I am writing a book. I started three years ago and I am on the third draft. I gave it to an editor to read and recently received her feedback. Now I am thinking about the book in new ways, and to be honest, struggling with some of her comments. She suggested that I turn it into a memoir. She also suggested titles for me to read.
I started with Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone. Reichl's first paragraph: "Storytelling, in my family, was highly prized. While my father walked home from work he rearranged the events of his day to make them more entertaining, and my mother could make a trip to the supermarket sound like an adventure. If this required minor adjustments of fact, nobody much minded: it was certainly preferable to boring your audience."
Reichl proceeds to tell an engaging story, which may or may not resemble truth. For her, it doesn't matter. My quandary is that my book explores a beginner's journey practicing meditation. I share what it was like for me to sit an eight-day silent retreat interspersed with travel stories. Somehow stretching the truth in order to tell a dramatic story doesn't seem right.
On Saturday I attended the Jambalaya Writer's Conference in Houma, Louisiana and the keynote speaker was Rick Bragg, writer of three memoirs. I read his first, All Over but the Shoutin' and it was entertaining, though filled with harrowing tales of growing up poor in rural Alabama.
In his conference presentation, he advised us to use imagery, detail, and color in our writing. "If you don't paint a picture, you have failed." "If it is dull, you've failed."
So now I am pausing in my writing and asking what do I want this book to be? Who is the audience? Do I feel comfortable with turning it into a memoir? How can I paint pictures to make it a more engaging story?
I am at the place that Jonah Lehrer describes in his new book Imagine: How Creativity Works, "Before we can find the answer - before we even know the question - we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach." To learn more about Lehrer's latest book, I recommend, the illustrated teaser by Flash Rosenberg.
Rick Bragg disputes the idea of a "muse with gossamer wings. ... The muse is want and need. The muse is deadline, contract, and literary agent." Since I don't have any of the latter, I guess I will keep reading, let my book rest for a while, and then get back to work.
In case you are wondering, the book is called Zen and Travel: A Beginner's Journey. I guarantee it won't be a mystery or a romance; the verdict is out on whether it will morph into a memoir. Whatever genre, I will devote myself to making it a good read.