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Writing My Memoir #9: Taking A Break

I came home from the conference (AKA my breakup with Christian publishing) as I do from every conference I attend: with a list of tasks and inspiration. I learned a lot at the conference aside from my existential crisis. I was going to go even deeper into honing my voice in the manuscript. I was going to read it from the vantage point of all my main characters. I was going to flesh out some areas that weren’t nuanced enough.

Instead, three days after I returned, my husband got a surprise cancer diagnosis. I’ve written a little about that before, so I’ll let that rest for now. I bring it up now to say that instead of diving into my manuscript like I thought I would, I was going to infusions at Stanford. The remainder of the year I was in survival mode. I wrote nothing. I created nothing—which for a creative, is a dangerous space to be. It meant no outlet for my stress and grief. It meant I did weird things like suddenly realizing we needed new nightstands NOW and dragging my infant and preschooler to HomeGoods in the middle of a storm to buy new nightstands while my husband was flat out after a chemo treatment, buying the only matching pair in the whole store, and jamming my middle finger in the doorway while carrying them into the house. That’s the kind of stuff I do when I’m not creating.

Sarah Hina, Flickr Creative Commons

Anyhow, I think the break from the manuscript turned out to be a healthy thing. I tried to take breaks before, but I never could. I was too obsessed with it to step out of it even for a few weeks. This crisis forced me to fully step out of it for an extended period of time.

I stepped away from it for a full year and toward the end of that year, I wondered if I’d ever go back to it.

The break allowed me to toy with new ideas for the book when I came back. A few people had suggested in the past that I turn the memoir into a novel, and I never gave the idea the time of day until I came back from this sabbatical. I had nothing to lose at this point. I hadn’t pitched the memoir to anyone in a year. I had broken up with Christian publishing. The book could be whatever it wanted to be. Maybe it wanted to be a novel.

I spent a couple of months writing this novel. It was fun, but as I wrote, I realized I was writing an entirely different story. It may be a story I come back to at some point, but it wasn’t a replacement for the memoir. By this point, I was teaching memoir writing at my local community college. I was helping other people tell their stories in short essay form. As I mentored my students, I remembered that I value true stories in a different way than I value fiction. I felt surer than ever that there’s a place for my true accounts of Pentecostalism, and part of what makes it powerful is that it is true.

All the writing gurus will tell you to step away from your manuscript for a time. I probably would have never listened if life hadn’t ripped me away from it. I’m grateful for that break now, as it clarified the creative process for me and gave me renewed passion.

So now I knew that a) I was going to publish my memoir and b) I wasn’t going to pursue Christian publishing. Now I had some choices to make ahead of me…

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