Hello, dear readers. My friend Allison Vesterfelt are guest-post swapping today! Ally just turned in the manuscript for her memoir, “Packing Light,” so her post for you is about the process of writing through her story. Are any of you working on memoirs or writing a book, or just thinking about how to live a better story? Share your thoughts with us, and be sure to check out my post for Ally’s blog, “‘Comfort and Joy’ in a Season of Grief.”
Writing My First Book: Packing Light, A Guide To Living Life with Less Baggage
From the time the idea first came to me, to the time Packing Light is published in September, 2013, at least three years will have passed.
It’s been a long time coming.
The wait has been long and the learning curve has been steep, and like all those who have scaled steep learning curves, I bear the scars of climbing to the top, and then tumbling tired down the other side. For first-time writers who hope that what’s in their heart will someday be on paper, I thought I’d share a little bit about my experience.
Living your story.
Before you can ever write your story, you have to live your story. For me this meant going on a road trip where I visited all 50 states (48 by car, 2 by airplane). For you it will be something different.
Living your story gives it the meat you need to tell it well. You can’t skip this part.
Before I left home on my trip, I thought I knew what I was going to write about. I already had the title in mind, and I figured the people I met along the way, and the experiences I had, were just adding icing to the already delicious cake. But I was wrong.
I didn’t even know what “Packing Light” meant before I left home.
I had no idea how hard it was, or how important.
My road trip didn’t alter the direction of my book, it was the direction of my book. You can’t write something before you live it. Don’t ever forget that you are the walking, breathing, living manifestation of your message.
As if the logistics of executing a 50-state road trip weren’t complicated enough, coming home to write the manuscript was worse. I had the hardest time choosing what stories to include, and what to leave out.
I would sit at my computer screen, paralyzed, terrified that — after all this — I would never write my book.
These were some of the most depressing days of my journey because, after all that happened, sometimes it felt like I had nothing to say.
How could I have nothing to say?
But what I found was that, as I let the experiences and ideas sit and simmer together in the reality of everyday life, the most important stuff started to float to the surface.
Sometimes waiting, as difficult as it is, is our best friend.
Waiting for a publisher.
There was also this inclination I had to wait for a publisher to pick up my proposal before I would begin writing. I even had several people urge me in this direction. “You don’t want to start writing the manuscript until a publisher approves your project,” they would say.
I think they were trying to protect me from unnecessary extra work.
But in retrospect, I can see how I wasn’t waiting for a publisher to approve my project, I was waiting for a publisher to approve me, as a writer. It was like I needed someone else to affirm that I was going in the right direction.
Do you need affirmation to get started? Here let me give it to you.
You have a good idea.
No one else has it. If you don’t write it. Who will?
For me, writing involves this strange balance of routine and spontaneity. Since I work from home, my schedule changes everyday, so I just decided that I was going to write for two hours, everyday, first thing in the morning.
I would wake up at 5:00am, before there were any other distractions, and write.
I set my timer for an hour at a time.
I promised myself I wouldn’t get up until the timer went off.
Some mornings I wrote 200 words, some I wrote 3000, and some I spent most of my time just staring at my computer screen.
Healing comes simultaneous to writing, if we let it.
As I began to write the manuscript, I started to see things that happened on the road trip in a brand new way. It was like I was watching someone else live through what I experienced.
I had a zoomed-out, 180-degree perspective.
I didn’t have to have all the answers before I started writing, or know what was important to include or leave out, I just had write. I just had to start putting words on paper.
And, as I wrote, healing started to come.
Sometimes we try to force healing before we write, and our words come across stilted and dishonest. Or, instead of writing healing words, we just write mean words about people who are different than us.
But good writing changes us as much as it changes our reader.
Put your back in to it.
Don’t think you’ll walk away unscathed from writing a book. Writing takes hard work, just like anything worth doing. Be prepared to bear the emotional and physical scars of it.
During the process of writing, I developed a back injury.
I know it sounds stupid. Who injures themselves while writing? But I guess it must have been from the hunched over position where I found myself every morning, frantically trying to get my thoughts on paper.
To me the injury is more symbolic than anything. If you want to do something important, you’re going to have to put your back into it.
What about you? What’s the most important thing you’ve written? Will you share your experience?
Allison is a blogger, writer and thinker who is becoming brave enough to live and tell the truth. She’s passionate about helping people to tell, hear and understand stories that inspire, uplift, encourage, and even convict by pointing to the truth of Jesus. She writes a column, “Packing Light” for Prodigal Magazine, which she and her husband Darrell own and manage. The Vesterfelts live in Minneapolis, MN.