When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: My Solution

Lynette, in mother-in-law's garden

So, there I was a couple of weeks ago, proudly flipping through the completed first chapters of my memoir, My Mother’s Money.

I had the hook, followed by a gripping scene to introduce the story’s first complication. Then I plunged readers (and the main characters) into a big surprise. Chapter 4 shed light on how the whole conundrum probably originated in the first place. Nice.

Now it was time to stop the artistry and get down to plain old storytelling. I needed to describe the search my siblings and I would have to undertake to find the money our mother left us when she died without a will, nor even telling us an inheritance existed. And for that, I needed a chronological plot.

Of course, I couldn’t remember every conversation and action involved in the search—the roles various people played, our behavior, failures, and frustrations. I would have to draft a timeline, constructed from emails, letters, and the notes and journal entries I had made.

But reviewing and summarizing the contents of just the emails was so upsetting that I couldn’t work with them for more than a few minutes at a time—until I came up with a strategy:

My Solution

I pretend I’m an amanuensis—a secretary—just writing up notes about other peoples’ lives.

It’s good I hit on this approach, because now I’m inserting into the timeline information from journals and the notes I took while my mother was dying, and the only way I can do this is to distance myself from them.

It’s still not easy. In fact, it’s pretty depressing. But I’m detached enough most of the time to persevere. I think the story needs to be told (besides entertaining readers, it might serve as a warning), and no one else is going to do it.

To protect myself enough to get this book written, I need detachment. As Heather Sellers, author of Chapter After ChapterPage After Page; and the memoir, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, says in an insightful interview about memoir writing, “You have to be completely in it and completely out of it, both at once.”

More Resources

If you found this post helpful, you might like Why I Write About My Painful Past, by Darah Zeledon, The Warrrior Mom.

Also see When You Hate the Book You’re Writing, Part 1, and agent Rachel Gardner’s post, I Hate My Book!

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7 thoughts on “When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: My Solution

  1. Lynette, I find that’s the perfect solution–if you can swing it. For some memories, it’s hard to find that detachment the first time around–or the second, or third. So I certainly understand how it could be hard to maintain your composure and focus as you come upon more items and documents you haven’t seen in a while that trigger memories that may be helping you come to terms (in time) but aren’t helping your work progress. I can’t think of any better way to approach it.

  2. That must be very difficult to do. I’m impressed by your courage. I’m not sure I could do that – perhaps that’s why I write fiction.

  3. Ah, but even fiction can be hard to write. As my dad says, “You can’t draw from what you don’t have.” So, if you’re writing about it at all, it’s because something in it resonates with you.

  4. Thank you, Shakirah. You’ve put it much more eloquently that I could have. I’m certainly waiting for the time when I come to terms with it all. But I do have a feeling I’m getting there.

  5. Pingback: When the Editor Gets Edited

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