Excuses, excuses: why I haven’t finished my memoir yet

I might be procrastinating. Or maybe I’m taking my time! I’m definitely trying to avoid rushing the process because that’s what I did last time, and I regretted it.

Also, I’ve run into a few problems. It’s nothing that can’t be solved. I’m not worried. Let me explain.

Muay and I decided to pick up some play-acting swords. [Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Thailand, 2014]

/1/ I’ve got conflicting editors.

Like most challenges, there can be an opportunity lying amongst what looks to be chaos. I’ve made lots of suggested changes and I deeply appreciate those who have edited my baby, but I’m definitely getting conflicting feedback. So instead of solely relying upon others, the BF recommended that I get my own grammar chops up to snuff. Yes! but this requires that I pick up The Elements of Style by Strunk and White...see procrastinating.

Kids controlling the boat [Kampong Khleang, Cambodia, 2016]

/2/ I’m entering new territory.

Essentially, I feel a great sense of responsibility because I’m writing about real people. That’s why I used fake names in my first one. I also was careful to leave much of me out of it because I wanted the reader to come to their own conclusions over the situations.

But for my second memoir, I can’t do that. Part of the problem is a family member who will most likely not be happy with no matter what I do. There’s also a decent chance of being misunderstood and having my point of view challenged, but I’m not concerned too much about that. However, I do need to contemplate potential pitfalls and negative side effects.

He’s using a plastic lid to blow air into the lantern. That’s one way to do it 😉 [Lamphun, Thailand, 2013]

/3/ Overanalyzing and letting go.

The interesting thing about writing from truth is you can go down this path where you turn over every rock, leaf, and twig. In fact, you might say it’s inevitable for the sake of the story and it’s interesting to consider other points of view and the context in which the events took place.

Of course, you can analyze something to the DEATH. I definitely feel like I get that way. This is probably the dark side of journaling. And perhaps this is why memoirs turn out badly because the story has to be about the reader, too. We write about ourselves in an effort to connect to the greater whole.

This push-pull relationship, too much versus too little information is tricky business. It’s also part of the process of letting go. And right now, I’m sick of my story. The bad part of this is I don’t want to deal with it. The good side is I feel I can be more objective.  Regardless, the last time I edited it I read it backwards (from the last chapter to the first) in an effort to make it more interesting and to see it differently.

Making umbrellas [Bo Sang, Thailand, 2014]

/4/ Fiction is fun. Why am I doing this again?

Is writing memoir a calling of sorts? I mean if given the choice, I don’t know why anyone would chose nonfiction over fiction.

Recently, I took the dive and started writing fiction short stories. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while then the timing was just right.

It’s funny. I used to think fiction was harder. But as I enter this shiny new world of creating make-believe stories, I feel like nonfiction is the harder one. Writing fiction is fun. I’m dreaming through the process. Sure, I’m not handling difficult plot points that come with a novel. I’m by no means an expert either.

When I was in college, I took a playwriting class which culminated to writing a full-length play. During feedback my professor asked me, “Is this true?”

It was – but it was dark secret stuff and I was terrified that my thinly-veiled attempt to fictionalize it had failed. I might have even been ashamed. So I told her, “no.”

She probably sensed that I was lying. I am, after all, a horrible liar. But the experience left enough of a mark that I didn’t write about the experience again. In fact, I’m fairly certain I threw it away. And the next play I ended up writing, years later, was a rhyming one for children based on the fairy tale The Golden Goose.

Writing memoir takes guts, it requires a lot of work. Fiction takes work, too. But all the fear that surrounds telling your truth, yeah, it’s a different kind of work – and quite frankly, not one that I feel many people realize is so difficult.

Let’s all share. [Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2015]

/5/ It’s mine until it’s no longer mine.

I’m in that in-between place of holding on and letting go. And so I realized that in this moment in time, my words, my personal story is still mine. Because once I publish it, once it’s out there, I will share a piece of me that will become somewhat altered by the sharing.

Sure, I’ve shared it with a few trustworthy friends, but it’s not the same as making it available to the general public. Even in this cocoon phase where I’m getting finicky about every comma, and second guessing my choices, this memoir is still “my precious”. It’s been reshaped, but I knew those who looked at it, looked at it with kind eyes.

This is not to say that other people won’t look at it kindly, but I know a thing or two about human behavior so I know that there will be consequences. I also know that there are plenty of Asian American stories already out there. Of course, I know mine will be the same, and mine will be different. In other words, I know that I have a universal tale and a unique one.

Yet I’m no celebrity, I’m not a famous anything. I’m just another girl in a world where individual voices are lost in the noise.

19 thoughts on “Excuses, excuses: why I haven’t finished my memoir yet

  1. I’m not one of those people who thinks memoir must be easier than fiction. A short article that describes an incidence in one’s life–yes, maybe. But a full length, serious memoir, no. I think it takes a lot of courage and thoughtfulness to write a good memoir.

    I was interested in what you said about the conflicting advice you got from your beta readers. I’ve recently finished the first draft of my new novel, and I’m wondering who to ask to read it and what to ask them to look for. It’s an important choice.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I had folks read it for content and flow. Was the book interesting? Did it make sense? What was your favorite and least favorite chapter? And then I had editors who took a look at it grammatically and that’s where I’m getting a few snafus. So I need to dig in and decide for myself.

      I also had a couple of friends talk to me about one chapter in particular and how it should be managed or handled. They convinced me that I needed to make some changes that “protect the innocent” better than the way it is now.

      I hope that helps! I’d be keen to hear how things go for you, too. I think specific questions helps guide the beta readers.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! Although I feel like there’s a fine line between courage and stupidity. Hahahahaha. Actually maybe the line isn’t so fine. 😛

      Like

  2. Writing about oneself is so freaking hard. And books are waaaaaaay harder than blog posts. But it sounds like you’re getting it done, sooner or later!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alright, so, comfort and encouragement dump coming…first of all, you are an amazing magical unicorn who makes everyone around her better (and we’ve only emailed, so there). Now that that’s out of the way, I will say that I think memoir writing is very, very hard. I actually wanted to write my own sometime in the future, and so I spent a good couple of months this year reading about memoir writing and writers.

    There was this one book that struck me, Why We Write About Ourselves, and it had about 20 memoir authors’ perspectives on their craft. It was fascinating, and a bit scary for someone looking to write one. Plenty of them talked about the issue with family members not liking it, and how some of what they’d written had caused serious breaches, but I seem to remember some saying great healing occurred. Either way, it’s a huge, huge sacrifice to be open and truthful, but that writers are burdened with that terrible responsibility, and you can’t just not do it.

    I’m not sure, but that sounds like the issue that might keep it under wraps more than others. I know at least for me, fear of damaging relationships would stop me doing a lot of things, but I’m that people-pleasing type who barely speaks up for herself so…

    And I would say about getting sick of it – have you put it aside for a few months and not looked at it at all? That might help. A fresh eye can do wonders.

    Regardless, I fully understand your struggles, and I’m with you 1000%. xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awww, thanks Audra! There’s nothing like announcing that you are not doing what you should be doing to get yourself motivated. Hahahha. Today we finally got copies of E.B. White’s Elements of Style. I’ll have to dig in today.

      You know, I’ve actually have been good about putting it aside. Now, I don’t know for how long, but it feels like a long time. It’s probably been a few months, at least this time around.

      I just don’t feel like dealing with it. 😀 But the time is coming soon when I’ll get more edits and then I’ll have to face the music – as they say.

      Thanks so so much for your wonderful words of encouragement. Love you!

      Like

  4. As someone who is trying to even do a second draft of my first book, this post speaks to me on many levels. In what you said to Nicki about the conflicting editing process, people will have their opinions and at times you may not believe what they believe. When I’m done with another draft of my book, like you I’ll put it out there for editing, but I’m not sure if I’ll let anyone edit or read the entire book and all its chapters. Ultimately there needs to be you shining through the words to make it yours and call it your own.

    So true you can analyse anything to death. There is always a different opinion to any idea, and another opinion to that idea and so on. Writing my book, I find that I expand quite a bit on a single subject, and is making my chapters longer than I intended. But hey, at least the words are flowing out.

    Good luck with your memoir, Lani. Like you, I do think it is challenging writing a memoir especially when you are writing about real people. You’re probably more outgoing than I am, and I do hesitate when it comes about writing about others – especially when they are still a part of my lives. I don’t think any of us wants to paint anyone in a bad light with words and you have to be very careful about how you frame them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I put my book out there for editing, I needed to know how it flowed so I needed someone to read the whole thing. What’s interesting is how much the original draft has changed, but I still feel like it’s me.

      In fact, it was pointed out that I needed more ME in it when I was talking about my family history. This was valid to point out because those chapters do sound different than the rest of the book.

      So I guess what I’m trying to say is when you are ready it can be really valuable to have someone look at the whole thing.

      Yes, writing about other people can be tricky. I actually don’t like it. I wish I could be much more open than I am. In fact, you might not notice, but I rarely write about people that I know on my blog – and it’s a shame because people behave so poorly that good stories are begging to be told. 😛

      Thanks Mabel! xo

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      1. It can be hard to put ourselves there if we are the reserved kind…even if you aren’t, it is always hard to share some parts about yourself that make you you 😛 Haha, I’ve never really noticed you rarely write about people you know on your blog…after all, you do mention some of your family now and then lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Sorry if I’ve caused you confusion with my grammar nazi-ness and love of the Oxford comma! 🙊 Seriously though, memoirs are harder to write (and have to be worked on more, I feel, to have an interesting pace). But when they work, they sometimes leave more of an impression than fiction does.

    A vulnerable one that somehow protected the innocent that I recently read is Everything That Remains by the Minimalists. It felt raw on both sides of the equation: they wrote an honest-to-them picture of these people but also included a look at themselves in that relationship. So instead of feeling like they were pointing fingers, it felt like they were trying to share the way it was to the best they could. They also changed a few names.

    Also heard an interview with Glynnis Macnicol on her memoir No One Tells You This, and she gave certain people she’d written about a heads up before publishing and explained she wasn’t looking to offend but to honestly tell how she felt at that time. So they weren’t caught off guard when the book came out. It’s another way to handle things that might work for you.

    But no matter which direction you go with the book, Lani, I’m cheering you on! Your writing is good and it got me thinking about things in my own life in a new way. And that’s probably the highest compliment I can give any book. 😊 (also, I thought it was funny how timely it is with how much Asian Americans are getting talked about these days, what with the recent release of Crazy Rich Asians. It’s something that people are thinking about and that might help your book go to more people.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry for the late reply Daisy! Your comment went to spam and I don’t know why!

      Don’t worry about the grammar. It was important for me to brush up, not totally trust, but figure out stuff for myself. The BF and I, trust me, have had many discussions on certain grammar points and now that we are both armed with Strunk and White, we are figuring out who was “right” or “wrong”.

      Yeah, so I’m spending time away from it. Although it’s a trendy topic with CRA, I can’t rush things. And that’s okay, I’m working on my short stories, and mentally sorting things out with the book. It will be better, and I don’t plan on dragging it out. But I also know that with our big move at the end of the year that it will have to be shelved for a bit. I’m not worried though. I think when we’re afraid of “being first” (whatever that means these days) we end up creating more work for ourselves in the long run.

      Thanks for the thoughtful remarks and advice. I’ll certainly add it to the slow cooker 😉 And as always, thanks for the love and support!

      Like

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