Over the past few months, I’ve been tweaking my memoirs project, getting rid of things that didn’t work, changing things that needed changing, adding new material, and experimenting with the ordering and grouping of the individual pieces that make up the collection. For the longest time, I wasn’t getting anywhere and was beating my head against my desk. I was having difficulty putting together a coherent sentence (a possible outcome of beating my head against my desk), and whatever words that would come to me would be even clumsier and more nonsensical than usual.
One of the problems was the main character. When writing a book of any sort, it always helps to have an interesting main character, not just to advance the story, but also because as the writer, you and this character are going to spend a lot of time together. This has been a problem on the memoir project – the main character is me. I’ve become so sick and tired of myself that I can hardly stand to look in a mirror. Putting my shoes on, I am disgusted with the sight of my feet – so you can imagine how bored and impatient I grow spending so much time in my head, exploring my memories and my perceptions and observations of the world around me.
Then one day, a couple of weeks ago, things started flowing, and the progress that had eluded me for weeks suddenly occurred. I have a couple of chapters to revisit, but the bulk of my changes and additions are complete. I have no idea why the dam that had been blocking me suddenly burst, but it did. There will be time later on to figure out how and why, for now, I am happy to ride the current and see where it takes me.
I have assembled a new list of agents to submit query letters to, and I hope to begin that process this week. I am also exploring alternate publishing methods. For those that aren’t aware, I thought I had completed the project earlier this year, and had sent sample chapters to a respected New York agent, who responded very enthusiastically and asked for the entire book. I sent him what I had, and for whatever promise he found in the sample chapters, he found the book as a whole lacking and backed out. It stung badly, but I recognized what he found to be missing, and I reluctantly went about applying his cryptic remarks as constructive criticism.
Objectively looking at the version of the book I submitted, I now see how right he was. There were large passages that were overblown and pretentious, and in fact had little to do with the overall story I want to tell. Simply put, the manuscript wasn’t nearly as ready as I thought it was. In poker terms, I had fallen in love with my cards, and over played their value. It’s very easy not to see the flaws and mistakes in your own writing, especially when you know that parts of it are good. This is exactly where I was – the parts I recognized as being good were blinding me to the parts that weren’t. Only after the agent’s rejection was I able to begin looking at my work more objectively. Whether I’ve been objective enough remains to be seen. This is one of the lessons I have learned – you need to be brutally honest and unsentimental when reviewing your work, because potential agents and editors and publishers, who are reviewing literally thousands of documents, have no choice but to be brutal in their assessment – and you only get one crack at each of them. The other thing I’ve learned is that once you get past your own ego, and recognize and address the flaws, your document will be indisputably better.
Despite the flaws that still surface in my frequent reviews and the self loathing I am too often subject to, I remain convinced that the assembled collection has a worthwhile story to tell. My affliction with Parkinson’s disease has changed me and the way I view the world and my own past. It has taken my life’s journey on an unexpected and dark detour. My hope is that, for the reader, my book can shine a light, however dim, and help illuminate the dark paths that are as unexpected as they are inevitable in everybody’s journey.
So, as Walter Cronkite used to say … that’s the way it is. Stay tuned for additional developments …