Your Dull Suburban Heart Writing Memoir

There’s a way of expressing language that makes me want to slurp it up like melted ice cream, or a Killer Coconut Cocktail. For example, the following was taken from a speech Charlotte Wood made to an Emerging Writers’ Festival in New South Wales:

Allow your writing to expose your shameful ordinariness, your dull suburban heart, your fear, your humanity. Write truthfully into your frailties not away from them.

Your shameful ordinariness. Your dull suburban heart.

That’s what I mean. Using words we all know, Charlotte puts together phrases that make me want to read everything she’s ever written, want to feast on it hoping somehow it will nourish the same brilliance in me.

When I started the memoir, I didn’t know about writing truthfully into my frailties. But I did find myself stopping often in mid-sentence to ask, “Was that how it happened? Or is that just the story I’ve always told myself?”

I wrote the initial draft in first person present, reliving everything as though I was once again in that moment. It was tough. Really tough. The narrative was raw because my life was raw. I rehashed events taking no notice of the lessons they were meant to teach. But I finished it without slitting my wrists.

And sent it off to agents.

One answered. She said two things, 1) at 160,000 words it was too long, and 2) I hadn’t resolved the issues. She suggested slimming it to 80,000 words, an acceptable count for first time authors.

Okay, she wanted me to chop it in half. Sure, I could do that. And I did. But the second time through I told the story in third person past. It was me, older, wiser, pondering my younger self. As I wrote, it was obvious that of course I hadn’t resolved the issues; I hadn’t even recognized them. That’s when I started to question. Perhaps I hadn’t been the ravaged heroine I’d imagined. Perhaps I’d had more culpability in my tragedies than I’d been willing to admit. Victim energy leaked through the narrative and made me nauseous. Oooo. Ouch! Unacceptable.

That rewrite took the better part of a year. An entirely different story emerged, a truer one, and the word count was just a hair over 80,000.

I sent it off to agents.

One answered. She said, 1) the current market prefers to have memoir told in first person. There was no number two. As soon as I read it, I knew she was right. A compelling gut feeling told me that I’d needed that perspective for myself. But for the reader, the third person past point of view left too much distance between the main character and the action.

I’m currently in the third rewrite and once again it’s narrated in first person. But it’s coming from a much different place now. I won’t be well liked but I’ll be real. I won’t be a victim but readers will sympathize once they get over my serial stupidity. And the issues? Are they ever truly resolved? At least it will be clear that I’ve learned from my mistakes.

More than any therapist ever could, this labor of self-love, this monumental undertaking that has already spanned four years of my life, has helped me own my demons. Nobody really cares about Ms. Perfect. It’s the shadow that makes us interesting. In writing and rewriting life’s journey from three different perspectives, I’ve become honest about who I was and fiercely grateful for who I’ve become.

I’m about to send it off to agents…again!

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. barbparcellswritingalife
    Jul 21, 2018 @ 22:53:26

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head! Life’s problems are never completely solved, they’re managed. If they were all solved, where would the challenge, the growth and the wisdom gained be? This blog post is a treat to read for everyone, but especially for your fellow writers who feel every word as if it were our own!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 22, 2018 @ 07:32:45

      Thank you for your comments, Barb. As I’ve continued to write, observe, and explore the neverending process of growth and change, I see that the only ‘finish line’ is when we pass from this lifetime into whatever awaits. I’m grateful that there is always a new lesson, a new ah-ha moment when revelation strikes and I can laugh once more at my ‘dull suburban heart!’

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  2. smartalextravels
    Jul 21, 2018 @ 23:23:57

    I expect you’ll be featured at the 2019 URWF. You have such a good story to share. Looking forward to the third rewrite!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Nanci Froemming
    Jul 21, 2018 @ 23:55:01

    What a journey the writing of your memoir has been. Arduous, but insightful. What a gift you’ve given yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 22, 2018 @ 07:39:11

      Arduous is a great word and absolutely the perfect descriptor for the task. When I retired I gave myself the gift of time. I wanted nothing more than to spend hours, days, years, writing – something I’d denied myself for the more pressing demands of earning a living! So every day when I put my fingers to the keyboard a thrill shivers through my body. I love writing, memoir, fiction, articles, poetry – all of it! And I feel beyond blessed to have a life that allows that. Can’t wait to see you here in August!!!

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  4. wedgroup, Nellie
    Jul 22, 2018 @ 00:29:25

    My first thought was that you have now addressed it from the four directions. I look forward to reading your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. dibrandt030
    Jul 22, 2018 @ 05:30:48

    Good luck with that. I can wait to get my hands on a copy as I do so love the honest depth of your writing, the words and phrases you use to pull me into your Balinese soul and take me straight over to Ubud.As someone who has tried to write and illustrate my story just for my family, I can fully appreciate both what you hav to say, and how you are saying it.
    I hope the publisher loves it. DB

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 22, 2018 @ 07:47:38

      Yes! My hope is that sometime in the not-too-distant-future there will be a copy for you to get your hands on! And kudos to you for writing AND illustrating your story for your family. Never say ‘just for your family.’ I have a copy of my grandmother’s story. It is one of my most prized possessions. I didn’t brought hardly any physical possessions from my previous life in the US to Bali with me. But I brought that. You have done your family a great service by recording that piece of history that nobody else experienced in the way that you did. Thank you for commenting and sharing that with me!

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  6. stevecastley
    Jul 22, 2018 @ 08:14:34

    I’ve been lucky enough to read all three versions. Your writing is strong and powerful. I hope you get grabbed up this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 22, 2018 @ 08:19:44

      A huge thanks to you, Steve, and all the faithfuls in the Ubud Writers Group who have critiqued, edited, critiqued, edited, and now are doing it all again! I have grown as a writer because of all the encouragement and moral support. I can’t thank you enough.

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  7. Still the Lucky Few
    Jul 22, 2018 @ 22:13:33

    What resilience! A third rewrite would have me dumping the entire project. (But that’s why you are publishing a book, and I’m not!) Good luck…please keep us posted!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 23, 2018 @ 17:42:57

      There comes a point when there’s so much invested already that you simply have to keep going and see it through to the finish! Had I known when I started what was ahead – let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t!

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  8. Lucy
    Aug 02, 2018 @ 16:41:09

    What a journey… the living it and then the reliving it in order to work through it. How many people look so closely at their lives to date? And to think that you can write it down and think you’ve dealt with all the past issues in the process. But there is more… always more. Well done getting through such an intense, and I’m sure rewarding, journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Aug 02, 2018 @ 17:43:34

      It truly has been a fascinating exercise. The hardest part was trying to decide what 50% I was going to cut out to make it a reasonable length! I looked at it and thought, “This is my life! I’m really not willing to part with any of it!” But when I stepped back and looked at it as story, the task became straightforward – chuck the dull bits! About 50% wouldn’t have been interesting to anyone but me.

      Liked by 1 person

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