Less than a year after I was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 17, I found unused, wide-ruled, 3-hole-punched paper and attempted to write my story - a memoir I suppose - in pencil. I got the basics out, mostly, the timeline of what happened to me the six months prior.
A stack of pages 30-sheets tall, I thought I’d just written a novel. (It was a big accomplishment for a high schooler who’d only ever written essays and didn't even know "memoir" was a thing.)
I saved that hand-written draft and every few years, I attempted to write another - although I switched to typing it. I’d get a fire in my bones, an impulse I can’t explain, to tell my story. So I’d go back to the beginning and build upon what I’d last written. And then I’d tire, or hit a wall because I couldn't process any more. I'd leave the unfinished work in incomplete sentences. I'd move the drafts into a folder - like clumps of clay waiting for me to mold once I became ready again. Along the way I did uncover the genre of memoir and soon fell in love with so many amazing titles and the authors behind them.
A few years ago on Memorial Day, I discerned a calling to open my drafts again and begin molding. Up until now, the blessing of writing for paying clients, printed articles and my blog has kept my ink pen flowing. But God began calling me back to my story. He'd taken me through incredible healing (emotionally, spiritually and physically) and I was ready to return.
When the writer’s conference theme that year was “Answer the Call,” it was confirmed.
Chugging Along on the Memoir
I’ve been working on this book for over two years.
In all honesty, I thought I’d be done by now. But I've learned memoir isn’t as much about the timeline of what happened to you, but the therapeutic healing process that inevitably comes when thoughts and memories become words on a screen and hopeful pages in a book to be shared.
It's taken me time to go back into the deepest rooms of my heart, the darkest moments of my days, and write them down with vivid detail that makes people want to read it - especially people who don't know me from the next author on the shelf.
Plus, it's tough to get deeply honest with yourself.
On many occasions, I’ve poured hours into a chapter only to realize it’s not for this book. So I cut it, dropping it into a folder of other drafts I may or may not use one day. More clay, I suppose.
In this process, I've also learned this memoir is about so much more than cancer - it’s the story of a young girl who struggled to love her body and understand her true beauty. My hope is for the book to become a powerful tool for parents to understand their tween/teen daughters, and for growing, changing girls to know they’re not alone.
Current Status of my Memoir: Part 1 Complete
When you set out to write a book, you get lots of advice, workshops, books and blogs. Here are a few of my favorite tips:
Find a writing space. I’ve found out an area in the house where I often sit to write, and my patchwork chair makes it complete.
Read memoir. To write a genre, you must read a genre. The memoir Educated by Tara Westover is my inspiration right now. She details her life with a critical moment happening at age 17. I'm rapidly taking mental notes as I read how she beautifully tells her story.
Get away, alone and undistracted, to write. I was fortunate a few weekends ago to spend three days and nights alone at an Airbnb. This was a game changer, I got all of Part 1 into a rough draft ready for editing.
Buy a printer. Laura Woodworth was very right - editing drafts on paper is incredibly helpful and efficient.
Write shitty rough drafts. This famous Bird by Bird quote by Anne Lamott keeps me writing most days.
So friends, today here’s where I am:
- I’ve written “Part 1” of my book. I finished 7 chapters that I consider "ready" for the next step.
- I've completed messy rough drafts of many chapters for Part 2 and some of Part 3 (I'm thinking the book is in 3 parts)
- I hope to do another “writing getaway” in October and the upcoming Writer's Conference in KC is also in October.
What Can You Do?
Your prayers, encouragement and messages have blown me away. Thank you! I take them all to heart and I need them! Because this story isn't my story, but a story for everyone that I feel needs shared, I want to invite you in.
If you'd like to help, here's what I need:
A lot of agents/publishers want to see that a writer can build a following. So, I’m working on building this up! You can “Subscribe” to my email list. Also, if you don't yet, follow my writer’s Facebook Page.
Pray for Publishing Direction.
Will you pray with me for direction on publishing? Some writers only write the first 3 chapters of a book before they pitch it to agents and publishers, but I sense God wants me to keep writing this whole thing in its entirety. Once it's written, there are many routes to go: I could seek an editor; I could try to find an agent; or, I could write a proposal and pitch it to a publishing house directly or through a website upload. OR, I could pursue self-publishing and/or do a kickstarter campaign for funding. There’s a lot of options, and I’m praying for direction and clarity on which route to pursue.
Thank you again for all of the support. I’ll keep you updated with how Part 2 goes!
[update: Part 2 is complete!]
[update: Part 3 is complete!]