Tearing It All Apart To Find The Real Story

When my mom got sick and I traveled to her home to take care of her, I left behind a manuscript one-third done—the beginning of a new book of memoir, the concept of which I was crazy about. I thought it was solid work.

Then suddenly my mother was dead. Nine days later my kitty was dead, and well, I just gave it all up and went to Europe to walk it off by following the trail my parents had traveled sixty years earlier, a goal all tangled up with grieving and the book I had been writing, but then you know that if you’ve been reading this blog.

When I came back I was jazzed to write. What I didn’t expect was the way I would respond to the material I had already written. I thought it was crap. Familiar feeling, fellow writers? Really horrid stuff. Ugh. I couldn’t believe how awful it was. So what did I do?

I printed out 200 plus pages—all the stuff I’d written and liked, and lots of little snippets and pieces that hadn’t been fully completed or patched into the arc of the story, but were waiting. I printed and printed, and then I read and shuffled the sections, like cards in a deck. This wasn’t something I could do by cutting and pasting files. I actually had to get my hands into it, feel the pages, know there was something solid behind the stories, something more than digital finger impressions of thoughts.

Do you know what I mean?

And then, literally, I chopped. I got out my scissors and hacked those pages into reimagined sections. I was a mad woman, slicing and rearranging.

I have it! I thought. Stacked up all the sheets, a completely new approach. Yes, yes! This is the way.

The next morning I perused my new creation, realized it was horrid. All wrong. Went back to the material I’d writtten before I fell into the tunnel of death and saw again the simple logic of that original plan.


The lesson here, if there is one? I guess we have to be willing as memoirists to tear it all apart, forfeit the preciousness of our perceived creation to truly see the story waiting within the experience.

Currently, I am tweaking the original structure and moving forward with new chapters.

Such is my current process of composing a book-length memoir.

P.S. I am currently holed up in the old family fishing cabin writing—in the Sandhills of Nebraska. I’ll post photos next time I report in.