With the help of a generous sister-in-law, I have returned to writing my book. One day a week until the end of the school year, she babysits Sam so I can write.
How has it been, reentering this manuscript I put aside three months ago?
There is the feeling of visiting a foreign country, as well as the feeling of returning to terrain I know very well. Above all, there is a clarity about the message of my book—and with that clarity, knowledge of what to cut and what to add. I surprised myself by spending most of my recent writing time cutting unnecessary chapters or scenes. Whereas several months ago I couldn’t have imagined cutting these scenes, now, there was no doubt about it: they had to go.
These cutting decisions signal so much: not only a writer’s process, but also a woman’s healing. Let me explain.
One of the standout tips I received from my professional book consultant last fall was: After the first few pages/chapters, cut the crying! (She elaborated: instead of describing your crying, describe for readers what made you cry). And related to that: Add in scenes with other key characters so we are not left alone with you and your brain for 300 pages.
In recent months I’ve thought a lot about how this advice relates to my memoir, which means I really have been working—thinking, planning, pondering—if not actually writing. I realized I had lots of crying in my book—in lots of solitary scenes, and my consultant helped me realize that this was not the best approach for a general audience. The types of books most people want to read are built around action, not a person sitting and thinking (and crying).
As I thought about why my first draft was sopping wet, I realized I wrote it for myself, and perhaps for the handful of friends and family members who read it last fall. Writing all those solitary crying scenes was a way for me to acknowledge how alone I felt in my pain. Having several loved ones read that manuscript allowed me to share that part of myself—and it felt good. Now I feel vindicated: that part of myself has not been shoved into a closet. However, that part of me (though present in the book) will not be the book’s focus.
What I am working on now is describing more of my healing, less of my hurting. To set the stage for why I became so broken (as requested by my consultant), I had to write over 100 new pages for the book’s beginning, just so readers could understand what led to my suicide attempt, eating disorder, sudden move to Texas, and shotgun wedding. But I am trying not to draw out the personal anguish after that (plenty of other memoirs excel in that area). As suggested, I am trying to show myself in contact with others—how I began to relate in more healthy ways to my family, and how I eventually extended my healing insights to others: my high school students, and then women in my church.
The new theme of the book, and maybe the new title, is “breaking silence.” I want to encourage readers who have suffered not to stuff their pain, but to get it out and deal with it—in the proper venues, of course. I believe I could have healed much faster had I not learned to hide my issues from friends, close family, and church family. What good are friends and family if we can’t tell them what’s going on? What good is religion and faith if we can’t get healing for our brokenness at church, and/or among our Christian friends? With my revised memoir, I hope to paint a picture of how honesty with ourselves, with God, and with certain loved ones is the right thing, the healthy thing, and the healing thing to do. Readers can take my advice or leave it, but for my book and my own health, I’ve learned honesty is a must.