It's school holidays so I've been knuckling down on writing my memoir and it's really all coming together. I feel like I've got a handle on the structure and the narrative arc, it's just a matter of pushing through. I've now realised that memoir writing is a special process and one that can't be forced. Sometimes the tide is in and it all flows, and sometimes the tide is out and the emotional commitment is just too much.
I wrote the first 28,000 words last year and sent them off to Alice Pung (who agreed to be my mentor thanks to Arts Victoria funding) and at that time I felt I was really in the zone. My book was coming together and I could see it, but the minute I sent off the first third, I just had to stop.
I needed a pause not just because of the emotional drain, but the creative toll. It's a special kind of writing to pull together your memories and recollections into a narrative arc. It means compressing timelines, smoothing out rough edges, deciding what has to stay in and what goes. It sometimes begins to feel like a creative desert because the story can only be told in a certain way, it is the truth after all. While I do have to employ fictional techniques to bring the story to life and make it flow, there is only so much deviation that can happen. At the end of the day everything in the book is the truth, just when and how it happened might have been tweaked.
Having spent nearly two weeks on it I've nearly got the second third completed, but tonight I had this sudden fear sweep over me. Now that I have selected, crafted, and edited my memories, I feel like I might have lost them. While I've been writing this memoir for 18 years in different ways and forms and it is the story I am compelled to write, now it feels like my memories feel so distant. As if they happened to someone else and not to me. And while this is what I wanted (I got to the point where everything I wrote was some version or another of my memoir) it also scares me. Because my memories are me. They are the movie track unfurling in my head all the time and now I don't know if they will ever be there in that perfect technicolour again. By writing them down they are fading, losing their colour.
While I know that this is part of the process of letting go, and giving my brain space for new ideas, and new memories, I also feel really sad. I feel like I need to write this book to honour my mother and the hardship she endured, but I also feel like I am losing a part of me in the process. I spent all this time thinking about what I will gain by finishing this book, I didn't think about what I would lose.
While this memoir was still an idea I attended a workshop with Kate Holden and she encouraged participants not to rush with publishing their book. She said that each stage felt like a different version of her existed: the her during writing, editing, and then publication. I'm starting to get a glimmer of what she spoke about.
I am an author, reader and teacher.
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