Alas, God has not answered my prayers that I could have 40 hours in a day, so I guess that means that something has to give if I’m ever going to get this book finished. I’ve decided to take a partial break from this blog, so I’ll only be writing 7 Quick Takes Friday posts until Mardi Gras (February 21). I may occasionally pop in during the week if there’s something interesting to say, but for the most part I won’t be here Saturday through Thursday. I’ll still be writing for The Register, and will probably write tweets with embarrassing frequency.
Even though the break is longer than I’d like, I’m excited about the next three months. This is the final shot (seriously this time); of course I’ll revise this draft based on feedback from my agent and editors, but I’m not rewriting it again. They say that the first book you write is usually not the first book you get published, and now I understand why: It took two complete drafts for me to understand what it takes to write a book that people might actually want to read. And now, as I start this third total rewrite, I think I finally get it.
Unless you’re just an incredibly fascinating person, a good memoir has to be more than a retelling of the stuff you did during a certain time period. You have to carefully unearth the best story to tell, which may not be the same thing as the story you want to tell, and almost definitely won’t be the easiest story to tell. You have to understand what makes a “story” in the first place, and how that’s different than a chronicle of events. You have to find what’s universal about your experience, and use that as the thread that ties all the details together. You absolutely must understand the difference between scenes (bringing the reader into a specific moment) and exposition (glossing over events in a narrator voice), and know when to use which. And you have to feel comfortable enough with all of this that you can lighten up and have some fun.
I’ve been studying all of this since 2008. I’ve read over a thousand pages on the subject, and wrote another thousand pages testing out what I’d learned. I even convinced a couple of bestselling authors to talk to me on the phone so that I could ask them questions about the craft! I finally — finally! — feel like I understand it all well enough that I can stop thinking about the process, and just let the story flow. I’m fairly detached from how it does in terms of sales — I know enough about the publishing industry to realize how difficult it is out there. But I am confident that I can put together something that will achieve the most noble goal of any book: That when the reader finishes the last sentence on the last page, she’ll say, “I’m glad I read that.”
Any prayers you could send my way would be appreciated. I’ll be seeing you on Fridays, and will be back for good on February 21!
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