Isn’t the thought of a (then) 32-year-old writing a memoir hilarious?
That’s what I thought. I spent the next few days saying things like “Sorry, Lolly, I can’t come and help with dinner right now. I’m too busy writing my memoirs…” *puts hand to forehead in a dramatic pose*
As if I had lived enough life to have anything valuable to say in a memoir. “Yes, I’m 32 now. So, I’m an expert on life, you see. I went through childhood, puberty, and most recently, college. And now that my children are (mostly) out of diapers, I think it’s about time to share what I’ve learned in life!”
I had no idea how to do this, nor even if I wanted to.
I would sit down to write and just feel… stupid. How does one encapsulate a life? What does one take from one’s own experience to pen in a book, and more importantly, what does one leave out?
Writing that last sentence made me remember something I’d forgotten until this moment. In my phone call with the agent, after he proposed I write a memoir, I asked him if he had any advice for someone so young trying to do this. His counsel?
“Leave out the boring parts.”
I actually think that’s some of the best writing advice I’ve ever heard.
I just had no idea how to do that, in any practical sense. It all seemed so huge–so gargantuan and preposterous.
I did what preparation I could. I went to the bookstore and bought several memoirs that stood out to me. (My favorite of the batch was Joyce Carol Oates’ book about being widowed.) I read parts of a lot of them and tried to get a handle on the genre. There was some good, compelling stuff. There was also some trash. I found that interesting–memoir could be breathtaking, and it could also be tawdry and plastic-trinket-like.
Before long, I’d decided to just launch in. I started with–you guessed it–birth. A bit of a cliche, but it got me going. I wrote 30 pages or so, but something was missing. Something wasn’t working out. I was having trouble expressing exactly what, but it had to do with perspective. I was having trouble fairly representing anything that had occurred in Lolly’s life. Our stories were just so intertwined, yet the only perspective I was comfortable representing was my own (for obvious reasons). It was a significant problem, and one that I grappled with for some time. It halted me.
At times I wondered if this was even something I wanted to do. Was I feeling pressured into it? Did I actually want to write this book? Something felt off to me about the whole thing, but I couldn’t pinpoint what.
One weekend, Lolly and I were in Utah doing some presentation or another, and we had dinner with one of my dearest friends, Zina Petersen. Zina was my professor back when I was at BYU. She’s also a brilliant writer herself, and we often critique each other’s work. She asked how the writing was going, and I tried to explain this problem I was having–the problem with perspective. “I just can’t seem to give Lolly’s voice a valid place. I don’t know how to work around it.” She looked at me over our dinner of quiche and clam dip, then she looked at Lolly, and said simply: “The two of you should write it together.”
It hit us like a lightning bolt. Of course! The story wasn’t my story. It was our story.
Of course we would write this together. We were linked in everything. Our story had been the story of two people from the very beginning–since I was three years old, when we first met–not just one. This would be a project undertaken the same way our marriage itself was undertaken–side by side, with love, and eyes wide open. It made perfect sense.
We got started right away.