Over the past few months, several people have asked me if I am going to write a book about my patient experience. Although my natural, self-effacing reaction is to think that I am the most boring person in the world, when I take a step back and assess the last eight years of my life, I realize that I have been through a great deal physically and emotionally. There is a story in there worth telling, even if it only resonates with a niche audience.
The truth is, I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I never thought I’d write a memoir. I’ve always had fictional stories running through my mind, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered writing the most truthful story I know – my own. I have been hesitant to get started, because the task seems so, enormous. Writing a book is an endeavor not to be taken lightly. It will be time-consuming, and will require a healthy dose of patience mixed with frustration, as I try to properly convey complex feelings. It will take me back to times that I’d rather forget, and experiences that still send a shiver down my spine.
I have been hesitant to get started, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it, no question. Recently, however, I got the final nudge I needed to decide that yes, this is something that I am going to do, no matter what it takes.
The final straw was a memoir I read this past week, When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It is the story of a 36-year old neurosurgeon coming to terms with a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer, after spending a career at the intersection of life and death. The book made a tremendous impact on me, and judging by its success (25 weeks and counting on the New York Times Best Seller’s list), it has made an impact on many others as well.
The way he told his story – honest, raw, vulnerable – left an impression. That’s the power of storytelling. Although my disease is not life-threatening (thank God), When Breath Becomes Air forced me to think about my story – what I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it.
So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write a book. It’s an exciting thought but also one that I will need to repeat over and over again to keep myself on track.
That’s the caveat – I am not always the best at following through on things. It’s a sad truth that annoys me every day, but is part of my track record. For example, I remember when I started this blog I was adamant that I would post every few days. Didn’t happen. I told my entire business school class at orientation about the screenplay I was writing. Never finished it (or to put a more positive spin on it, I am waiting for it to write itself). Writing a book is a process; a long, arduous process. I can easily see myself getting discouraged and abandoning it halfway through. I hope that’s not the case, but it can’t be discounted.
If I finish, sorry, when I finish, will it be a Best Seller? Although many people are motivated to write a memoir for this reason, let’s face it, it’s highly doubtful. Success, though, should never be about books sold, especially when you are writing your own story. Instead, a true barometer of success should be in the number of lives positively impacted. I don’t pretend to have the most inspirational story in the world – that’s something I’ve always said – but judging by the reaction to my writing and my public speaking, I have at least figured out how to tell it in a compelling way. My experience is going to resonate deeply with some, and it might just be a good, casual read for others. Some will read a few pages and abandon. I’m ok with that.
But let’s not get too carried away daydreaming at the moment. I can’t start dreaming about who will read my book if I don’t write it. I have to break it down into manageable pieces, into intermediate steps. How will I finish the story? Should I self-publish or hire a literary agent? Those are questions for another day. My first goal, right now, is to get my story – the chronological bare bones of my story – onto the computer. Then I can expand on some events and cut out others. Before I know it, a story with a coherent theme and structure will begin to take shape.