unexpectedly dropping dead of memoir writing

This weekend I found my MFA thesis—a novel. An excess of novel, actually. It’s 465 pages long. It overflows with metaphors and is jam-packed with quirkiness and sticky with meaning and it’s got my greasy thumbprints all over it and it’s just pretty much an embarrassment to everyone involved. By which I mean “me.”

This was the book that I thought was totally going to launch my literary career. Because a literary career was the kind where you wrote important literary novels about important things like Adult Relationships and blowjobs and the like, and that’s what I did!

Readers said, “it’s good!” with a strained kind of enthusiasm in their voice. Then they said, “But…” And I did not listen, because surely some literary agent with a Vision would see through the flaws and pluck me from the firmament and settle me on a throne made of melted-down Pulitzers and lined with lucrative six-book contracts and tell me how pretty I am.

That—didn’t happen. My query letter was a MASTERPIECE. It garnered me some interest in seeing pages! My pages were not found impressive. I thought probably I’d die in obscurity and then they’d be sorry! If they ever found out what happened to me, which was unlikely because of the obscurity.

I tried to revise but I was overcome with horror of my own prose and face-melting shame, so I threw it away from me and fled, weeping. I stopped writing fiction, because fiction made me sad and not having a literary career that was super-easy made me sad too. I was blogging about being fat. Then I got weight loss surgery and blogged about being less fat. Then I started blogging for Conde Nast about being less fat.

Then I thought, I’m really, really, really tired of the sound of my own voice. But maybe I should write a memoir about this. I don’t think there are weight loss surgery books in the world yet; I am not sure there is much in the way of books about weight loss that aren’t about The Triumph of Being Thin but are more about The Terrifying Sensation of Not Recognizing Your Own Face in the Mirror and Realizing Your Life Isn’t Perfect Now That You’re Not Fat Anymore.

I will tell you, I was delighted to find out that you can technically sell a memoir with just a proposal and sample pages. I made those happen; agents wanted it. I selected agents. I had agents! They ruled! But I wasn’t a fiction writer. I was a memoir writer. How the hell had that happened? This wasn’t how it was supposed to go at all. I didn’t even know if I could write a memoir. I didn’t think it would be much like blogging. (Spoiler: It really, really isn’t.)

It took me two years to write it. Two years! I wrote down every awful thing I ever thought and did. I ripped the ropy veins from my arms and wrung them out over the page! But also told some hilarious jokes, because comedy.

And of course the first draft was genuinely terrible and, again, huge. Because I have SO MUCH TO SAY. But this time I couldn’t run away weeping with my silken hair streaming out behind me. This time I had to revise the damn thing. I brutalized it down to an acceptable length. I added even more Pain. I felt embarrassed to read it. I figured I had done something right if I was embarrassed for the narrator.

I sent the copyedits back to my editor last week or possibly the week before, and I think it is a damn fine book and an honest one and when I think about people reading it, I shudder a little. When I daydreamed about being a fiction writer I imagined that maybe somehow I’d be reviewed by The New York Times Review of Books; now the idea sends me into a panic.

The idea of a book I wrote being in the world is the most wonderful, amazing, bizarre thing. The idea of such a personal, incredibly painful book in the world is also a hideous prospect. This is not what I expected to happen or how I expected it to happen. I am simultaneously delighted and terrified. I am proud and afraid. I can’t wait to talk about it; I am scared what of what people might say. I am only writing fiction from here on out.

2 Replies to “unexpectedly dropping dead of memoir writing”

  1. Good for you! I know about the shame that makes it impossible to work on the written stuff and make it better. I felt it all through my undergraduate degree. I hope you feel quite proud of not only writing but finishing! and revising! and making it excellent!

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