I believe we all have at least one book in us. Maybe the time has come to write it? You certainly have plenty of time on your hands right now as you try to stay home and stay safe.
You could write a memoir (as I hope to do) or maybe a novel. Maybe both. The difference? A novel can be whatever you want it to be while a memoir is that gut-wrenching effort to tell your own story – truthfully – because a memoir is worthless unless you write honestly. Many people shy away from doing it. After all, it takes guts to lay it out there for all to see.
l, for instance, have been trying to write my memoir for more than five years now. What to tell? What to leave out? Where to start? Why put myself through this torture at all? On and on and on it goes. I beat myself up with the questions instead of just biting the bullet and getting started. Get started. Start somewhere, anywhere.
A memoir is your reality – from your point of view, from what you have seen, thought, experienced and remember – from what you have lived through.
Let me suggest what I have been doing for a while now. It’s this simple. Keep notepads and pens all over the place – every room in the house, in the garage, even in the car, definitely in the tote slung over your shoulder as you wait in a long line somewhere. When a thought, an idea, an important event comes to mind, jot it down. Even if it isn’t a complete sentence, it might be a title for the book you may write. Could be anything. Sitting at my computer, I start an e-mail and realize I almost have a chapter for my memoir. I keep a box near that computer and toss these bits and pieces of a book into the box. Eventually, I will have a book. Even I am getting there.
You don’t have to start your memoir with “Day 1” of your life, i.e. “l was born on a sunny day in ...” Start anywhere. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, dates – just pour it out onto the page. All of that can come later. You can hire some poor soul to cobble it all together later for you, but only you can write it. Write like you talk. Don’t try to be anyone else. There is no one else exactly like you. It is your voice you want on the pages. Just get it all on paper.
Remember to ‘flesh’ out what you are writing. Was it a sunny day when you met your significant other. Were you anxious, curious, apprehensive, dazzled by the smile of ‘the one’ the moment you met him? What people and events shaped who you are? What you have done with your life? Talk about the path not taken. What might you have done differently in different circumstances? What formed decisions? Get in touch (again) with your emotions at that moment in time. It will all come back. What was gojng on in this life you are writing about? What was swirling around you?
What was life like? What did things cost – groceries, fuel, a newspaper, a house, a car? Talk about your first job. What did it pay? What expressions did people use? For instance, when I was a young teenager in too-tight Bermuda shorts, my foster father used to say, “If you could squeeze a dime into your back pocket, I would be able to tell if it was heads or tails from 5 feet away! Go change!” Funny, right? Evocative of those teenage years. What expressions did your parents use so often that, when they started the sentence, you could finish it for them? Do you catch yourself using some of these expressions with your own children all these years later? Do they, too, with their children?
Even if you never finish writing your memoir, you will come to know and understand yourself better than you ever have before. You could not have a better teacher, a more adept “historian” of yourself than yourself.
You may never publish your book. Some truths are better left for another time, too painful to examine until the time is right – if ever. Some day your grown children or grandchildren may come upon the pages you did write – and treasure them more than you would ever imagine. l, for one, wish I had had this conversation with my parents and my immigrant grandparents.
J.L. “Sam” Heede is a resident of Spring Lake. Columns and guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.