Some days something can go wrong but nothing, nothing, can throw you off course.
Today I woke at 4:55 a.m. but went back to sleep knowing the library didn’t open until 10:00. That’s where I needed to be and rather than wait around for the big event I went back to sleep. I woke without an alarm at 10:20 or so on my day off and showered, chugged some water, did a couple of necessary things and headed out the door with my necessities: library books for return, my wallet, and my black binder filled with the rough draft of my memoir and the 20 or so “loose” scenes I needed to merge into it.
This day had been awaiting me and after it was over I would call Nan Phifer, a local memoirist, and tell her how it went. Nan agreed to counsel me as I merged my freshly typed scenes into my first draft which I’ve been writing for, ahem, three years (this shit is not easy). I was nervous about the process of merging, wondering if these scenes even had a place to go and too I am anxious about writing the ending. Yeah, that hasn’t happened yet. Um…what does happen in the end? When does it end? Now? 2 years ago? 4 years ago?
Well aware of what a big day I had ahead of me, I first drove to a coffee shop near my house. I ordered a medium carmel latte and an everything bagel and sat down in a corner with Steven King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He’d written it on what he thought was his death-bed and the result is a very honest, in your face account about the life of a writer and what to do and what not to do and when to give up because some people just should, according to him. So, yeah, it’s good stuff, for sure. Hey, I had to have caffeine, and inspiration, and yeah, I had to eat too.
I burnt my tongue. I still feel it as I write this now. I thought “shit, this is the worst. Nobody should have to burn their tongue this bad on one of the biggest days of their life. Dammit.” The latte was too hot and not sweet enough and I bopped over to the self-serve counter and added some of that natural brown sugar and sat back down. I finished my morning meal and inspirational reading and nodded politely at the staff and headed on my way to library with the remaining gorgeous cup of latte in my hand.
I had to take big, deep breaths all throughout the morning. I will brimming with excitement. After returning my library books, I scanned all three stories looking for the perfect location at which I would work. Like a real writer. All sprawled out and in…the…zone. I didn’t know if this was going to take me 1 or 2 or 3 hours. I took long swings from the water fountain before I sat down at a square, polished pine table. I retrieved my black binder, my pencil-case, and Nan Phifer’s book Memoirs of the Soul, for guidance as needed.
I immediately stood up. It was instinctive. This was not a sitting task. Like Nan suggests in her book, I laid out all the scenes to merge (Nan actually applies this concept to the entire rough draft of your book, where the scenes are actually chapters, with titles, and you arrange according to your liking. I’ve adapted this concept to what I have going) and I set the rough draft off to one side. I am familiar with the scenes to merge, so I arranged them in chronological order (i.e. what happens first in the storyline). I took a good, long look at the titles of the scenes to merge. Then I sat down and started quickly reading, for the most part scanning, the rough draft of my book.
Instantly the places where the scenes needed to go started popping up. I had to dig deep into the material at some points and insure that a scene was going, relatively where it needed to go. If the scene was in the general vicinity of where it needed to go, great. It never had a home anyway, and sloppily throwing it into the book could ultimately make the story more creative and fun and non-chronological (like Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir!) I felt I was putting these scenes just where they needed to go. I’d move ’em later if I hadn’t.
Thirty minutes later I was done. Done. There was the draft, everything I had written, nice and tidy on the corner of a square pine table in a library, in Eugene, Oregon, in a sunny room, in the best place in the world as far as I was concerned. I still needed to double-check my zip drives for scenes that may not have made it to print, as I didn’t recall seeing Tyson or Dug Out — two very important scenes. A few minutes later, in the computer lab I found that yes, there were still scenes to print and merge. I printed, I merged again, big smile on my face, standing at the square, pine table in the sunny room near a wall of local art that I really enjoyed and took a moment to look at, remembering how in the email my boyfriend’s mother sent me today she said “don’t forget to stop and smell the roses”. Good point.
An hour later and I’m at Office Depot on 11th Ave., one of my favorite places, picking up a copy I had made of my memoir. Of most of my memoir. Of my memoir, minus the ending, as you know. It is fruit. It is the fruit of my labor. It is not ripe, no, but it is there. It is food, it is hope, it is tangible and fucking sexy as hell. It is a joy to be this far. Tomorrow Nan and I will talk about, well, whatever I want to talk about and in another small way, I will have arrived. I said in the beginning that I was writing this book for me. And if that is so, than I have made myself very happy today. I am pleased today, for myself. I say most of the time nowadays that I am writing this book for other people. That is the idea, to share it with other people. Maybe with young girls who are becoming women and are making decisions and need someone to relate with. Maybe for men who like reading memoirs. Maybe with you.
10 thoughts on “The Fruit of My Labor: A Piece About Writing and the Process”
I can relate to this post so well. I, too, wrote the first draft of a memoir, wanting to get it out of my system, writing it for me. As the weeks and months after I blogged it turned into years, I realized it was, as I refer to it, my life’s work, a story of a journey I must share outside of my immediate family. That desire spurned me onto an MA in English, which I hope to earn next spring, and gave birth to my creative writing project/thesis. (Interesting also is that you and I chose the same WordPress theme 🙂 ) I look forward to reading more!
Hey Jane–I checked out your blog and I like very much. You present your story well. I’ll have to look into getting a copy of your book.
It feels good knowing you’ve walked the path I’m walking now. I too hope to study writing in my future. I’m attending a long-ish workshop in September. Reading through my memoir last night it became apparent how much work I have yet to do. This is really just a skeleton of the book I want to present to the world. Any tips about the process? This is a long journey indeed, how can I speed it up? JK…sort of..
Thanks for your support 🙂
No book yet, but you’re steps ahead of me when I first started. You’ve got this! Looking back, there are lots of pieces of my memoir’s “skeleton” that were the most honest, and I’m going to incorporate them in my finished product…whenever I get there 🙂
You’re working on your memoir still? What “stage” are you at?
Keep it up, Jane 🙂
First draft finished, first few chapters workshopped/revised, master’s project = 30,000 more words…one word at a time 🙂
Critiqued by other writers in a class I took. Writers’ groups do the same thing…very valuable. A local library offers something similar where I live; if interested, you might be able to find something near you.
Ah, yes 🙂
Bravo! Well done. That is quite an accomplishment.
You are always so supportive! Thank you! Still workin’ on it…