A Living Story
I've just completed the third draft of my memoir. It's now out to what are called Beta Readers, whose feedback will help determine the manuscript's final form. I can then begin shopping it around to literary agents and publishers. I'm calling it Lost Rites: Leaving Church Land. It's the story of my life in the church ... right up until I was "done."
There are many learnings and insights from this intense year-long project. One is this: In the end, I didn't choose the story; the story chose me. My first draft was 136,000 words. It included many anecdotes I considered essential to the telling of my tale and stories that were just really fun to tell. But an average book these days runs to about 90,000 words, so I knew there was a lot to lose.
Under the guidance of my mentor at the Alexandra Writers' Centre, the second draft sought to accentuate "the main story"--the backbone from which hung all the constituent parts. As that narrative became clearer to me, it was actually easy to edit out whole sections, even the fun parts, because suddenly they just didn't fit. I told myself I could still use them as the basis for short stories or autobiographical essays. So I let them go.
Then, for the third draft, with the story line emerging more forcefully from all those words, it was time to include new bits to support that narrative, and to tighten up the prose, word by word, sentence by sentence. In the end, the story knew how it wanted to be told. I became its servant, not its master.
This was not how I approached the memoir to begin with. It was my story and I was choosing what should go into it. But something happened along the way. The story developed a life of its own. Like a polar bear within a chunk of soap stone, or a waterfall beneath the brush of an artist, it knew what it wanted to be. More and more I found myself responding to the story that wanted to be told rather than telling the story I wanted to tell.
If there's any hope of my memoir speaking to others, about their own relationship with the church, it'll be in the details the story itself wanted to reveal. The details I'd have chosen would have been tainted by the self-serving demands of my ego: I'd want to look good. So the memoir is at the same time both mine, and not mine. I hope this will allow it to become the story the world needs to hear, and not just the one I wanted to tell. When the time comes I hope you'll read it, and then let me know if it tells part of your story as well as mine.