Guest Post by Marmie Edwards, APR
An idea can roll around in your head for days, weeks, years before you finally decide to let it loose. To invest the time and effort to put the story to paper can take a serious commitment. That’s how my memoir evolved.
Pieces of the story would arise—running the Dunes along Lake Michigan’s southern shore as a youngster, being forced to answer to “Marion” by nuns who quipped “oh, I expected a boy,” being sole female reporter for a Midwestern paper, moving to New York after the vision in my right eye clouded to 20/200, and struggling to overcome a fear of heights atop New York City’s World Trade Center in the late 70s before it was no more (in 2001).
I wrote segments of the story, but kept pushing it back, ignoring the story’s need to be unraveled, bit by bit. Sometimes it is easier to spool out the individual stories that will eventually form the whole story, but don’t short-change by stopping and letting those segments sit on the shelf or mold on a thumb drive or a “memoir” file on your computer. They deserve your time because there is more to the story, and it won’t be completely told until you spend the time.
If you have children, it’s a good way to provide the breadcrumbs to the courtship that led to them. My daughter had an interest I never expected in “what happened before.” Got her to read the manuscript.
I’d worked on another story about Mary Lincoln until I opened my laptop to attend a zoom class sponsored by the Writer’s League of Texas (WLT) focused on memoir in August 2020. Maybe I’d been bored too long during the Pandemic. I’d attended other classes with WLT, even week-long away classes, but for some reason this time I just kept writing after the kick-off by Donna Johnson, who wrote Holy Ghost Girl about her experience as a very young girl on the big tent revival circuit with her family in the 1950s. She has a way not to be ignored.
The Pandemic zoomed classes stretched us Austin types because we were joined by people from New Mexico and all over Texas and even a woman from Chile, who had heard about the summer program online. This opened our horizons.
By the end of August, I had 8,000 words, maybe 10,000, and I could see a path forward—it wasn’t a superhighway, or a neon lit map—but enough so I could find my way. Stories about getting hired as the first female lifeguard at the pool three houses away from home and moving to New York City without a job but a college roommate and the confidence of youth. Braver than I would be now. Sometimes age prevents us from taking the risks of youth.
It’s hard to remember the hashmarks between 10,000 and 30,000 words, but that’s not to say it was seamless, only that I just didn’t mark it down either mentally or physically. I didn’t think I had a lock on it until much later. Early on I started to make the rookie mistake of wanting the manuscript to be “right” the very first go-round. Perfect never comes with the first words off the brain. Once I realized that, it was easier to push on, wishing for the second trip around to be soon, but not rushing so much I would not have something of value to whip out like laundry to find what gem ideas and words would be left.
After about 70,000 words I realized again I had started to ruminate and was not pushing forward. I went back through the entire piece and inserted chapters to put stories together to help move the narrative and give readers their own compass, while building in word pebbles to lead readers between the chapters.
I wrote the ending earlier, so I would have something to lead me, so it started to make sense and I would not get lost in my own stories between 55,000 or 60,000 and the end. Adding to the challenge, after outlining my young life and early career, work on Capitol Hill, I had a nervous breakdown after we moved to St. Louis, when my daughter was five. Took two years and a move back to DC before I got a handle on it. Fortunately, George Washington Hospital solved the puzzle and put me back on the road to health and sanity—a road I’ve guarded to the point of not writing this story for 30 years. I’m very glad I trusted myself to finish to 100,000, maybe 98,000 by final edits. Donna, my WLT instructor, pointed out this story can benefit others on the road to mental health or those still fearing the darkness. That wisdom sent me forward from August 2020 more than any other advice.
Find out what your story is really about—the story within the story that will help explain part of the human experience to all of us. Then you will have true motivation to push forward on the days when it’s hardest to get your tush shimmied into the chair.
About the Author
Marmie Edwards, APR, met Jill through PRSA in DC. She moved to Austin, TX, in 2014 after working in DC for 30 years. Her memoir, Riding the Roller Coaster, is expected in Q1 2022. Check out her blog: www.Past Becomes Present. Blog.