Writing again


It's not done yet? Uncle asks. He is the first person to ask me this, what has since become the most asked question about my memoir.

In my head, I think, What the hell kind of question is that? Do you know how hard it is to write a book? Have you ever tried it? Have you done it while a full-time film student? Nonsense.

All I say is no, biting my tongue. My face blushes red, embarrassed about not being more prepared, more polished, of not having arrived yet.

I am 32 now, fairly well-adjusted, not battling any addictions or disorders. I have all my teeth, fingers, and toes. I do not have a problem concentrating or disciplining myself to write. And I am a fairly good writer at that, strong sense of grammar, usage and style. I can also spell fairly well without using spell check. I do not believe in writers' block, so that has nothing to do with why I'm not done. I simply have not had the time. I have been trying to find work since I finished classes, worrying about how to pay the bills, where I will live, whether the path I have chosen, if unsuccessful, is one of poverty and unemployment. I have a hard time doing all that while inhabiting the mental space of creation.

Then there is the anxiety of trying to get your first book published or feature film made, or trying to do both at the same time. Introducing myself as a writer/director, shaking hands, my body vibrating with anticipation, thinking: Will they want to read my manuscript? Watch my film? Make a deal? Fund my dream? Seeing the glazed over look in the other person's eyes, the slight step backward. The feeling of rejection when they walk away, or the hope when they hand you a business card, and delayed rejection when they don't reply your e-mail. Not to mention the handful of essays you tried selling to friends and family that only five people bought, and all the e-mails to your writing mentors that went unreplied.

And the thought, What if nobody wants to hear my story? This, above all else, may be the greatest obstacle to finishing a book. That and the fear of people actually liking my book and buying it--not family or friends, of course, they want it free--so that I become successful at what it is I set out to do.

When I finally do arrive, I will note that it was not because someone held my hand or told me how much they believed in me or even read the essay I sent them for feedback. It will be because, even in the absence of all these things, I wrote anyway. That is all that makes me a writer.

I finally pitched Elizabeth's Daughter at a publisher speed dating event at the Ake Festival. The first pitch, to a publisher, was fairly good. The second, to a fiction agent, was met with every objection: Why are you writing a memoir in the first person? Why are you mixing poetry and prose? It sounds like it might be disjointed. Publishers don't want to talk about photos, it brings the costs up. Have you looked at some of the really successful memoirs on the market now? (read: Care to copy those?)

When I left the event, I thought, I suck at dating, talk of speed-dating, or publisher speed-dating at that. I felt awful, so I turned out the lights, climbed in bed and buried my head under the covers. Two hours later, I emerged for a spoken word event marking the end of the festival. When the time came for open mic, I shared two poems from the memoir. I figured that it might be the last time anybody heard about the project, so I went for it. Halfway through I became overwhelmed, choking up. I had never shared those poems before, and having labored so long over the words, I felt exposed and vulnerable.

I was too sensitive.

Even the agent's constructive criticism had curdled into discouragement. Maybe it wasn't so bad, I thought. Maybe she actually helped me.

The best advice she had given me was: Figure out what you want to get out of this project and stay true to that. If you're committed to your vision, stick with it and don't compromise.

Imagine my surprise when so many people thanked me for sharing my memoir. Someone wanted to hear it after all.

I have been thinking a lot lately about why I'm not more successful. I worry too much about getting eight hours of sleep at night, about litter, sex trafficking, and peace of mind. I watch a lot of syndicated television without my thinking cap on. I read too many Facebook news feeds and worry about nonsense things like getting fat, old, and dying alone. I suppose that's the main reason of all: I do not write because of love. It is my prerogative, a rebellion against an embarrassment of wits. I will not write if I cannot also love. Paradoxically, I sometimes worry about being so loved, so full, that I cannot write at all.

I would like to be more successful. As wary as I am about it, I no longer wish to labor in solitude over my words.  I want to share them: that's why I write. And I'm hoping this moment now is a transition from here to there. --AL.

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