Yes, I am happy. Very happy. Jumping for joy happy. Nope, I did not win a lottery. This is better, actually. Yeah, better than winning a lottery. I may actually have talked about this before. Doesn’t matter. I’m gonna talk about it again. It’s different this time anyhow.
For at least the last twenty years I’ve wanted to write a book. Nothing to do with ego, I have just always thought there was one in me. God knows I tried. I gave myself headaches trying to come up with topics. I’d write a few sentences, maybe a paragraph or two, only to end up ripping the sheet of paper off the pad, crumpling it up in a ball and tossing it. I even took a book writing course, which I really enjoyed. Not that
it did much good.
Finally after years of torturing myself, after years of becoming frustrated and disappointed and even angry at myself for not getting anywhere I decided to drop it. Not to give up, mind you. Just to leave it alone. I finally figured it out.
If I was meant to write a book, I’d write one. Without me forcing it. The ideas would come. The subject matter would come. The words would come. It wouldn’t be such a struggle. And, if I wasn’t meant to write a book, so be that, too. There was no law that said I had to. I could still be ‘whole’ without writing one. I could still live and have a good life and be successful and be happy and be fulfilled — as a person, as a woman and as a writer. Not all writers write books. It’s not in the contract.
What a relief it was. It was like my entire body and soul let out a huge, refreshing, healing, rejuvenating breath. What should have been a pleasure had become a royal pain. My desire to write a book, my need to write a book had become a burden, a weight. And I no longer had to carry it around with me.
And then one day, years later, something happened. Out of the blue. Completely unexpectedly. A thought popped into my head. Where it came from I don’t know. But in that instant I knew I was going to write a book. A book about my mother. I even had the title for it. Immediately I wrote it all down and put the piece of paper into my wallet. Because I also knew the book wouldn’t get written until after my mother died.
Once I knew what I was doing, once I knew the ‘idea’ was safe in my wallet I forgot about it. Didn’t give it another thought.
Until I was on the train, on my way back to Montreal, to bury my mother. When I turned to the friend who was with me and announced I was going to write the book — and starting telling her the story. Rummaging around in her bag, she found a notebook and a pen and handed them to me. I didn’t stop writing until we pulled into the train station. I wrote every single day for months. The words and the thoughts just poured out of me. It was cathartic. It was actually hard to stop when it was time to go to work in the morning; and, to be honest, whenever there was a lull, whenever I found myself with a few spare minutes during the day, or at lunch, I’d get right back to it. Page after page. Chapter after chapter after chapter. To say I was on a roll is an understatement.
Until the day it stopped. I had six chapters under my belt. And I got stuck. Every single time I turned my computer on, every single time I typed “Chapter 7” at the top of the page I found myself going back to the beginning. Re-reading, refining, changing, editing, polishing. It happened every day. A week passed. Months passed. I couldn’t figure it out. The only thing I knew was, it wasn’t writer’s block.
So what was it?
Didn’t know. My friends all knew I was writing the book, they all knew I had been making amazing progress, some of them were even reading along. But I never talked to any of them about this problem I was having. Which is a shame, because it might have helped to talk it through. And none of them asked me why the emails with new chapters I’d written stopped coming. It was clear there was an issue and I guess none of them wanted to make it worse. Can’t say I blame them, can you?
Then came the epiphany. It was at about the six-month mark — you know, that I hadn’t written a word. It was like I’d been hit by a lightening bolt. I was just waking up, still in bed. The mystery was solved. The chapter giving me all the grief was literally about grief. I had come to the point in the book where I had to talk about my mother dying. Obviously I was avoiding it. It was tough enough going through it when it happened. I didn’t want to re-live it. It was my unconscious trying to protect me — the conscious me — from the pain and sadness.
Again there was a huge sigh of relief. I finally knew what was holding me back. Now all I had to do was deal with it.
Decision time. Gird my loins and get on with it. Or abandon the book because there couldn’t be a book without my mother’s death in it. It was a no-brainer. I’d come too far. I was too committed. Too emotionally invested to quit. Besides, I’m not a quitter by nature.
By then I was no longer working full time. I was a freelancer, working from home. I quickly realized writing the chapter in my apartment wasn’t working. It was too quiet. I was too alone. The feelings and memories and sadness and pain loomed too large.
There was a cafe nearby I used to go to all the time. I remember they had one table, at the back, where there was an electrical outlet on the floor, so I’d be able to plug my computer in. I knew I’d be there for hours. I claimed it as mine. I’d get there between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. and it was probably 7:00 p.m. when I left. I kept buying food and coffee and tea and juice and bottles of water so I wasn’t just ‘hogging’ a table. It took three days. Yeah, I wrote the entire chapter in three days, at a cost of about $150 in sandwiches and drinks. The buzz of human energy in there was able to drown out the silence I’d been confronted with in my apartment — which was key, because it was the silence that made the pain of the memory so much more intense than it turned out to be.
My writing rhythm was back.
Unfortunately it was short-lived.
Another couple of chapters written. Stuck again. Something wasn’t right. But what, I didn’t know. Again I put the book aside. Then, one day, months later, it hit me. I felt I’d missed an important point. Something critical, about my mother, her attitude, the way she handled aging. After some soul-searching I decided to trash the ten chapters I’d written and start over.
Easier said than done, as it turned out.
This book has been part of my life for almost eight years. That’s how long my mother has been gone. But despite all the starts and stops I’ve never given up on it. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t finish writing it. I’ve never lost my desire to share the story. I had to stop staring at it, thinking about it, being consumed by it every minute of every day. I had to let my sub-conscious work it out, show me the way. Or maybe it was The Universe. Or my mother.
Regardless I had to give it a rest.
Let it be.
Last Saturday morning the answer presented itself to me. I had a real breakthrough. I wrote all day. And the funny thing is, a total re-write isn’t required, after all. The new first chapter I wrote — or prologue, I haven’t decided yet — sets up the rest of the story pretty much as I’ve written it. I’m a better storyteller now than I was when I first began writing the book, so I will definitely be purging and polishing and re-arranging everything I’ve done. And yes, I’m sure there will also be some re-writing, there always is.
But for the first time in a very long time I can see a finished book in front of me. I am back on track. Sure am glad I’m a stubborn bitch.