If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you know I’ve mentioned I’m writing a book. In fact, I’ve been working on it for five years. I can’t believe how long it’s been. Because I got off to such an amazing start. I had a synopsis and a chapter by chapter outline done in less than a day. A query letter in a couple of hours.
I had my first chapter finished in less than a week. On a ten-day holiday in Bequia, visiting friends, I wrote two more. Before I knew it, I’d completed another couple. All while I was working full time, running an ad agency.
My alarm was set for 6:00 a.m.; and I’d get a couple of hours in, before heading to the office. Instead of going out for lunch I’d eat at my desk, and write. Nights and weekends were spent in front of my computer. I was waking up in the middle of the night with sentences and paragraphs forming in my mind. I became an expert at writing in the dark.
It was like someone had turned on a tap. Except instead of gushing water, it was words, literally pouring out of me. Then I hit the wall. Suddenly. Instead of starting the next chapter, I kept re-reading everything I’d already done. Editing it. Refining it. Making changes. Polishing. Everyday I’d wake up and say “Today, I’m going to at least get started on this chapter.” And I never did.
Six months into it, it hit me. I figured it out.
The book is about my mother. And although I do share a lot of different memories, the book is primarily about the journey she and I took through her old age, rapidly-declining health and eventual death. And the chapter I was avoiding, which is exactly what I was doing, was the one about when, and how, she died.
Going through it once was enough. It was way too soon to re-live it. Especially without the layer of numbness you have going through it, as it’s happening. I’d started the book days after her funeral. So not that much time had passed when I got to the point where she passed.
Once I had the epiphany I had a decision to make. If I truly couldn’t face it, I had two choices: Abandon the book forever, because leaving it out wasn’t an option. Or, shelve it for a while, until I was better prepared to experience all those feelings again. Or, I could suck it up. Tough it out. And let all the raw emotion find its way into my writing voice, and my words.
Never one to give in, I chose the latter.
And when writing at home was too difficult, I took my laptop to Starbucks. The chapter was done in three days.
Then my life went berserk. I went to India. We decided to close our agency. After years of severe problems with noise, I finally decided to sell my condo. I moved a couple of times. Decided to freelance.
There was an awful lot going on. Lots and lots of distractions. And my book suffered. My attention wavered. I’d write, but I’d be thinking of something else. I’d be somewhere else. It was very hard to concentrate. I persevered, though. Thought of new material to add. Re-ordered a couple of chapters. Made some changes. Took stuff out. Put other stuff in.
But there’s no question I was struggling.
A year went by. And another. I was not making progress. One day my closest friend was brave enough to broach the subject. She and I have never discussed it, but I’ll be she thought about it dozens and dozens of times before she eventually decided to take the bull by the horns.
“Haven’t heard you talk about your book in a while”, she said. “How’s it going?” I told her I’d worked on it, on and off. Told her it was ‘going’. I doubt I was overly convincing. And then she said something only someone who really, really cares about you would say:
“You know, Fran, you don’t have to finish this book. There is no shame in not finishing it, in walking away. Don’t torture yourself.”
As I heard her say the words I knew the opposite was true. I did still want to finish the book. I just needed some uninterrupted time to get back into it. So I could give it all of my attention. And that’s when I started toying with the idea of going somewhere for a month. Somewhere I’d have no distractions. Somewhere I could write for five or six hours a day. More, if it was flowing. No phone calls. No emails. No other work. No other people.
For some reason, though, despite doing all kinds of searches for cottages in Jamaica and Barbados and the Dominican Republic and Belize and Sicily and God knows where else, I never did anything about it. The book remained on my mind, but again, no progress was made.
Maybe a month ago, totally out of the blue, I had two breakthroughs. One right after the other. Major enough to make me re-think everything I’ve written. Which was considerable, because by now, I have only two chapters left to write.
So here’s the dilemma: Would it be enough to see what could stay, what would have to change and what would have to go? Or would I have to scrap it all? Start all over again?
Not an easy decision to make. Not easy to figure out, either. In talking it over with my friend, I decided to seek the help of an editor I’d met about a year ago. She could look at it much more objectively than I would; and she’d be able to look at my manuscript with the eyes of a ‘professional’. But before I called her, I just wanted to let it percolate in my own brain, for just a little bit.
Yesterday morning, in the shower, a new first chapter hit me upside the head. I was so terrified I’d forget all the words, all the phrases, all the sentences I jumped out of the shower and started making notes. I didn’t even bother to dry off. And suddenly, I realized why I’d been struggling so badly. Why I just couldn’t get back into it.
This book is the wrong book. This book doesn’t capture my mother’s spirit. Her strength. Her refusal to give up. To give in to old age. To let her medical issues ‘win’. This book doesn’t explain how wise she was, because she knew if she asked for help before I had the chance to tell her she needed it, she was still in charge. In control. With her dignity and independence intact.
Somewhere deep inside me, I’ve known for a long time what was wrong. It just hadn’t risen to the surface yet. Until yesterday.
Today the original book is history. Trashed. That decision was made before my hair was dry. FINALLY!
Today I know, if only I can tell it properly, the story I am now writing can, and hopefully will, inspire others as much as my mother always has, and always will, inspire me.