In 2014, I bought a cup of tea at The Elephant House, the cafe in Edinburgh where J.K. Rowling spent time creating her famous characters. My daughter read the Harry Potter series this summer, devouring the books quickly and then rereading her favorite parts. Later, she asked me if I knew of something similar she could read next.
I read the first book in the Alanna series last week and similarly found myself itching to get my hands on the second volume. I also read the author’s afterword in which she explains the long evolution of her project which involved changing genres (from adult to young adult), connecting with an important editor and resubmitting many revisions...all over the span of six years AFTER she had finished her first draft.
Learning about Pierce’s journey made me think of marathon running. Marathon metaphors are perhaps a bit overused, but I feel like I can speak from this place. I have run nine marathons in my life, and besides my current project, I have completed 2.5 manuscripts of memoir in the past (which I then tucked into a drawer).
I know there’s more to racing than showing up at the starting line and cranking out the miles (or pages). There’s the decision to begin the training, and then there’s the training itself. While the race itself takes several hours (okay, maybe over four hours if you’re an average on-again-off-again runner like me), the training requires months of repeated effort and the near daily decision to continue with the work. With writing, by the time you get to the starting line, you have done so much thinking and research and self-exploration, and you have tested the waters a little with first readers, and now, now you need to start running.
It’s a mental race as much as a physical one. Every time I train for a race, I grapple with the fear of failure. I debate whether to share my goals, adding up the number of people as I do tell who will now know I couldn’t follow through. Which is also why I have been tight-lipped about the fact that once again I am attempting to write a full-length memoir.
I have struggled with whether or not to dedicate myself to the process of finishing the current full-length memoir. I have been working on it for about a year now. Isn’t this just one more manuscript that I will shove in a drawer? Isn’t that the way this always goes? When I asked my husband those questions, he turned the question back on me:
Isn’t that the way it’s always ended up?
He made his point: I have to choose to change the story. I have to show up and write it, even if I fail (even if I am never published, even if I don’t make the local Starbucks Cafe or Cafe Nero famous by association with my name). Writing is in me to do.
I have done a lot of the training already -- I took a new class, I have cranked out 268 pages and counting, and I have a writing group for accountability and encouragement.
And yet, each time I sit down to write, I have to conjure up Brene Brown’s encouraging question from Daring Greatly:
What’s worth doing even if I fail?
A recent Boston Globe article featured the opening of an art show at the University of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst. Avital Sagalyn is a 90-some-year-old artist who was always afraid that her work “wasn’t good enough”. And now, finally, she has her chance to share her gift.
I have always wanted to write -- novels originally, but somehow memoir seems to be my genre at least for now.
I feel like I’m at mile 3. I have hundreds of pages that need editing. And I have hundreds more to write. I know at some point I’ll hit the wall. I may want to duck out of the race at times.
But having experienced the glory of crossing that marathon finish line nine times, I really want to know what it feels like to cross the finish line of full-length memoir -- to have a manuscript completed and ready for submission.
While I have been shy about sharing, know that I can’t do this without you, without friends and family cheering me from the stands. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. Thanks for reading!
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.