I am in the final month of the final section of the final chapter of the first full draft of a memoir. By August, I will have been working on the book for a year, longer really, as I’ve been writing pieces and parts and thinking about it since the late 1990s.
The process has felt at times like floodgate-opening relief and, at others, like trying to turn on a faucet hose that has been rusted solid. There have been glorious days where I could have been outside on a walk or at the garden or out with friends but instead I was inside on my behind on my office couch with my MacBook Pro in my lap wondering, especially on less productive days, why I was devoting myself to a project with no definitive paycheck or deadline that frequently brings pain, tears and the conjuring of difficult memories.
Yet, what finally got me to write, and keeps me writing, were the many more good reasons to do it, the ones outweighing the equally strong desire not to bother.
Among these were:
To make the story stop stalking me. To address it head on, to understand what happened. To listen to myself, in my own words. To heal.
To hone my craft. To capture a story, as beautifully and truthfully as I could, creating a long-form work that grabs and holds a reader’s attention, and hopefully, heart.
To witness myself writing it. To connect more deeply with my students and writer-colleagues who are writing memoir. So that I understand the process and can teach it better.
But as I am nearing the end of this first draft, facing a second and possibly third, I have been surprised to recognize more overarching reasons beyond little-old me.
I knew it was there, but now I have felt it and am certain of the energy-moving potency in identifying pieces of a life. Especially the broken ones. What it feels like to put them back together to reconfigure, shape them into art and make meaning from it. How it reveals new things about one’s life and one’s self.
Perhaps even more importantly, by addressing this personal business through art by reframing, understanding or making peace with it, we get the feeling of having turned something good from something not-so-good. Maybe it’s just that we made something out of what feels like nothing (but we all know it’s not nothing). We get to feel good, even just briefly, for having picked up our broken pieces and rearranged them. Like clearing out and organizing a drawer or closet so that it can be used more artfully, we can move a little more to the right or the left because there’s more room. Room and space to fill, repair, create or contribute something else. Which can bring us a sense of renewed or confirmed purpose and maybe even the chance to do some healing in the world.
The writing has, until recently, been going well. But lately I’ve had more not-so-good writing days, made all of the more poignant because I can see the end. It’s so close! Just a few days ago, for example, I realized that part of my ending would do a better job of inviting a reader into my story as the Prologue which then sent me into a long, arduous spell of rewriting. I really understand why some of my writing students stop, or take yearlong breaks, so far in. I see the temptation. The work can be hard and unrelenting.
But just as married people renew their vows, and businesses revisit their mission statement, I think we need to reaffirm our whys. To remember what we are doing it for. Maybe even to say it differently to match where we are now or possibly discover something new about why we are doing – or should continue to do – what we do.
In June, I gave myself a birthday present. A photography class. It’s so joyful to learn something new and so restorative for me to be away from words! I’ve learned that to highlight the subject you want and blur out the background – like the photograph above – you need to let in more light by way of a bigger aperture (the F stops), but the speed of the shutter needs to slow down (1/60 is the magic setting for no hand shaking). A good shot comes from a combination of how wide our eyes are open and the pace of a blink.
More light. And slowing down.
Reminders of what we need to focus on the things we want and let the rest fade away.
Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2017.
14 thoughts on “More Light. Less Speed.”
Thank you. I needed this encouragement after a brutal critique session and my own insecurities of what I’m doing with this memoir. I appreciate your sharing. By the way, the link with your name isn’t working.
I’m so glad to hear that this feels encouraging, Nancy. The feedback and rewriting can indeed be brutal. But worth hearing and thinking about so that we have a sense of how our words are being heard. Thank you for reaching out. Sending fortitude and strength to help with the remainder of your writing.
RE: the link. I just checked the link at the very bottom and it seems to work. The byline version does not, however. Thanks for letting me know.
This came at such an opportune moment for me, and thank you. I have been stalling and wallowing in negativity for many months, unable to rekindle belief in a rewrite of my novel and distracted by health issues and family crises. Not without difficulty, I have treated myself to 4 days alone in an 18th century hotel in the town where my main character once lived and am sitting at the desk trying to get started. You have given me courage!
Oh how wonderful, Diana! You are already reigniting your work by being at the hotel so the rest is just putting fingertips to keys. Let this be the thing that lets your character come alive on the page. Thank you for writing!
“More light. Less speed.” A lovely mantra. A profound mantra, really. I’m posting it on my PC now. Thanks, Ellen!
Delighted that you think so, Tom! Thank you for reaching out.
Ellen, this post so beautifully put in to words the inner life experience of not only a writer but a person full of heart- willing to be seen and vulnerable. Looking forward to reading your memoir.
Oh Gail. My gratitude for that. And for you. Thank you for your good counsel and support along this process.
Ellen, Beautiful writing and such an interesting insight into the world of writing.
Thank you, Kirsten.
As usual Ellen, you say simply what are enormous feelings that we can all relate to. I love the image of cleaning out the drawer and making more space. Best of luck in your endeavor. I can’t wait to read your memoir. Wish we lived closer but blessed to have you as a friend along the way.
Thank you for writing to say so, Adrienne!
A timely essay, Ellen – but then, more light, less speed is ALWAYS timely for me! Your reflections about “finishing” your memoir resonate for me, too. I recognized the feelings you described from my own experience as I neared the end of my first full draft of my memoir, and then again when it was really “finished” and in the hands of my editor. “Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance” will be released Sept. 12, and I anticipate another wave of feelings.
May I repost your blog on my own blog? irisgraville.com
Many thanks for your writing and your consideration.
Congratulations on completing your memoir, Iris! An accomplishment unto itself, let alone finding an editor and a publisher, too. Wonderful!
I’d appreciate it you could provide a link to EBB & Flow, but other than that, I’d be delighted to have you post the blog on your blog. Many thanks for writing, too!