This past year, I embarked on writing a memoir and I learned how much more challenging it is to work on a big, multi-faceted project than something short. To write an essay, I just need to sprint. I have the whole essay in my head as I’m working on the beginning, middle and end. But a memoir with its many chapters and multiple re-writes is a full-length project that requires the stamina of the long distance runner. I can use my sprinting talent for individual chapters but to keep the whole project going, I must pace myself.
These four lifesaving actions have helped me this past year stay on task and on schedule. They’ve been:
- Name “it”
- Put “it” on a calendar
- Hire a midwife/coach/mentor
- Schedule weekly check-ins for creative support
In my 20 years as a writer, I’d written stories, essays, vignettes, monologues, poems, plays, solo performances, and then one day, the clouds parted, the shaft of sun descended and I knew I needed to write a memoir in book form. This realization was life changing. I re-arranged my work schedule to fit in 2-3 hours a day of writing and added other support. But naming it first was key.
Put “It” on a Calendar
Once I’d written for a couple of months, and collected all I’d created over the past 20 years I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know which stories fit where or even how many stories there were. So, I sat down with a production manager, counted the number of stories I had or could write, and gave myself a goal of finishing a certain number each week. I put a reminder in my calendar every day. Then I gave myself a deadline for delivering this rough, unfinished draft to my next key support: my literary midwife.
The calendar turned out to be magical. Committing the project to paper made it happen. Even when I couldn’t quite keep up with my weekly schedule, the rough draft was done by the time the deadline arrived, as if a force greater than me was pushing it forward once I committed it to paper.
Hire a Midwife/Coach/Mentor
My literary coach is not a friend, although I like her and admire her writing. Her not being a friend is important for me because it makes our working relationship feel more professional and therefore less possible for me to wiggle out of my commitment. Also, I’m paying her which makes me take it seriously. I won’t pay for something and then not use it. It forces me to deliver the goods. I know she believes in me but I know she has high standards. So her voice in my ear as I write, keeps me writing and striving to do my best. Which is why after all this sustained effort I need something cuddly. This is where my two colleagues come in.
Schedule weekly check-ins
I scheduled short weekly check-ins with two artist friends. With these cohorts I can complain, stomp my feet, share my successes and burn off a lot of neurotic ramblings that I don’t want to submit my literary midwife to. My friends cheer me on, no matter what. Their cheering gets me back to the writing desk every day.