I have wished to be well into a particular writing project by the end of this year. Back in the spring, my work didn't merit the term "book." This has been pretty usual for me. In my experience, writing can become clutching the side of a cliff, seeking a way up (or sometimes just looking for the path back down).
One idea for my project seemed pretty solid, and I kept picking it up, writing and writing, researching it to some degree. But I was sure this piece of the story (or stories) wouldn't be enough to carry a whole book. It might make a fine family narrative (being about family history), but I couldn't expect it to interest other people.
Finally a couple months ago I hit on a better-sounding strategy. The family history part could comprise the first section, leading into a memoir-ish faith journey narrative with a thread linked to two family tragedies from before my birth. I made an outline. Feeling hopeful, like a pioneer having raised her cabin's walls, I began to tell people I was working on an actual book.
The next week, Tim's mom called. She and Dad H. had just been to an event featuring Bob Welch, a Eugene writer and speaker Tim and I've known for years (decades now, I guess). "For your Christmas present," Mom said, "we want to send you to one of Bob's writing workshops!"
I almost turned her down. See, most years they give me money, and I need new sports shoes. Yes, Bob's workshops cost more than shoes (from a little to a lot more, depending on the length of the seminar), and, yes, I've always wanted to go to one of those, and yes, I'm writing a book now... Oh, yeah. After a few moments I decided the shoes could wait.
"Yay!" I responded. Then I checked for a workshop I could actually get to, and found out one was happening on November 15, in Vida, less than an hour's drive from home. I signed up.
The day was like candy (especially since Bob's wife, Sally, provided great food, including candy). I remembered things I'd forgotten; I learned much that was new.
I drove home talking to myself in quite lively fashion.
Yesterday morning I pulled my notes out. Studying the workshop's exercises, I plugged in aspects of my book project. And there, in front of me, a true memoir came into focus. I saw the beginning, the middle, the end. I was stunned.
This book is about two months of my life.
I've wanted to express what happened, carefully, tucking it into the middle, you know, being nonchalant and hopefully writing like Wendell Berry, allowing the message to bloom in your mind. But almost no one can do that. I was hiding my story, making excuses. I just need to tell it.
To touch on history and connect the right pieces will require very hard work. (My pioneer counterpart would need to dig herself a well, plant a garden, chink the walls against the storms. Even go without candy.) It will require, as Bob said Saturday, confidence that I have something to offer, plus humility to let other people help me tell my story better.
But there in front of me it sits, in focus. I wrote opening pages this morning. This is interesting.
You'll find more information on Bob's writer workshops here.