|self portrait with iphone (Paris, 2016)|
Tonight I will be attending my weekly writer's group and for the first time we will be discussing work I produced. The majority of writers in the group write fiction. Only one other is writing memoir, like me. Last week we met in the bathroom and each confessed a bad case of nerves.
It's so revealing, I said. There's no place to hide.
I know, she added.
It's a sizable group--usually about a dozen people. Each week, two works are discussed and everyone around the table says something, often with sharp details about the work, and at the end of the session, the author is given the written comments from each group member. I have learned a lot the last month listening to others critique work I have read too. We read differently and there is something rather grand about that. This insight reminds me that we ought to acknowledge and celebrate different interpretations and noticings at school instead of requiring/expecting/celebrating the more homogenous reading of texts.
Since I submitted my work, last week, I have been imagining various responses of those who have read the 15 pages. My worst fears are these:
Stop writing. Just stop.
You shouldn't try to write anymore.
What you have written simply isn't good enough.
It's too depressing.
Can't you write something more cheerful?
What was the point of this?
I was bored reading this.
Now, in my heart I don't think anyone will say this directly, but I do wonder if some might think some of this. What I do think is possible, as I have thought it too, is that some may say that the work meanders and a reader might grow impatient and wonder, what exactly do you want me to feel here? And the answer is that I don't know exactly. I am one of those who writes to discover. I am writing a memoir that chronicles Rob's death and the aftermath that comes with living, being a widow, and being a single parent of a high schooler. Such change.
Crafting a memoir requires me to think about the through lines in the work. What do I need to tug and make more explicit at a structural level? Thematic level? Figurative level? To help, I am blocking out chunks of time within the narrative and telling the stories that surface and then I will go back to refine the work by asking:
What truths emerge across the pages and across the months? How can I code this?
Are there motifs present in the work? If so, what?
What metaphors are at work? Are any extended?
What lessons seem more important, than merely interesting?
What remains ambivalent? Is that a strength?
What is repetitive and does the repetition advance or likely cause a reader to stumble, lose interest?
How does the mix of prose-poetry style work? Is it coherent? Is art work needed or not?
How does the writing look on the page?
Is the work brave?
Do I feel this? How raw is too raw?
Is there redemption? Is that necessary?
What surprises me--catches me unaware?
Have I lost my way?
There's much to consider. For now though, I am seeing this sharing of work as courageous. It's been a year of being courageous. Perhaps that is one of the through lines.
I'll let you know how it went.