Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

It’s spring, FINALLY.

finally

The daffodils made their glorious debut a couple weeks ago with their sunshiny yellow heads, but they are already on their way out, shriveled on their stems. Nature is not sentimental, but it is beautiful.

daffodils

Spring always feels so fresh and new, full of possibilities and new beginnings. But also endings. School is nearly over. Just another month until the heat jacks up and I spend long sweltering days negotiating screen time with my kids. I can hardly believe my son, who just started elementary school in September, will soon be a rising first grader, and my daughter will begin her last year before middle school.

kiddos may 2018.JPG

I ask (yet again), how did this happen?

Time just rolls on through like the grimmest of bulldozers, all business, move along people, nothing to see here, but wait, I want to shout while running alongside and trying not to get run over, there’s so much I want to see, please slow down!

Even though time seems to fly by at unreasonable pace, there is often something to show for it. New growth, new goals.

Two years ago, this coming June, I made a decision to write a different kind of book, shifting gears from fiction to memoir. At first, I could barely say the word, memoir, without cringing and apologizing.

Aren’t you a little young to write a memoir? several people asked, though not unkindly and I understood their perspective. I used to think you had to be a certain age to write memoir, and more than that, you had to have an extraordinary story to tell, but fortunately that is not always the case.

As Mary Laura Philpott, who wrote the recent article, “Surviving the Ordinary” explains:

“High stakes make for great reading, but examine any life, and you’ll see the stakes get pretty high for all of us at some point, even if the only decisions we ever make are the ones billions of people have made before us and billions will make again.”

Ah, my ordinary life has a place on the shelf after all. It’s called the universal connection, and if done right, that is extraordinary enough. As Cheryl Strayed says in an interview on Brain Pickings, “When you’re speaking in the truest, most intimate voice about your life, you are speaking with the universal voice.”

Another misconception people sometimes make when thinking about memoir is that it’s supposed to span an entire life. YAWN. But (thankfully) this isn’t true. Writing a “memoir” is different than writing one’s “memoirs.” That is called autobiography and should not be attempted by those of us with regular lives. Think historical or cultural figures. Think celebrities.

For us mere mortals, imagine your life as a pie. Memoir is but a single slice.

The memoir I’ve been writing for the past two years is about grief and identity. It’s about losing my mother and becoming a mother in less than a year; how illness and motherhood can transform, and in some cases shatter, an identity. It’s about putting myself back together.

Way back in the summer of 2016, I started writing a mess of scenes. Literally. A MESS. My goal was to reach about 60-70k, a semi-arbitrary number, by my mother’s 10-year death anniversary. And I did. Then, somehow, over the summer I knocked out 20k more words.

In September 2017, with both kids in full day school – FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER – I sat in my empty house and began the behemoth task of shaping my book, finding its center. The goal was to transform a flood of memories into art. No easy feat, and there was no road map, either. I had to do it intuitively, hoping all the craft books and memoirs I’d read over the past year plus had seeped into my brain in some usable form.

For me, revision is always harder than an initial draft, which I wrote about in a post last October. Instead of entering the dream state of memory catching, I had to think analytically. I had to create a chronology and a structure. I had to nail down a verb tense (present? past? both?) and make some rather cutthroat decisions about the scope of my story line. (Remember, just ONE slice of pie, Dana.) Let’s just say my “Darlings” folder in Scrivener is VAST.

Eight and a half months later, I finished my first major revision. As in, I no longer have a towering mound of words. I have a story.

draft

Of course, my work is far from done. I am reading the draft now – and so far not hating it, which is huge! – and then another revision will take place.

My ultimate goal used to be a published book – and in some ways it still is – but I also realize that particular element is beyond my control. All I can do is write the very best version of this book, and that is what I intend to do.

What kinds of projects are you working on? Do you struggle with one element over another? 

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Unpacking Your Creative Life Series

I’m so excited that my month long series on creativity has begun on The Gift of Writing! It’s called, Unpacking Your Creative Life, and part 1 is all about reconnecting to your love of writing and starting again after a long (or short!) hiatus.

When Claire asked me to write a series, I was flattered, grateful, and nervous. I’ve written guest posts before, but never anything that had to sustain interest over a period of time. But what I discovered is that creating a series is similar to writing a story. There’s an introduction, an arc, a climax, and a conclusion. Once I chose a theme, one I’m quite familiar with, I’ve had a lot of fun working on it.

I was inspired by my own writing hiatus (ahem, new motherhood) and some of my favorite craft books, including Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Still Writing by Dani Shapiro.

My goal is that this four-part series will offer help and solace to writers who feel stuck or frozen, as I did after the birth of my first child, though new motherhood is just one of many reasons why writers stray from the page.

I remember questioning my life-long dream of being a writer. I seriously considered giving up. This crisis shook my core, and it took a lot of soul searching, some sessions with a wonderfully intuitive life coach, and of course writing, to find my way back.

I’d love to hear what you think, so if the topic interests you, pop over to Claire’s site and leave me a comment.

In the meantime, I’ll be a little quieter over here while I dig into the revision process of my novel. Spending two magical days at Highlights helped me finish my draft, but that was only the first step.

My goal is to complete this first content heavy revision by summer’s end. A lofty goal, perhaps, but I did some math (I know, crazy) and if I can edit about 45 pages a week, I’ll make it happen.

My daughter is helping me keep track with revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

My daughter is helping me track my revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

Then comes round 2 and 3, but each one brings me closer to the moment when I can pass this albatross, I mean novel, over to my beta readers.

Being a writer means never giving up, even when you’re at your lowest point, but I honestly couldn’t do that without your help. Readers of this blog and all the wonderful friends and fellow writers I’ve met along the way. Thank you for keeping me company on this journey! I’m rooting for you, too, because we’re in this together.

Enjoy your summer!

summer kids