Repeat Performance: What to Do When the Book You’re Writing Throws You a Curve Ball

As I was working out a topic for this week’s post, I came across this one from May 6, 2014. Reading it, I am reminded that once more my memoir has thrown me a curve ball. I need to sort out what to do with this draft still waiting in the corner.

The two curve balls came from different directions and for different reasons. If you want to know more about the second curve ball, you can read a personal note to my followers and friends who subscribe to my newsletter.

Upon reflection, I believe my May 6, 2014 post may stand me in good stead when the time is right to begin inching my hands toward the binder holding my manuscript. I don’t think I’ll be rewriting so much as restructuring and moving things in my draft around to make my memoir more readable. The wheels are turning and never forgetting this draft, but the pull to go back and revisit this post left me with a need to share it with you once again.


Here’s the original post from May 6, 2014:

WHAT TO DO WHEN THE BOOK YOU’RE WRITING THROWS YOU A CURVE BALL

The drafting of my memoir began in earnest sometime the late spring of 2012. I had jotted down notes and memories plus digging through boxes of my mother’s personal papers for years. Folders filled with potential material for a book cover a work table.

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

Now, here we are approaching late spring of 2014, two years later. A few weeks ago as I was considering my progress and listening to my husband’s take on what I had written for one particular chapter, I felt like I had been hit by a tidal wave of emotion.

It was as if a tsunami had taken over the life of my memoir, and what came next threw me for a curve.

An epiphany in the form of a major change in direction left me wonder struck. Not so much because it was such a stunning transformation, but because it had stared me in the eye since the year 2000, when the seed germinated into thoughts of a memoir after moving my mother to Oregon from Tennessee.

Now, what am I going to do was the next thought passing not so silently through my mind. It was simple: Regroup, rethink, rewrite–the writer’s three R’s.

REGROUP: 

When I began writing my story of life with Mama, I sat down and started pounding out words on the computer screen without any thought for an outline or a plan. I knew the story I was writing and thought I needed no organizational scheme to get it done. So far, I believe I have a pretty good draft on that first turn. But this curve ball I’ve been thrown made me stop and take stock of the time I would have saved if I had gotten my writing act together first.

  • The first thing I decided I needed to do was spell out what I wanted to tell my readers and why. And I did.
  • I then moved on to think about outlining or story boarding. I vaguely remembered a post of Kathy Pooler’s on Memoir Writer’s Journey where Kathy talked about story boarding. Unable to find it, I emailed Kathy and she sent me the link, which is here.

 

Kathy Pooler’s Storyboard
Kathy Pooler’s Storyboard
  • As I sat and studied Kathy’s storyboard, it occurred to me that my favorite writing software, Scrivener, uses a bulletin board with index cards to act as an option to an outline. I rarely use it, but checked it out and below is an image of my current storyboard or imaged outline in Scrivener:
Scrivener corkboard
Scrivener corkboard

 

  • I think it’s going to work perfectly, and I’ve set about rewriting my first draft.

RETHINK

A good deal of rethinking went into picking up the draft and rewriting it. Was this worth making the book into a better story to share with readers? Would the rewrite get my point across any better? After all, I’d spent a goodly number of hours not only in writing but researching, retrieving and reading.

  • I decided the answer was a yes. I want to publish not just a good book, but a book people will refer to as a “really good book,” perhaps a “must read,” maybe even a “bestseller.” No matter the nomenclature used to describe it, I want it to be my best work product. So, yes, the extra time is worth the effort.
  • As I rethought the outline I’d come up with it, I could actually see the story unfolding in a much more cohesive fashion and with greater ease.
  • Rethinking taught me a great lesson: Rushing in headlong isn’t always the best route to take.

REWRITE

I am actually enjoying this “R” of the three “R’s” because I am sensing a better writing style, a tighter style. I feel the story coming together with less negativity about my mother, seasoned with a dash of her goodness here and there, because there was goodness in her. And at the end of her story and mine, I learn there was good reason for her parenting skills, or lack thereof. I think in the rewrite this will be more easily finessed.

Like schoolchildren sent off to learn their three “R’s”–reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, we writers can also learn from a different set of three “R’s”–regroup, rethink and rewrite.

We’re never too young or too far along in our writing to learn a little something or make a change in the direction we’re headed.

Happy writing!

Guest Post: The Choice of Invisibility by Destiny Allison, Author of the Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage on Ourselves

It is my pleasure to take part in Destiny Allison’s WOW! Blog Tour for her new memoir, Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage On OurselvesDestiny writes a bold yet honest memoir about making life changes in the midst of the cultural battles we wage on ourselves and with our culture. Today Destiny looks at “The Choice of Invisibility.”

On Friday, January 29th, at Puddletown Reviews, I will share my review of Destiny’s new memoir. I hope  you will join me for a look at her book in more detail.

Now join me in welcoming Destiny!

THE CHOICE OF INVISIBILITY

Healing, like writing, is a slow and difficult process. One day, one word at time, we fill the holes in our hearts. Each word is a drop of water in a dry pond. It is a tear finally shed, a hurt undone. The process not only heals us, it empowers us to do things differently in the future because it changes the way we see ourselves.

Unfortunately, changing the present is more challenging. As we work to give voice to our stories and release them, we are under a constant barrage of cultural norms that seek to diminish us. It takes great courage to rally our voices in a surging storm.

Nine times out of ten, if I’m in a business meeting with my husband (who is also my business partner), our associate will direct the conversation toward him. If I interject with a thought or comment, I’m often completely ignored. My husband knows this and works with me to balance the conversation, but he, too, is up against cultural norms.

Men are supposed to make the decisions. Women are to be quiet and not rock the boat. We’re the support system, not the engine. As such, we’re often invisible, even when that’s the last thing we want.

In every industry in this country, women are underrepresented, minimized, or ignored. Amy Schumer and other celebrities are working diligently to change the system and create opportunity for women to be heard, but try acting like Schumer in real life and the results are as disastrous as they are comical.

In my new book, The Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage on Ourselves, I chronicle an experience I had a few years ago. At that time, my husband and I had recently acquired a bankrupt shopping center. It was the height of the downturn and we had our work cut out for us.

I have long believed that the only thing we can control is what we give, so I created a community giveback that I thought was win-win. I built a professional art gallery, complete with track lighting and moveable walls, and gave it to a different group of local artists every month. I taught them the business of art, helped them with pricing, statements, and hanging their shows. They used the space and my time for free and kept 100% of their sales.

One of the first art openings attracted several hundred people. Someone my husband had done business with for years attended. He couldn’t say enough about the gallery or the event. “What a great gift! This is so important, so necessary, so good for the community,” he told my husband. My husband thanked him and replied, “Let me introduce you to my wife. She’s the one behind all of this. I just pointed the lights.” The man checked out my body, turned back to my husband and said, “Well, it’s just great of you to support her little projects.” My husband’s mouth dropped open. He took my hand and pulled me away, speechless. He had never experienced this kind of behavior because he had never partnered with a woman. For me, it was one example of many.

As we toil away at our manuscripts, we face the probability that our voices will never be heard because, well, women are supposed to be invisible. On top of that, a million books are published every year in this country and most of them won’t sell a hundred copies. And yet, we keep typing the words. For women, these words are essential. The gates have crumbled and gate keepers, who overwhelmingly publish men over women, are scrambling to survive. Today, the publishing revolution has given courageous women a chance to tell our stories. Invisibility is a choice. We can go with conventional norms, or we can create our own storm.2

Thank you, Destiny, for joining my readers and me today to share your thoughts and feelings on what, for me at least, is an area of pointed abuse and influence against women in today’s business world. Of particular interest are the statements related to the writing and publishing of works by women.

 

THE BOOK

Advance praise:

IN HER LATEST BOOK, DESTINY ALLISON HAS DEFTLY PARSED THAT FEMINIST CLICHÉ THE PERSONAL IS THE POLITICAL IN A FRESH NEW WAY. THE SEARCH FOR THE AUTHENTIC SELF IS NEW FOR EVERY GENERATION AND ALLISON’S BOOK IS A VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION TO THAT QUEST FOR TODAY’S WOMEN.

–PATRICIA MURPHY, PHD, JOHN D. & CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION WOMEN’S HEALTH POLICY FELLOW AND AUTHOR OFMAKING CONNECTIONS: WOMEN, WORK, AND ABUSE

Brave, raw, and unflinchingly honest, this book is a weight loss journey, a love story, a heart beating loudly on the page. Every day we battle against something–injustice, our spouses, our weight. Seldom do we acknowledge the real wars we wage. Repressing feelings and silencing our voices, we suffer under the surface, attributing emotional distress and unwanted pounds to the inescapable effects of hormones or age.

But weight gain, anxiety, and marital difficulties aren’t always so easy to explain.

In her poignant and touching memoir, Allison doesn’t offer recipes, exercise tips, or advice. Instead, she shows us how to stand up, express what we want, and develop empathy for ourselves and the people we love. In doing so, she provides invaluable insight for those seeking to lose weight, save a marriage, or make a significant life change.

Includes a Readers Guide.

PURCHASE THE BOOK: AMAZON

MEET THE AUTHOR

Destiny Allison was a professional and award-winning sculptor. Her work is collected by individuals, civic entities, and corporations worldwide. When an injury required her to re-envision her life, Allison did what she always does. She applied her explosive creativity and dog-with-a-bone tenacity to new endeavors.

In 2011 she was named Santa Fé Business Woman of the Year. Her community building efforts and innovative business model transformed a bankrupt shopping center into a thriving community and commercial center.

In 2012 she published her first book, Shaping Destiny: A quest for meaning in art and life. The book won best independent non-fiction/memoir in the 2013 Global Book Awards.

Since then, she has published two novels and opened a general store.

Allison believes that one’s life is one’s greatest work of art. Hence, she flows freely between mediums. Unafraid to make mistakes and always passionate, she lives in Santa Fé, NM.

CONNECT WITH DESTINY:

Facebook | TWITTER | WEBSIte

Have you ever chosen invisibility? Have you ever stood up to those who want to make you invisible? Why not share your experiences in the comments below?

What Is Creative Nonfiction Anyway?

Creative Nonfiction vs. Memoir
Creative Nonfiction vs. Memoir

As my writing and blogging gained momentum, I would see the phrase “creative nonfiction” used to classify an essay which, to me, was clearly memoir, or a book similarly characterized. For the life of me, I could not understand the need for separation of the two.Until . . .

I began to dig for an explanation of differences between creative nonfiction and memoir. What I learned is vastly important to how I’m refashioning my latest revision.

As I combed the Internet, local libraries, and writing publications, I found an online and in print magazine, Creative Nonfiction. When landing on a new or unfamiliar site, the first place I visit is the “about” section.

To my surprised pleasure, I came upon an article entitled “What is Creative Nonfiction?” written by Lee Gutkind, lovingly referred to by “Vanity Fair”  as the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”

Gutkind begins his articlewith the following:

The banner of the magazine I’m proud to have founded and I continue to edit, Creative Nonfiction, defines the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as “true stories well told.” And that, in essence, is what creative nonfiction is all about.

And Gutkind’s words clarify what creative nonfiction is–“true stories well told.” Aren’t we told to share the truth in our memoirs? Isn’t it the truth we are seeking as we write about our lives?

I suppose I should have been satisfied with Gutkind’s definition, but I kept digging. Discovering a site hosted by Barri Jean Borich, I read with interest her post entitled “What Is Creative Nonfiction?” In her opening paragraph, Borich provided an extension of the answer found in Gutkind’s article:

There are many ways to define the literary genre we call Creative Nonfiction. It is a genre that answers to many different names, depending on how it is packaged and who is doing the defining. Some of these names are: Literary Nonfiction; Narrative Nonfiction; Literary Journalism; Imaginative Nonfiction; Lyric Essay; Personal Essay; Personal Narrative; and Literary Memoir. Creative Nonfiction is even, sometimes, thought of as another way of writing fiction, because of the way writing changes the way we know a subject. (Emphasis added.)

If we take the two definitions and combine them and agree with the simple use of the word “nonfiction” to mean we only write what is true, not fictional, we have the beginnings of creative nonfiction. But what about the word “creative?”

Just because we write nonfiction and tell true stories from our lives’ experiences does not mean we cannot and should not be creative in the process. The best memoirs I have read were filled with creations as delicious as a cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. Others took me down dark, painful paths into lives of abuse and suffering, but they created the darkness for me, the reader, to experience and reach and understanding of the writer’s story.

Never let it be said a writer writing creative nonfiction cannot paint a beautiful scene or imagine the garments and buildings of ages past in his/her family’s life.

Even though we write nonfiction, our true stories must be “well told” as Gutkind suggests. And as Borich states a lot of what is written as creative nonfiction “depends on how it is packaged” and “who is doing the defining.”

The only caveat to using your creativity in nonfiction writing is not to stretch the truth of your story.

We cannot overstep our bounds in using creativity to make up incidents which never occurred, or statements never made, or whatever else you could invent.

Are you finding opportunities to “paint” while you write your memoir or some other piece of creative nonfiction? Do you see other ways the two words, “creative” and “nonfiction,” come together to define the genre or form we are writing? Let’s find out in the comments section below.

6 What If’s of Memoir Writing

As I have traveled the memoir writing path, I have faced a number of “what if” questions. Perhaps you are beginning to write your story or are midway through. It’s possible these same questions have haunted you. Let me share with you how I have resolved some of these stumbling blocks.

WHAT IF I don’t know what to write?

Not everyone knows what they are going to write when they begin a book. That’s why we write the first draft without pausing to edit or correct as we go. This “stream of consciousness” writing will allow the memories or family stories to come back to you.

If you have a central subject, such as abuse, violence, grief, or illness, to build on, it will be easier to begin. But not everybody starts this way. Perhaps you have a diary or journal from some important time in your life. That will be a great help.

WHAT IF my memories are not 100% clear?

Memories are like photographs. Some fading occurs over the years. But items like photos, letters, diaries, or journals will sharpen those memories. Talking with family or friends about times past will also benefit in calling up memories for you. And, believe it or not, certain smells, colors, or places will do the same. Give it a try.

WHAT IF someone challenges my truth? WHAT IF family members object to my writing my story?

Your story is your story. Therefore, what you recall about your story is your truth. Not everyone in a family, workplace, group, or community remembers every incident the same. Not everyone in a family will be excited about your project. We are attuned to what goes on around us in different ways. We don’t perceive the same visuals or audibles, nor do we have the same abilities of recall. If someone questions your truth or recall or reason for writing, remind them this is how you remember it and if they don’t remember things the same, they’ll need to tell their own story.

WHAT IF family members don’t want to be included in my story?

This is a difficult question and a difference of opinion on this point is best handled on each particular writer’s watch. In my case, I have two brothers who could play major roles in some of my memories. I have asked their permission to include them by name; they have not responded. I have decided to include them with only generic references to who they are, i.e. “my older brother” and “my younger brother.” However, I’m writing under my name, using my family name and my parents’ full names, and people are going to know who those brothers are. I do not, however, include any stories of which I do not have first-hand knowledge.

If this is an issue in your writing experience, you will need to discuss this with your family members. Some may ask to see what you’ve written about them and if they ask politely, you may choose to cut any references unpleasing to them.

WHAT IF my story is the same story someone else has written?

My story is similar to many memoirs written before and some written in the future will be similar to mine and many others. It is a story of parental abuse. Yet, I am able to get beyond this “what if” because I believe my story is able to offer hope to victims in similar circumstances. It is my belief that each story resonates for at least one person who reads it. If that reader gains a miniscule grain of hope, then my writing has not been in vain.

WHAT IF no one wants to read my story?

Every writer faces this question. We have no way of knowing who, if anyone will want to read our stories or books. Writers usually write because they love the written word. Many cannot go a day without writing. We can only hope our articulation of our stories is capable of moving into the mainstream of books written. In so doing, they will perhaps make it to a bookshelf in a retail setting, a stack in a local library, or if digitally published to a site where traffic brings an interested reader our way. Don’t fret over whether someone will read your story. Write it first and then see what happens.

I hope these have been helpful to anyone facing some or all the “what if’s” I have addressed. If there is one I haven’t listed, and there are some, please let me know and I’ll add them to a later post.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? If you have faced some of these or other “what if’s” in your writing, how have you handled them?

A Day in the Life | Marriage Proposals and Engagements (Episode #5)

On Saturday, August 15th, Bob and I celebrated 34 years of happiness together. Not to detract from that happiness but to share with you what a tough start we had, today’s “A Day in the Life” post includes an excerpt from my memoir work-in-progress. Detailing the tension and strife filling the days following Bob’s marriage proposal and our announcement of our intentions, the excerpt shares a window into the world with Mama. Even after her children reached adulthood.

Remarried, but with a Struggle

Living with Mama following my divorce and dad’s death went on far too long. Yet I struggled with finding a way out. If I moved out, the cost of housing, food, gas, clothing me for work and a growing child would lead to insolvency on my part. And worse yet, mere thoughts of Mama’s reaction to such suggestion was unbearable. She had grown attached to Craig and his presence had avoided her grieving for Daddy. I stood between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

For the next 7 1/2 years, we lived like this. With each passing year, I dreaded what our environment was doing to Craig knowing what my experience under Mama’s parenting did to me. I dreamed and prayed for any chance to get my child out of this. But would it be too late by then?

In the winter of 1981, I met someone. Someone with the capacity to love me for me, with similar interests, and as alone as I was. Plus someone familiar with emotional and verbal abuses.

Our new-found relationship grew like a flash. Within a period of a few months, we set a wedding date in December of the same year. With little consideration for our three children, we focused on our dreams and hopes. We moved ahead full blast with our plans.

That is until we told Mama. And from her tool belt of antics, she pulled the “I’ll kill myself routine,” as mentioned earlier. But not in front of my fiancé or his children. She waited until Bob and his two left.

This was likely one of the worst of these episodes I had experienced. So eerily different, I turned to my older brother for help. I asked him to come and try to reason with Mama. That added to her battle cries. When he arrived, her venom turned on him.

Once she calmed down on this otherwise tranquil and beautiful Sunday afternoon, my brother left. We three who remained behind walked on eggshells afterwards. For days, this mood continued. I was so glad that for part of the day Craig was in school. However, there was the time when Mama picked him up from school. What poison was she filling his head with, and how was she treating him?

Things became more even on a day-to-day basis, and I believed it was all behind us. What made me fall for the idea she had accepted my engagement and impending marriage in the next few months?

Summer came and Bob and I enjoyed getting out with the three kids, doing things like a “family.” But excluding Mama always brought on heated discussions. So we avoided those activities and held picnics and played games in the backyard. Anything to prevent clashes in front of our kids.

In early August, all hell broke loose with Mama. I struggle to recall the catalyst behind this explosion, but it may have been the weekend Bob and I announced a shopping trip for our wedding rings. Our plan included making Craig a part of our shopping as he would live with us. Before we could get the words out of our collective mouths, Mama stood at the door, handbag at the ready, joining us on our trip. Perhaps the silence surrounding our excursion or the quiet tears rolling down my cheeks lit the spark.

With our shopping finished and the trip home no more jovial than our trip out, we arrived back at the house just in time for our evening meal. Bob excused himself to go home, and I followed him out. I had hoped he would stay, and I suppose in my heart I wondered why he wouldn’t stand up to Mama for me. That’s when I learned he had experienced similar treatment before and never wanted to face it again. I wasn’t angry as much as hurt, so I let it pass.

When I re-entered the house, the fireworks began. One look at Mama and I knew at once what was coming. The fire in her eyes blazed with heat, and I tried to steel myself for whatever manipulative schemes she had ready.

“I suppose I made a mistake in thinking I would be included as family by you and Bob. A nice little nest you’re building for yourself. He sees you as the perfect wife and a great little homemaker and mama. Huh! Wait until he lives with you!”

As always, trying to ignore her didn’t work. When I made no response, Mama’s thermostat rose. When I noticed Craig’s eyes enlarging by the minute, I asked her to stop it once and for all. Mistake!

“Stop what? Not believing in you the way everybody else does? Nobody else knows you the way I do! Oh, how I wish they did. Your daddy always deemed you as perfect too. That’s where you get that high and mighty attitude of yours. But I know all too well.”

The fight in me crumbles. Tears burn the backs of my eyes, and I sense Craig’s fear. The tension between Mama and me is so great I clench my teeth together to hold words back. And my teeth grind against each other.

“Well, say something. Or has the cat got your tongue? He’s changing you already–I can see that. I suppose he’s told you not to talk to me.”

“Oh, Mama! He’s done nothing of the sort. It just amazes me you don’t want me to be happy. Why would you have me sacrifice everything Bob and I can do together for a lifetime of manipulation and domination?” By now I should have realized these were fighting words but somehow on this day I didn’t care.

“I want you to be happy. I just want you to make the right choices and you’re not doing that. He was married before and he has children, two of them. What will happen to Craig having to live a life like that?”

“Well, if you haven’t noticed, I’m divorced and I have a son by my first marriage. I see no difference. What about you and Daddy? You both were married before and had three children between you when you married. Was that OK, and my promise of marriage isn’t?”

Mama sensed this wasn’t going well for her. As usual, she clammed up and used the cold shoulder treatment, which was fine by me. I told Craig to come with me–I had shopping to do. We left but only to go for a drive and an ice cream cone. Plus a stop at a payphone. It was time to move our wedding date to an earlier time.

When I called Bob and told him what had transpired, he agreed we should get married as soon as possible. He said he would call the pastor who was marrying us and see if the next Saturday, one week away, would work. It was a good thing we were planning a small and simple family wedding. Each year we celebrate our marriage on August 15th, not in December as first planned.

Taken in 1983 at Meyer FamilyGathering in Bickleton, WA

Copyright 2015 Sherrey Meyer

This was perhaps one of the most difficult encounters with Mama. Her manipulative skills and ability to belittle and demean did not let up when we reached adulthood. As the song says, “the beat goes on,” and with Mama it went on and on. It is my plan to share other excerpts from time to time. Likely, they will change somewhat before publication, but I’d like to share some of my story with you along the way.