Ah, the ever present question in writing circles: How’s the current project coming along? Whether you’re working on an initial draft or revision number (enter ridiculous number here – in my case anyway), fellow writers and basically anyone to whom you’ve mentioned that you’re working on a book want to know how things are going. And that’s great. It helps keep the motivation up when it may be dragging, and can be a supportive part of an often desolate journey.
But when things aren’t going well, it’s a question that makes me want to bury my head in the sand. Or, as my son often does when he gets home from school, turn my thumb sideways and then point it down. Although truth be told, he often turns it back to sideways or up; he’s like the scales on a diet show – was it a good day or bad day? Stay tuned to find out!
Can you tell I’m avoiding the question? Really though, how is the current project going? It’s experiencing long periods of drought with the occasional burst of creative genius, followed abruptly by bouts of frustration and/or hours of staring into space, willing a solution to magically appear out of my fingertips.
Here’s the problem. My book tells two stories. One is mostly true (based on my grandmother’s memoirs) until it becomes completely not true. The other is not true, but loosely based on a real event. I had a million ideas and took this giant bowl, poured them all in, and hoped for the best. Then I spent many, many hours rearranging post-it notes that have long ago lost their stickiness and revising until the two stories more or less came together. They came together, I’m just not entirely happy with things yet. So, following some helpful feedback from my amazing critique group, I went in with a knife and sliced the poor thing up some more.
I have a tendency to start projects and not finish them. It’s kinda my M.O. Back when a popular drink was putting six word memoirs on the inside of its caps, one of my teacher friends decided to do that as a class activity: Write a six word memoir. And could I please write a sample for her to use? Hubs was quick to offer up this one: HAS BIG IDEAS, NO FOLLOW THROUGH
Yup. I’m working really, really hard at changing that, says the girl who stalled on revisions all summer. And I try not to dump the contents of some cabinet or other onto the floor and then decide partway through that I don’t feel like sorting through all of it. I mean, I totally packed up that box of memories after I… only… went… through… half. Crap.
Back to the WIP. When I see my writer friends, especially ones who have read through the story, they say encouraging things like how they thought it was good and that I should query the darn thing already. But then I have moments where I worry that I am not honoring my grandmother’s memory properly and maybe I shouldn’t fictionalize the second half of her life, but honestly she went on to have kids and they had kids and she baked a lot of cookies and pies and they were delicious. Not quite the page turner I’m hoping for.
So where do I go from here? Well, I ignore the curled up, note covered pages of the manuscript on my desk, the notebooks and scraps of paper with random ideas piled on top, the now neatly arranged sticky notes on the back table (after they spent several weeks on the floor, getting occasionally slept on by the cat), and this:
A copy of Grandma’s memoirs, the ones she was working on when she died, edited and bound by yours truly in the days leading up to her funeral so that I could pass out copies to everyone in the family. And do you know what I found last month while cleaning out the basement? An original copy of the first section, with a note to me, date November 17, 2001 – right before Buffalo got hit with a terrible snow storm (I was living in South Carolina at the time – Grandma mentions that bad weather was predicted). A note that explains how excited she is to be writing down the story of her life.
And then there’s this:
That’s me and Grandma, in July 2001, looking over some pages while visiting her cottage. She counted on me to help her with the writing, to teach her how to use word processing. And even though she’s gone, I know she’s counting on me to get this right. But the problem is, I don’t know exactly what that means.
So I stall. Procrastinate. Work on other things. This story is my heart, and maybe part of it is that I don’t want to face the inevitable rejection that comes with querying, but it’s mostly that I am afraid of getting it wrong. Of somehow hurting her memory.
Now you know why, if you ask me how writing is going, I get a faraway look in my eye that is a mix of frustration, determination, and sadness. My grandmother was amazing, and however the story turns out, I want to make her proud.