The writer on never writing religiously, learning to stop and what surviving brain surgery has taught her about editors.
Liz Holzemer is the author of Curveball: When Life Throws You a Brain Tumor. She is also the founder of the nonprofit Meningioma Mommas [among her creative pursuits: raising $1 million for meningioma research]. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Denver Woman’s Press Club and Colorado Authors’ League. She has appeared on the Discovery Health Channel and the Today Show, among many many others, and was a “Tim Gullikson Spirit Award” recipient for community service.
MEREDITH: When you received your diagnosis, what happened to your creative voice?
Liz: My creative voice went absolutely numb like the rest of me. To be told over the phone I had a brain tumor was completely paralyzing. When I was informed of all the surgery risks, my greatest fear was the possible reality I may never write again. In fact, it took months before I found my voice again, let alone its creative side. I couldn’t focus on words nor write them as clearly and coherently as I once did. I prided myself on always being an excellent speller, but lost some of that ability. Journaling helped tremendously during my recovery. Eventually, I found my voice again, albeit a newer version of its former self.
MEREDITH: Is the narrative of your physical life—the one tied to your illness and now your wellness—a mirror of your writing life? How or how not?
Liz: I’d say my illness has certainly shaped me in terms of developing that “platform” writers are always told to have. Whether subconsciously or consciously, I do find I’m always weaving some aspect of my brain tumor journey and ongoing experiences into my writing. [when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade alert:] You’d be amazed how you can work brain tumor into all genres of writing, not to mention conversation.
MEREDITH: The brain is about words and language, and you’re a writer. So tell us about your relationship with a brain tumor—your brain tumor—and how it affects the creative process, how it affected yours.
Liz: Even though it’s been nine years since my surgeries, the residual aspects of meningioma are always with me. The major change for me is related to my daily struggle with fatigue and epilepsy. Luckily, I’ve never been one of those writers who religiously write every day at x time of day for x number of hours because I’ve had to accept that my writing is very closely tied in with my energy levels. It almost sounds manic—when I’m up, I crank; when I’ve hit rock bottom—good luck finding a spark of creativity.
There are days when I desperately want to write, but as a mother of two young children, by the end of the day the tank is empty and that is very frustrating. And when I do write, rather than being too consumed with making every word count like I did before my surgeries, now I’m not as hung up on structure and nailing it the first time. [a-ha! alert:] I’ve learned I can’t force the flow—it will come when it’s ready.
MEREDITH: When it comes to writing would you describe your mind as a friend or foe?
Liz: Both. Mostly friend because I’ve long since proven to myself that I am still a writer. Like a great and supportive friend, my mind gives me that extra kick or shove I need on the days when I’m really struggling with the creative process or when I hit that proverbial writer’s block wall—I’ve learned to stop. There’s no sense beating my head and forcing the issue.
MEREDITH: How has becoming a voice for cancer awareness changed you as a writer?
Liz: It’s forced me to break out of my genre and comfort zone. I take greater risks. [perspective alert:] I figure if I can survive having my head carved into twice, I can approach any editor even if I get the door slammed in my face.
It’s also allowed me to use my writing to be a voice and convey the message that we are our own best advocates. This is especially true for women who put everyone and everything else in their lives at the top of their “TO DO” lists.
Liz lives in Colorado with her husband, Mark, two children and their lipoma-laden lab, Koufax. Now that Liz is in her forties, she hopes to learn how to dive and drive a stick-shift car. She finally got over never making her high school tennis team and recently picked up her wooden Wilson again. Get to know her better at her website and about Meningioma Mommas here.