So what happened to that memoir you were writing?

Concussions only get you so far when it comes to procrastinating. At some point, things just need to get done. (Although, when I can’t remember words or don’t manage to get them in the right order, when my family begins to laugh at me, I point to myself and say, “Hey, brain injury here.” I plan to milk that for as long as I can. I’m told to expect it to take about 3 months for my brain to return to “normal.”)

Yes, that memoir

And, at some point, I need to actually write about what I’ve been saying I’ll write about for a good long while now. Namely: the status of my memoir. That thing I started working on in…um…I don’t want to check. 2014, I think. Sounds about right. (Don’t hold me to it, though. Brain injury.)

I finished my fifth or sixth round of editing it in early Spring last year and started querying agents, looking for representation. In the meantime, I figured I should probably start writing something else.

A new writing direction (and project)

20160310_125742So, last April, at the urging of some writer friends, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo and decided to tackle a children’s chapter book. (You know, because they’re shorter – that makes them easier, right? Ha ha).  I had a glimpse of an idea about a book based on my family life that Berry, our youngest monkey, could illustrate. She liked the idea, so I got on with it, pounding out the words during write-ins where the only sounds were the clacking of keys. (None of these so-called friends helped me procrastinate by chatting about what we’re writing rather than writing. They just got on with it.) I asked the kids for a title and The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry was born.

Then April ended, and with it our write-ins, and I took a great course in Content Marketing for Journalists where I learned a lot, met a great group of fellow journalists and writers and mostly stopped writing any of my own stuff in the pursuit of paying work.

But, an idea began to percolate. Writing about my life was more fun when it didn’t have to all be true. When it was fiction based on real situations, people and scenarios. Maybe I could do that with my memoir…?

Over the summer, I plucked away at my children’s book some more, and continued to query agents about my memoir, with a handful requesting the full manuscript. Then I landed a decent (if mind-numbingly boring) gig for a “tech giant” writing hotel descriptions. It paid bills. I traveled around the world. Through my computer screen. I didn’t write books. Until I realized I was losing my mind wanting sanity and creative expression more than cash. I started writing again more, determined to finished the children’s book, which had turned into a Middle Grade novel.

I’d decided, during the fall and early winter, as I got back into writing, that I was definitely going to fictionalize my memoir. But first, I wanted to finish the Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry book. This fit in nicely with my usual procrastination method of working on the least less palatable thing (whatever I don’t mind doing least when compared to the other things I want to do even less) and still being productive. (Really, this technique works well for me. It sounds terrible, but I’ve somehow made it functional. I get a lot of stuff done, and eventually something replaces the thing at the bottom of the least palatable list and I get that done, too.) It apparently works pretty well for Berry, my illustrator. Most of her work was done when she was home sick from school. (I had her captive, I took advantage of it.)

After making a commitment to finishing The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry (don’t let your kids name your books, people) and avoiding working more on my memoir, I wrapped up the first and second drafts and sent it out to beta readers.

Hitting a bump in the road

Then I was in that car accident. Concussions and editing don’t mix. Revisions waited a few weeks. Until recently, when I got them done. That felt good. Except I’ve still got a couple of plot tweaks/additions to do. And then I’ll be done. (Other than convincing a few people to help me proofread and actually doing the work of layout, ISBN-ing, creating my own independent press, etc.)

That’s exciting.

It also means I need to quit procrastinating and fictionalize this memoir of mine. I’ve made some good headway lately: massaging the timeline of actual events to work in a three-act story structure, simplifying characters by combining a few and, as painful as it is, just chopping stuff out. I’ll have some significant re-writing to do, especially toward the end, but I feel good about where I’m heading.

Plus, I have other stories I’m excited to write: The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of… turns out to be the first in two series of books – one told from Cherry’s perspective and the other from her brother, Elliot’s. But I want to create the fictional Banned in Barbados first.

Why fictionalize a memoir?

But does that truly answer the “why” of fictionalizing an already written book? This is the thing I find hardest to put into words and probably the reason I’ve put off writing about my writing for so long.

I like the memoir I’ve written. It tells my story of a vulnerable, life-changing time in my life. And, by writing it down, and sharing it with a dozen or so people who were my beta readers for the project, I feel I’ve completed what I set out to do. Little Joanna’s story has been told and heard.

I also had several conversations with folks included in my memoir and I realized that, while I’m not under any obligation to tell the truth the way they’d want me to, or to protect them from the facts of our past, I’m also not out to hurt anyone or tarnish anyone’s memory of anyone else. (They can continue to think whatever they want of me.)

On top of that, I have a larger story to tell. A story that’s best served by having a tiny bit of emotional distance from its author. A story that doesn’t need to be held back by the voice of my younger self yelling, “But it happened that way!” While writing Cherry I learned that deviating from fact, incorporating elements of fiction, was freeing, while still being true to the essence of the story. I realize good memoirists can do this while keeping it a memoir. I may not be a good memoir writer, as it turns out. And that’s OK.