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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Let's Write a Book

Let’s Write a Book
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
–Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher

I’m asking you to hold me accountable for a thousand-mile journey. It’s a big ask, I know. But I work better when others are watching, especially when I’ve clued them in on the goal. Maybe it’s the old TV reporter in me. Maybe it’s the human in me. We’re more likely to complete a task when other people - our co-workers, clients, friends or neighbors, are aware, or better yet, reliant, on the fact we’ll do our job.

My job in New Zealand, besides shuttling the kids to and from school, organizing extracurricular activities, food shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing (the household stuff), making and keeping friends, attending church, running, occasional volunteer work (creating community stuff), is to write something Fiona and Finley (when they’re older) and maybe you or a friend can read to understand what our family experienced during Sean’s four-a-and-half month illness, and the path I chose after he died. I hope you can relate some of our experiences to yours.

I’m grateful many of my friends and acquaintances have suggested I write a book. Your words give me courage to start. And even if, as my writer friend Cheryl-Anne said, my words serve only to “make you less mysterious to your children,” then the job of sitting before a computer, surrounded by stacks of reporter notebooks and paper, pecking away, writing and deleting again and again, will have served its purpose. My goal is that my kids will understand how hard Sean fought to stay with them and to appreciate the gifts he gave us, and continues to give. I want them to understand the power of community and the strength of love. My hope is that you, too, will see something of your own life in the story. So many people have woven themselves into the chapters of our lives. Maybe my words will help others, too – those who’ve known love, loss, laughter, renewal…

My flat mate, Amy, ever the CEO, asked about time line, process, goal. I’ve picked up a book called, how to write your life story (by Ann Gawthorpe), which is helping me organize this project. The book tells you, step-by-step, how to eat the elephant. It doesn’t say the process is easy. Few worthwhile endeavors are. I envision the writing as similar to training for, and running, a marathon. You need a training program to run a marathon. I’ve already told you my goal for this memoir.  Here’s my tentative structure:

20-26 chapters of approximately 4,000 words each
1 chapter every other week – 22 weeks remain until the end of 2011 = 11 chapters by January 1, 2012

The rules:  1) I give myself permission, as writer Anne Lamott says, to craft a “shitty first draft.” I’m quite certain the initial product will suck. The end result won’t be perfect, either. In this case, good enough is better than non-existent.

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." 
 Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

2) I will work in an environment as distraction-free as possible (most likely, the library, where I can’t do laundry, call the States, or, most importantly, easily access the Internet).

3) I will update you, via Facebook, of my progress on a weekly basis (that’s the accountability part).

That covers the first half of the book. Admittedly, 2012 is trickier, because we’re set to travel at least several weeks before returning to the U.S. in spring. If I were to keep to the same schedule as the last half of this year, I could finish the memoir by June 3, 2012.

Why the rush? No rush, except if I don’t write now, I may never do it at all. This time in New Zealand is my opportunity. It is, I’m convinced, one of the main reasons I’m still here. If I were to write 26 chapters of 4,000 words, that’s 104,000 words. I can’t write 100k words at once. But I could write 1,000 per day, and those 1,000 will add up.

After I told Amy I planned to write this blog post to publicly hold my oversize feet to the fire she said, “Okay, what’s your deadline?” August 1st. It’s August 1st in New Zealand. July 31st in the U.S. See? I’m a day ahead of schedule.

Step One. Done. 99,999 to go…

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