I thought I should check in about how my writing is going since the serious truncation of my work time.
It’s, um, not going.
I was on page 156 two weeks ago and I’m still on page 156. It’s clear I’m not going to make my December 31st deadline. I go to the coffee shop on the weekends now, and that’s something, but it is much more difficult to get into the rhythm of the narrative with only two days of writing a week.
The flip side—the bright side—is that my mornings are less hectic. I have more time with the girls, and we can run errands and vacuum and play. (More playing and a cleaner house are good things, no?) On the mornings Zoë is in school, Stella and I sometimes go to the coffee shop together. She eats a doughnut and draws pictures with stories, and I can get a little work done. But not memoir work. I cannot immerse myself in a chapter when my dear girl needs me to help spell the words that make up her narrative. So I check e-mail and do class prep and update my website—all things that need to be done—and help my budding writer create fiction. It would be difficult to complain about that.
But I am anxious to get back to the memoir. I met with my writing group—my wonderful, smart writing group—last night and they got me thinking about the structure of my chapters. There is a lot of narrative urgency in my book—it’s inherent in the subject—but I’m at a point where I need to think more closely about the shape of my chapters. The book is chronological, very chronological, and I realize that this could become tiresome, plodding, in the middle of the book. (Which would, in fact, reflect the nature of having your baby in the NICU.) But still, I don’t want the reading to be so plodding that it becomes boring. God, no.
One of my lovely writing group members suggested a more thematic approach, that each chapter in the middle of the book tackle a theme. I was actually moving in that direction in later chapters, but oh, the thought of going back to these “finished” chapters and rearranging—again—and rewriting—more—makes me very tired. I’m getting so very sick of this book.
But I do love to think about structure. It is, perhaps, my favorite craft issue. What structure will best serve the subject, the story? How can structure change the way people absorb the narrative? These questions, and the care with which most nonfiction writers take as they work on the structure of their writing, make it clear—yet again—that memoir is not mere transcription. It is, like fiction, like poetry, crafted.
I can’t do anything about the structure of my chapters today, of course, or even tomorrow. But I’ll think about it—“noodle on it” as one of my wonderful students says. I’ll noodle on it as I cut out Curious George paper dolls with Stella, as I run to Target and the grocery store, as I put Zoë’s clothes back on her for the ninth time (I swear that child wants to run free), as I sauté vegetables, as I cuddle in with D to watch Mad Men (our latest series addiction). And in a few days or even a few weeks, I’ll find the time to make the changes. I will, right?