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How I Wrote My Memoir

For #5 in the series, My Weird Publishing Project, I decided to post the actual Preface from book 1 of that current project so you could see for yourself why the process of writing was so…weird.

Preface ‍

In 1989 I left my life and the only job I knew how to do for two years with one paycheck in the bank and no plans. It was an amazing experience! I was forever ‍transformed.‍‍  It wasn’t my first experience leaping into the unknown. But it was the most dramatic. I was a ‍small-town Baptist girl turned professor living in a small, isolated mountain community – the type who keeps journals and writes letters. I saved those journals and letters and typed them ‍into “chapters” on my computer.

Almost 30 years later, I was scanning posts on a writer’s group on Facebook when a guy mentioned something about Camp NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, an internet-based creative writing competition that takes place every November. The guy said the July camp was “a more relaxed ‍version of the annual November NaNoWriMo.” He invited me to join his group online, and I jumped at the chance. To be honest, it was July, it was hot, and I was happy to find an ‍excuse to stay inside.

NaNoWriMo consists of a bunch of writers all over the world writing every day at ‍home on their computers and then posting their word ‍counts at the end of each day on their individual pages on the NaNoWriMo website. It’s all about speed. The goal for each writer is 50,000 words for the month.

Signing up at the last minute with no plan ‍proved to be a miraculous experience for me. I had no time to think ‍about a topic, much less scope it out and develop the concept.  I just leapt into it, just as I had 30 years earlier. My first thought was to write a fantasy story about a little girl who just wanted to be “normal.” I hit a block. Nothing came out.

Then I thought I’d write a sci-fi story about alien invaders with a theme of: “What would you ‍do if you were the only one of your kind?” I got four sentences into it, then I typed “FORGIVENESS” as  ‍my working title. Holy moly! That opened the flood gates. I ripped out more than 3,000 words, two-finger typing, in three ‍hours!

Having written so much the first day with “forgiveness” as my title, I thought I would spend the next day getting organized—brainstorm everything I knew about the topic and then proceed in an ‍orderly fashion to write about it. That’s not what happened.

Instead, I found myself looking for that story that I had “boxed away” on my computer 30 years ago. I realized that what had been flying off my fingers the day before wasn’t really about space invaders at all. It was about ‍the person who had helped me make the break I needed to make from my job all those years earlier and who in the process became my nemesis.

During the two-year journey she launched me on, I not only experienced personal healing, I learned how to take care of myself – body, mind and spirit. I also learned techniques ‍for forgiveness that I later shared with clients as a workshop leader and psychotherapist. In ‍that moment of understanding, I changed the working title of this book from “forgiveness” to “my journey.” ‍

No sooner had I resumed writing with the revised title than the other shoe dropped. I was  chatting with a new friend by phone over breakfast when out of nowhere the name of my old nemesis came up—the woman who had so antagonized me as a young college professor that she drove me away from the place for two years.

I won’t spoil the story for you here; you’ll have to read the whole series. Let me just say, “Whew! What a revelation!” That phone conversation with my new friend literally took my breath away. It was the bookend to my personal ‍journey with “forgiveness.”    ‍

But that wasn’t the end of my story, because it wasn’t my story. The invitation out of nowhere to join an event I knew nothing about, the ‍speed-writing experience on the first day, and the serendipitous phone conversation – occurring just as I sat down to do the left-brain organizing – all ‍happened for a reason.

Once I’d committed to picking up my story again, the one that happened so long ago, I found myself blocked at every turn and wrote a pile of quite different drafts. The first was from the angle of “forgiveness.” But to do that I’d have to include all the ways ‍my nemesis needed to be forgiven, and I didn’t want the story to be about her (although she had a nice ‍supporting role in it). So I dumped that draft and started over.

The next draft was along the line of “here’s what ‍happened to me” and what I learned from it, like so many other personal memoirs. Nope.  Didn’t like that, either. I tried the ‍burnout/nervous breakdown angle. But that didn’t fly, because the bizarre stuff that happened to me didn’t fit the textbook definition of “nervous breakdown” or “burnout.” My story was… different. But I couldn’t quite capture how to relate it.

I took a two-week break to just be. I did some property maintenance, some yard work. I walked a lot. I watched old TV shows on my laptop. I cut my hair. I played with my cat. And I ‍was constantly being talked to by my internal narrator in the predawn hours, all day long ‍and before dropping off to sleep. Then, as if I had just picked up a phone that had been ‍ringing for hours, I got the message!

I was having another awakening experience—in the ‍process of writing about one that had happened almost 30 years earlier! That earlier experience, what I had started to write about, was a gruesome “dark night of the soul” experience that ‍‍ ‍lasted for years. The process of writing about it 30 years later was the culmination of the cleansing process that begins at the end ‍of this first book of my four-part series with my return to faith. ‍

As I connected these dots, explosive blasts of ‍understanding erupted like extravagant fireworks in my mind. I realized “the guys” were with me on this – those presences I learned ‍to trust since that amazing experience in the desert, almost thirty years ago.

They were working with me now ‍to tell this story.  They encourage me. They support me. I got it. This book must be written, not only for me but for them. I must do this. I am compelled to continue, letting others be in ‍charge, because I do not believe in coincidences. Surrendering to the process is a huge part of ‍my story. Now it seems it will also determine how it is told!  Welcome to my world! ‍

Coming up Next!

The follow-up, #6, will be a “how to” regarding what I had learned about memoirs before trying to write one.

Till next time, be kind to everyone you meet for we all have our hidden sorrows.~ Tzaddi

More re’ My Weird Project:

  1.  Indie Publishing: My Weird Project
  2. Weird Publishing Project:  Beta Readers!
  3.  10 lessons learned:  Beta Readers
  4.  Help, Please?  Title Poll
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