When my mother was ailing I was struck with an idea for a book about her and me. I tucked it away in the back of my mind for later. I said nothing to anyone until the day after she died, when my closest friend and I were headed back to Montreal for the funeral.
As the words literally started pouring out of my mouth, my friend handed me some paper and a pen and I spent the rest of the trip writing. This
went on for the next three months. It was amazing, the book was literally writing itself.
Seven chapters in, I hit the wall. No, not writer’s block. I’d been introduced, by an acquaintance who was also writing a book, to her editor. I only had a few more chapters to go so I thought I’d see if she’d be interested in working with me. She asked me to send her 25 pages, which I did.
She was brutal, accusing me of not being honest with my feelings about having to take care of my mother, when her health had really started to fail. Nothing I said convinced her I wasn’t resentful; and she just kept insisting I was miserable but unwilling to admit it, to “say it out loud.”
Finally she told me she hated her own mother, and would have been angry if she’d found herself in my position.
That was her truth, not mine. She had projected her feelings on to me. But she’d been so aggressive and downright mean spirited I knew there was no chance I’d ever be able, or willing, to work with her. But none the less she had an effect on me, and my writing. A negative one.
Suddenly I found myself avoiding the book. I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it, trying to figure out why. At some point I decided the story just wasn’t working. Months and months passed, I’d try to write and nothing happened.
Ultimately, after reading and re-reading and re-reading my work, it struck me that I wasn’t doing justice to my mother, her character, her courage, her determination, her independence, her spirit.
Figuring it out was a relief.
At first I thought I had to start over, from scratch. I tried, but all I did was stare at a blank screen. What I’d already written was too fresh in my mind and I couldn’t get beyond it. Again months passed. Finally I decided I should just put it aside. If it was meant to be, it would be.
I forget how long that stage took, it was a long time, that much I know. And one day, I was struck again. It was a much easier fix than I had originally thought, it didn’t need a total re-write, it needed some massaging, and maybe a new intro.
Except that didn’t work either. I was frustrated, disappointed with myself, angry even. Crazy, really. But writing this book was (and is) important to me.
Nothing was working, the more I tinkered the less I liked it and I made a tough decision, to just put it aside, knowing full well I might never pick it up again. I’m not a quitter, so this was not easy. But I was driving myself nuts and was really beginning to hate the book and what’s the point of that?
That was at least a year ago, maybe longer.
Last Wednesday everything changed. I woke up with a story unfolding in my head, the same way it had on that trip back to Montreal, nine years ago. And instantly I knew there was history I hadn’t talked about the first time around — not anger like that editor had accused me of, not feelings — facts. And I realized that there’s an important back story, that was missing.
Ever since that thunderbolt hit me it’s been a real struggle to drag myself away from my computer. Once again the words are flowing. I’ve started over and haven’t even glanced at my original manuscript. It’s the same story, but I’m telling it in a completely different way. It will be a much better book.
Because of all the blogging I do, I’m a better writer now, an easier writer, a better storyteller than I was back when I first started this project.
Most authors will tell you writers must write every day. It’s true, I know that first hand now. But I also know something else.
It ain’t over ’til it’s over.