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.
I held onto my first novel idea and chapters for so long and couldn’t figure out why I’d focus on one idea for years. I, too, was writing the wrong book. Last year I wrote the right one and while I’m procrastinating doing the re-writes, it feels good to be on the right track. Good luck on your new book, Fransi!
Thanks very much. I am excited about it again now.
Wow – what a great story! Five years, only to discover it was the wrong book. Good luck with the new one.
Thanks. I can salvage some of the information in it. I just want to write it from a different perspective. In the end, this will be much easier. And a better book. And that’s the point. 🙂
Looks like you have already cracked it Fransi – salvage is a word I carry around with me always.
Thanks. I really feel like I have. And yes, I am very fond of “salvage” as well. And there is a lot of information I can salvage. And I will. What I was doing had some merit. But it was missing an important point. It’s all good.
Your post hit home. I started a book on human resources but I wanted it to be different. There are a ton of books out there on that topic. I did a complete outline on paper (yeah, how dumb!) then promptly lost it. I am wondering if it was also the wrong book. Your posts give me inspiration. I am going to rethink this thing. Oh, and you are right. If you are writing a book about your mother, you have to capture her spirit. Otherwise it’s just another medical guide on aging.
Thank you! Oh, I don’t think doing the outline was stupid. Lots of authors do that. My chapter by chapter outline helped me when I was writing because it reminded where each chapter was going, what had to be included and generally helped with the flow of the book.
Go on Amazon and check out all the books written on HR and what approach they take. That may help you zero in on another perspective, something different..
I would love to read a book on how good HR really can help staff. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but in Australia, HR has become its own worst enemy: weighed down with enormous amounts of paperwork they require you to fill out, which could easily be streamlined; a lack of centralised electronic information, it seems, since we’re often having to fill out the same sort of information time and again; a reputation for representing management and not helping the worker. I’m sure it doesn’t have to be like this and that good HR practices are still possible.
I agree, but I’m not the HR expert. It’s Kate, who commented on my blog this morning.
Hi Kate. I made a comment further down about HR, which was supposed to sit here. For some reason it didn’t. I must have hit the wrong button! Anyhow, it’s a few comments down.
Techno devils at work. Still showing up here.
I’m looking forward to reading book #2. Sounds like #1 was good practice.
Thanks. And you know what? You’re right. It was good practice. And a lot of the ‘details’ can still be used. So it was also good ‘research’. Hope you are feeling better today. You HAVE been down for the count. But the Gs seem to be taking excellent care of you.
Good luck with the second attempt! Any idea that comes in the shower has got to be a winner! 😉
Great post and story, Fransi. It takes a lot of courage to abandon something you’ve worked on for so long, even if it is to create something better. I am proud of your decision, and I am sure your mother would be, too. She sounds like a wonderful mom and person. And I look forward to reading your book one day!
Thank you. She was amazing, and I look forward to introducing you to her.
Glad that you are excited about it again – can’t wait for the final book 🙂
Thanks! Me too 🙂
Fantastic explanation of your journey. Very glad I found your blog as your writing style is superb and I’m so curious to learn more about you.
Thanks so much! I am glad you found my blog, too 🙂
Brave decision, Fransi. Sometimes we writers have to “kill our darlings” (in this case get rid of manuscripts that aren’t the right ones) in order to continue. My computer was stolen years ago, and with it the manuscript of what became my novel. I had backed up most of it, but was missing the last 100 pages. I had to rewrite them—and in the process, wrote a much better ending than I had the first time round.
Thank you. I’ve had similar experiences in my ad agency days. Once with a computer that had been stolen. But several times with hard drive crashes and the like. And you’re right. Once you stop crying and get on with it, the redo is always better.
Fran, I’m so happy you are not totally trashing the old book. It holds a treasure house of resources. But I am also overjoyed for you that you have found the path you are meant to take with your new book.
It had to be very painful to write about the suffering and decline of your beloved mother, but to write about who she truly was has to be pure joy. Wishing you all the best for the completion of your new book. You go girl! 🙂
It is pure joy. Thank you!
It sounds like you really enjoyed the first version up to the point where you got stuck, even if it was the “wrong” book. Good luck with the new, right one!
Thanks. Oh yes, I did. And I still do. It’s just a different book. A different story. My new book will include some of the info and memories from the first book. It just has a different emphasis, that I think (and hope) will be more interesting, involving, unique and inspiring.
Go Fransi! After hearing the passion in your words, seeing it in your eyes, and feeling it as you showed me the photo of your beautiful mother, I have no doubt your book will be meaningful to readers of all ages. I have my finger ready to download. Write on!
:). Thanks very much. Loved meeting you. It was great. Look forward to the next time.