Thursday, December 19, 2013

Leaving Limbo

Imagine this: from my teens on, all the way until I walked into my first class at age 41, I was trying to write my book, Looking Up. By trying, I mean that I was trying to write an entire book the minute I sat down to write, like with a beginning, a middle and an end, all at once and, perhaps, chronologically.

The problem with this, of course, was that books aren't really written this way, especially memoirs. I would start writing with this tremendous surge of exuberance, start stumbling immediately, because nothing ever looked as good on the page as it did in my brain, and then would crash and burn at about page 5. Well, one time I did make it to page 18 but it was written as fiction.

Can you imagine what it's like to walk around your entire life knowing you've got a book inside of you that must come out, must be born, and not only will you lose your mind if you don't start writing, but the book will probably kill you? Maybe you do.

I walked into Dr. Lois Roma-Deeley's Creative Writing class at Paradise Valley Community College in the fall of 2001 and I was immediately given a hall pass out of that limbo, out of purgatory. This piece of advice only consisted of a couple words, so simple really, but I'd never heard them before in my life. Of course, I'd never taken a writing class before in my life.

She said, "Start in the middle." Any part of it: start the book in the middle, start each piece in the middle, start each scene in the middle. Jump into the middle of what's happening in a particular memory.

Oh. Start in the middle! It was like my jailer suddenly threw the jail cell wide open and I was able to lope out to freedom. Start in the middle! Why hadn't I thought of that during all my years of not taking classes and pretending I could do it on my own with no instruction at all, or at least that some day the book, bored with its host body, would just pop out of me fully formed?

So from then on, whenever I got an idea about a particular memory, I started in the middle, saw it in my mind's eye, saw the people, heard the conversations, and wrote it. Then I wrote another, and another, and another, until I basically had hundreds of pages worth of scenes, of stories, all starting in the middle. And in each one of those was my story - the DNA of my story. Hooked together into a chain, this was my story. And it was there that I found my book, Looking Up.