#amwriting: Finding More In the Story

#amwriting, as the Twitter tag labels the act of creating story from a blank page. Yesterday, nearly eleven weeks after I began this deep revision of my memoir, Bless the Birds, I wrote an entirely new ending for the book. One that fittingly circles around to the place where the story begins.

Which is not the beginning of the story as I originally imagined it, before the aha! moment that sent me into re-envisioning, a transformative journey that took the narrative (and me) to places I hadn’t known we needed to or even could go.

New moon near the beginning of this revision New moon near the beginning of this revision

That re-envisioning grew out of comments by both my agent and my memoir-buddy, writer and teacher Page Lambert, as well as something I “saw” as I was reading and evaluating memoirs for a national award. All coalesced into a new understanding of what this memoir is truly about and told me I would be taking another, more intense look at a story I thought I had already finished.

It wasn’t simple. “Revision,” literally seeing anew, implies shifting one’s perspective. Re-evaluating, looking beyond, before, below and around, what you thought you saw. Shaking up the pieces like a kaleidoscope and watching to see what pattern appears as they fall into place.

It’s hard to let go of an existing narrative, to see it anew. As I listened to the story with the inner ear of my intuition, I “heard” places that hinted at more, at truths I needed to pull out into the light, examine and decide how to show and tell.

I’ve said that writing memoir is like peeling off your skin with a dull knife. Diving back into this particular story to look at how Richard, my late husband and I became the people who could walk our final journey together with grace and love was at least as intense as the living it was.

Once I got going though, I wrote every day. I wrote when I was sick, I wrote when I was exhausted. I wrote through the weeks, the phases of the moon, ignoring other writing I needed to do, leaving email to accumulate, even forgetting appointments and deadlines. I couldn’t not write. The story compelled me in and on.

Half moon near the middle of the revision Half moon near the middle of the revision

Why do it at all? Why go through this grueling re-writing of a story that was already perfectly good?

Because “good” isn’t enough. I want this story to reach as far as it can, sing as loud as it can, touch as many hearts as it can. I want it to change how we see life and death, and love. How we understand our place in the dance of existence on this shimmering blue planet.

Maybe I’m asking for too much. But I know this: If I don’t try, I won’t ever find out whether this story has more to give. And after these eleven weeks, I can tell you that I found more in a “perfectly good” story than I knew was there, and at the same time, discovered more in myself than I had seen. That’s powerful.

Another writing friend, the best-selling mystery author Susan Witting Albert reminded of something I had said about that “why” in an earlier book. I dug out the passage she quoted and was surprised. (I wrote that?)

Stories nurture our connection to place and each other. They show us where we’ve been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet. … No one story can give us the whole picture. We need every voice to speak its version of truth from the silence. We need every story to guide our lives.
–Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home

Stories matter. Not just mine. Yours too. Every story.

Almost-full moon rising this evening Almost-full moon rising this evening