Last week, I wrote about my initial venture into writing
memoir and how I was motivated in part by self-pity and
If you missed it, I posed some questions regarding your own writing projects that you may find useful. The link is here.
As I shared last week, my
initial surge of writing resulted in 130 pages of what an editor friend
referred to as an “episodic dump.”
Fortunately, I was able to shift gears once I knew that I had a story to tell, by which I mean I could see an end to our long period in hell.
Knowing more or less where the story would end gave me some direction, although I still needed a structure to hold the memoir.
Again, I share all of this with you in hopes that it will spark something for your own work.
FINDING A STRUCTURE
I ran into structural snafus
pretty quickly, as I had a long period of time I wanted to cover.
I felt compelled to write about the months before Shira was diagnosed with OCD, when she was in third grade and had dropped so much weight we almost had to hospitalize her.
I also wanted to write about the more recent crisis during her junior of high school, which had resulted in six hospitalizations in less than a year.
Even though the OCD was still lurking during the years in between, there was a significant enough lag to cause a giant chasm in the story.
I was given the advice to pick a shorter time span to frame the book, which would allow me to move back-and-forth in time.
That sounded smart, and so I spent a few days slicing and dicing the years until I wanted to tear out my hair.
Should I go with her high school years? Could I start in middle school? What time period even made sense?
I was on my way home from the market one evening when the answer popped into my head. I could write about that hellish junior year and use our attendance at the annual OCD Conference to frame the story.
I would begin in the summer of 2017, when we met the executive director of McLean’s OCDI Jr. program during a parent/teen panel, and end at the time Shira discharged from McLean, at which point we headed to OCD Con 2018.
From there, everything fell into place. I realized I could organize the chapters by the cities we had lived in during that year, and each chapter could with begin with an arrival and end with departure.
I should add that it wasn’t only the advice of an editor that pointed me toward writing a framed memoir and organize the chapters by location.
It was years of deep reading, studying a lot of different structures and knowing them in my bones. And while I hoped all that reading would provide me with a single structure I could steal, what I landed on was more of an amalgam.
TURNING POINTS AND EPIPHANIES
A lot had happened in between those two conferences, not only with my daughter, but within me.
I was vaguely aware of massive interior shifts as we passed from one destination to the next, but because we were jumping from one crisis to another, I never had a chance to catch up with myself.
I had heard Natalie
Goldberg talk about writing as a way to digest your life many times, and that
was what I set out do.
As I wrote and revisited
my relationship to my daughter and what I had to give up to take care of her, I
saw that every time I had let go of something in my life, I experienced an
Those moments became the turning points in my story.
This is one reason I love memoir and and essay, because they often focus on those moments of awakening and change.
As time went on and the crisis was further behind us, I found an even greater purpose to continue writing, which I will share next week.
In the meantime, here are a few more questions for you to consider:
1) What books have you read that had interesting structures?
Go back to your bookshelf and see which ones you might re-read.
2) Think of a time in your life when you experienced an opening in your mind.
Set your time for ten to twenty minutes and write toward that moment. Give all the sensory details and what led up to it.
I wish you well in your writing. And please take good care during this strange and precarious moment.