Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Surprising Exchange

This past weekend I got an e-mail from the teacher of the one year writing workshop that I signed up for. It was an introductory e-mail welcoming us to the group and giving us instructions about the 30 page chunks that will be due on the first day and other weeks during the course.

I had been having serious doubts about doing this thing in the first place but when I got her e-mail I really freaked out. This thing is real. I'm actually expected to do this. I signed up for a workshop that will have people that are writers doing their craft, their job, their passion. And I'm just wavering, flying in the wind.

My doubts went beyond my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. Writing a memoir means giving up the privacy of other people. My parents and my husband primarily. Even though they have all agreed to this project, they're all seriously private and I'm so afraid of hurting their feelings and making their life uncomfortable because of this project.

So a few weeks ago, in my heart, I decided to give up. I'm not going to do this. It's too much for me. I'm not a good enough writer, I'm scared of doing it badly, I'll be crushed if I hurt my family. OK, that's it. I'm not doing it.

But then I got her e-mail about the workshop. And with all of this swirling in my head, I responded to the workshop teacher with the following:

Dear X: Thank you for the information. I'm having some second thoughts about whether this workshop is a right fit for me. I'm a novice writer at best and struggling with what and how I want to share my life with the world. I have realized that I'm not going to write a memoir that is like a novel, starting one place and taking the reader through a chunk of time. If anything I am going to do short essays that I hope to put together into a compilation that together will give a picture of my life.

Frankly, I just don't know if I can do it.

I expected her response to be short and to the point, thanks for letting me know, I'll take you off the list, have a good day.

But instead, she surprised me with this e-mail:

Rebecca --

A couple thoughts for you.

1) This class is full and I have no doubt will have a waiting list . .. . take your time and if at some point you realize that it is not something you want to do, you will not have let me or anyone down.

2) If you write a series of essays (and not a novel) -- it still has to kinda have a theme and a thread. Each essay will have to show a change in the perspective and vision of the person -- and those will likely build to a larger conclusion by the end.

3) We have MANY MONTHS (4, about 120 days) before this workshop starts. Start writing. See what happens -- see where it takes you. Start anywhere. Start with a random word picked out of a dictionary, an evocative photo, or a stupid prompt like "my worst day."

4) Writers write. That's how they process their worlds. That's how they come to understand the externalia of life and put it in perspective. You don't need to write a book with the idea that it's going to be a runaway best seller and people will recognize you on the street (would you recognize JK Rowling or John Grisham in the Giant? Very few people would cause they look pretty much like everyone else. Now Stephen King has that goofy hair, so maybe him . . .). Anyway, you should think of telling this story as much as exorcising it from you as telling it to the world. Don't worry about the world. Write the book you wish someone else had written so you wouldn't have to. Write a book you'd love to read. Get it out

Take your time and mull through all this. And in the mean time? Get writing. Put it in your calendar, mark off the blocks of time. Make dates with yourself.


Wow, she really blew me away with her advice and kindness. Her push is what I needed to try a little longer.



  1. I'm so glad she sent you such a thoughtful email Rebecca! I really hope you take her advice and just start...and maybe take the time contstraints off of yourself, mentally. Instead of promising yourself that you'll have the book finished in one year, just tell yourself that you're going to work on it for one year, and see where it leads you. Hopefully you'll still want to try to publish it out there in the real world. But if nothing else, you could self publish it on blurb privately and just print copies for yourself and your family. I know that would defeat the purpose of you "get published" goal...but you already have been published, and maybe you could continue to submit essays to magazines/books in the meantime?

    ps Hope you and the family had a great holiday weekend and hopefully we'll see you later this summer!

  2. I'm so glad you've reconsidered! I think your memoir will be wonderful. And I think it really has to be in essay form as opposed to big epic novel. There is far too much to fit in. You should read some books with that format for structure inspiration. Have you ever read A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing? It's fiction but written in a short story format - that all ties in. I'm very excited for you...

  3. Good for you for being willing to hear what she has to say and not closing yourself off to the possibility of continuing to write. This whole thing takes guts and you're showing yourself that you have what it takes, every day! Yeah for you.

  4. Wow! I'm impressed that she was so encouraging. I'm looking forward to hearing what happens...