My very smart, funny and handsome editor (aka Daniel, my oldest nephew) spent most of the day at my house yesterday. He lives two hours away, has a full-time job and is working on applying to graduate schools. But he took the day to come see us and talk through the “story arc” of our book….creative writing minor language. I am not sure I yet know what a story arc is. None of us has ever written a book before. But Daniel’s college creative writing coursework and our collective experience seems to be working in terms of improving our book and getting clear about issues that need to be resolved for all of us to feel good about it.
Daniel has been through the entire draft of the book once and gave suggestions via email for both Robin and I to make some initial changes. When I have seen Daniel in the past few months at a family wedding, watching him run his first marathon and other occasions, we have been able to have brief conversations about his thoughts. But I hadn’t yet had a chance to have his full attention for any length of time to talk about the big picture of the book. I was looking forward to this conversation more than I even realized.
What I have discovered is that writing a book is a lonely process. Even though Robin and I have been writing it together and at times have met to talk through things, writing a book is mostly a solo process. My husband is always helpful and willing to give feedback, but he is too close to the story to be very objective and has no writing experience. Robin and I both have many people in our lives who are supportive of the book and excited to see it when we are done. But no one other than Daniel has the time, ability and interest in the tedious process of editing. To be able to have Daniel’s objective, intelligent and undivided attention focused solely on talking about how to make our book better, for a whole afternoon, was a long awaited treat.
The process of writing this book has taken almost two years so far. As I said previously, it started with the on-line course with Bill O’Hanlon which led to us outlining a self-help version of the book and then beginning to write it on the blog. We planned to tell the story of 2003 in Part One of the book, and then Part Two was going to include six steps that people with mental illness should follow to get to a better place. Part Two was going to include the story of how Robin got from where she was in 2003 to where she is now, but it was going to be told in the context of those six steps.
The problem was, as we were beginning to finish up Part One on the blog both Robin and I began to realize we really didn’t have enough to say that would apply to a more general audience. In other words, Robin’s story is too unique to be applicable to everyone with mental illness. I was going to say some things about the mental health system in general and give words of wisdom I have learned through the years as a therapist. But, as Part One got longer and we began to start thinking more seriously about Part Two, it became clear that our original idea needed to be aborted. It was not a tough decision to change the whole structure and purpose of the book from a part memoir and part self-help book, to a memoir.
We went through a stage where we were thinking there would still be two parts, with the second part being a more detailed version of how Robin got from “Despair to Deliverance.” But, as we kept writing it became apparent there wasn’t enough gripping detail to warrant a whole Part Two. The rest of the story is uplifting and interesting. But, it is easily told in a chapter. So, as the process continued Robin and I both realized our book needed to include five chapters telling the story of the incredible year she went through in 2003, and then one chapter telling the process she went through to heal and get to a place of stability and acceptance of her illness.
One of the issues I have struggled with throughout the entire process of writing this book is how much of me to include. It has always felt like this should be mostly Robin’s story. But Daniel has continued to say I am also a main character in the book, and convinced me yesterday to put more of myself into it. There is the issue of how dramatically the experience of helping Robin through 2003 changed me fundamentally and permanently in a positive way. I have to talk about that. It’s part of what compelled me to write the book in the first place.
So Daniel and I got clear about how much I should say about myself throughout the story, in order to set up for the Epilogue, where I will tell my part. He helped in terms of knowing when transitions between chapters needed to be strengthened. We talked about what needs to be included in Robin’s parts of the book, with some things needing to be condensed and some things needed to be expanded. We discussed places where I can condense some parts of the story told on the blog that don’t need to be told in so much detail, in order to make it more readable.
Basically yesterday, in addition to enjoying spending time with my nephew and benefitting from his talents, I confirmed my gut feeling about how crucial the editing process is when writing a book. It is so important for us to get outside of our own heads. I talked about that on the blog in terms of feeling alone in the context of helping Robin through her year long suicidal crisis in 2003, and the importance of consulting with trusted colleagues and supervisors. It also applies to writing. I will be forever grateful to Daniel for agreeing to help us. I am excited to begin making the changes we discussed!