For the past few weeks I have been restructuring my memoir. I have been focusing on a major theme trying to add the most related memories/stories and remove unrelated threads. It has been challenging but also liberating. Challenging enough that I was not able to write about it on my blog but liberating enough to fill my heart with hope for this book and even subsequent books.
I have written over 140,000 words so far and by the time I finish the draft, based on the additions required by the new structure, I will have well over 150,000 words. This is long and I have learned a memoir usually should be around 80,000 words to offer a memorable story, unless I lived Nelson Mandela’s life, but I didn’t have the privilege of being him. This means I need to focus on my theme and remove half of the words.
This all came up to answer only one question asked by an excellent writing coach, L. S. Lakin, who did a thorough critique on first 50 pages of my draft. I chewed on my nails until I received her critiques and then her first email took my breath away leaving me in despair, feeling I wrote junk. Don’t take it wrong. She was not being negative. She was asking difficult questions that I needed to answer and despite all the confidence I had about knowing what I was writing, I found out I was not clear enough. I was not able to satisfy her question with a proper answer.
This is exactly what she wrote to me: “My main concern, as is the case with all memoirs, is why you wrote this, for whom, and what benefit they would get out of this.”
Emails went back and forth between us. She was helping me get through my fear and come up with a good answer. We eventually came up with a theme that we agreed was a good focus for my story. When the email shower was over, I began to see the clouds were going away and the sun was shining on my memoir again, this time even brighter.
We came up with one major theme. I could see how that theme and the focus is going to help me cut the extra volume out of my story to give it a flow and to avoid writing a dull and confusing story.
Having an experienced coach is always a great help!
I have been continuously reading as well. Reading books like 1984 and Giovanny’s Room helped me to figure out the ambivalent feelings we Persians have experienced under the authoritative culture and oppressive government. What George Orwell called “doublethink” is the undercurrent of my story too. Especially after the Islamic government took over the power in 1979, what we experienced in everyday life forced us to accept the mutually exclusive concepts simultaneously. While a lot of us Persians didn’t believe in wearing the head scarf, we had to be careful to wear it properly to avoid being punished by the government. While we believed in freedom of speech, we censored ourselves carefully to avoid punishment as extreme as execution. While we tried to remember some good old days, we were forced to study history books representing a very different picture of the past, and then work hard to obtain an A grade on the reports we wrote. And no matter how much we resisted, fear of punishment was a constant shadow following us. Gradually, it even became part of the culture.
To focus on a clear major theme, I realized I need to show all these, but I don’t need to go through all the different layers of my life, I only need to focus on the related stories.
These were not the only outcomes of her help. It also enabled me to take a different approach or maybe a deeper approach to understand the themes of other books better. Searching and reading the book analysis available on the web and in libraries has become my everyday fun for the past few weeks. Considering I have never had any official training in English literature, I felt clueless every time I read Spark notes, Shmoop, or Cliffsnotes analysis. I understand them now and it feels great!
I was so focused on these thoughts and subjects that every time I thought of my deserted blog, I quickly told myself I’ll do it later, I don’t know what to write now and I let it go. I knew I was swimming a little deeper in the ocean of literature and writing. I have been carefully adjusting my swimming skills in that depth. And, here I am explaining what was going on within the past few weeks. It was a breakthrough. I feel more confident and more motivated to finish this book and even to start other stories.
Writing creates such strong passion in me that I think if only I was a poet, I could express it through the density of a poem.
Editing Credit: Mike Curtis
Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com