A Sense of Urgency

I reached a personal goal the other day! I finished writing the end of Part One of my memoir. (It will be a two-part book).

Only downside? My goal was to get this far by September….2018. Oops.

I am on schedule, give or take a year. Ok, ok, so it happened a little slower than I had hoped, but I had a perfectly good reason for falling off. I was busy! Busy with my job, attending conferences, going to doctor’s appointments, buying a new wheelchair, fighting insurance, getting my septum un-deviated. Although mostly it was the job. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy what I am doing so I have no complaints there. It’s just that at the end of the day, I am usually too fried to want to write.

In the last few months, I have maximized my down time on weekends to catch up on writing. This has worked out much better than trying to write at night during the week. I am more productive writing in two days than I would have been if I forced myself to write a few hundred words each day.

Continue reading “A Sense of Urgency”

Book Progress: 115 Pages

I am finished with the first draft of my memoir!

It checks out at 115 pages, single-spaced, give or take a few placeholders and incoherent ramblings.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 11.29.07 PM.png

This is a big deal for me. I’ve attempted to write my story many times, always failing. This time, though, is different. I am motivated, and it just feels like the right time. My transition into a wheelchair is nearly complete. It is a natural bookend to my journey.

The key to writing a book, I’ve found through trial and error, is to take a seemingly insurmountable project and break it down into manageable pieces. My immediate goal was to write out, chronologically, all the important events that have taken place in my life between 2008 and the present day. I have accomplished that. The next step is to go through what I’ve written again, and start to turn it into a story. Then in subsequent steps, I’ll add more detail, quotations, and finally, give it one final run-through.

This next step, I believe, will be the most difficult. Continue reading “Book Progress: 115 Pages”

Memoir Progress: 50 Pages!

After writing a blog post about how I was going to write a book, I knew I would have to keep some level of accountability, otherwise it would be a public, unfulfilled promise.

It took me a few weeks to get the ball rolling, but I am happy to say that I am at the 50-page mark of my memoir. I am starting my story around when the symptoms began, in 2008. 50 pages in, and I am just about at 2012. The first draft will easily be over 100 pages, and that’s before I go back and add in more detail.

The process of writing has been fun, but it has not been easy to relive some of my darker moments. I am currently at the time period (2009-12) when I was not handling my symptoms very well. I have been digging up old emails and notes in order to jog my memory, bringing back events and situations that I’d rather forget. However, if not for these moments, it would not be a book worth reading! I need to share the bad in addition to the good. In order to understand where I am today, it is important to convey to readers where I’ve been on the road to acceptance.

It has been a surreal experience. I am amazed by how quickly my body deteriorated, and how unprepared I was to handle my circumstances when they happened. Now, I have the luxury of hindsight and perspective, but at the time, it was extremely difficult.

All I can say is, I have grown so much in nine years. I wish I could go back and let my younger self know I’d be ok.

The Whole Story

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.

Baby steps.