terms of craft. They require the same elements. Additionally, good fiction always has takeaways. We learn and grow as much from fiction as from non. Relatable characters that grow and change are the key, regardless of genre. Good job Ginni! And congratulations on achieving your dream. Can’t wait for memoir number two!
11/14/2017 11:23:49 am
Thank you, Kathryn. You are so right about good fiction also containing takeaways. Your books always do and I look forward to reading your next one.
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.