Have you ever made a decision, taken an action, voiced or written something and then had one of those intuitive prickles that tells you that what you just did has irrevocably altered your life path?
That's what happened to me when I started working on the story that eventually became my new memoir, Walking Nature Home, just published last month by University of Texas Press. When I first got the story out onto paper, I read it over and got goosebumps. "This is going to change my life," I thought.
It did. But not the way I expected. And the change didn't exactly happen at warp speed: it took more than two decades. I figured that once I had the story written, I'd find an agent, who would sell it to a big publisher, the New York Times would review it and I'd be on my way as a writer. Well…. The last part was right: once I finished that first draft, I was on my way as a writer. No, I did not find an agent, sell the manuscript to a big publisher, or get reviewed in the New York Times (yet).
What I did do was get hooked on writing. And over the next 26 years, I wrote 11 books, literally hundreds of newspaper columns and articles for magazines and newspapers from the Cody (Wyo.) Enterprise to the Los Angeles Times, from Cricket for kids to Popular Mechanics and Audubon. I spoke to audiences large and small, taught writing workshops around the country, and eventually attracted readers who buy every book I write.
All those years, whenever I had time between urgent deadlines, I kept going back to that first story. I tried various ways of telling it, experimented with different voices, wove in supporting information from experts…. Each time, the tale improved, but it never quite found its rhythm or its heart. Finally, a friend read it and told me: "It's a love story. Let it off the leash!" (Thank you, Nancy Fay.)
I re-read it, and saw what she meant: I had tried to tell the story in a distant, objective way. That sucked the life out of it. I needed to write as the passionate, joyous, imperfect, doubting, searching, generous, foolish, loving human being I am, and let the other characters in the memoir speak up and be themselves too. Once I did that, the story found its voice and began to sing.
And I found a publisher who loved it and turned it into a beautiful book, the kind of book that people pick up and cherish. It's gotten some wonderful reviews (not in the New York Times–yet), but mostly it seems to be selling by word of mouth, hand to hand, and heart to heart. Suddenly (and the book has been out less than two months), I get a steady stream of fan emails and requests for my time: Can you come speak to my club, group, or in my lecture series? Will you read at my bookstore? Would you teach a workshop at my school or writing conference?
Suddenly the quiet writing time that I have depended on to meet my deadlines and generate work that pays the bills, the time I need to listen to my inner voice and nurture my soul, is hard to find. Suddenly I'm working seven days a week just to keep up. (And no, I'm not getting rich. I was going to say that would make it easier, but truthfully, it wouldn't. Money brings its own complications.)
What I felt twenty-something years ago was true: this story would, and did, change my life. I just didn't know how long it would take, or what the change would mean. It hooked me on writing, helped me find my voice and the stories I tell best, and finally, it gave me the courage to write in a personal and open-hearted way that inspires readers to say things like, "Could not put it down–when to bed with tear tracks still staining my cheeks. What a beautiful, intimate, insightful, and moving piece of work."
Oh, my! Even as I struggle to find my balance in writing and life, I am grateful to have the gift of reaching and touching others' hearts. And onward I go, trusting that the story I've finally written will guide me, too.
This is the tenth and penultimate stop on my blog book tour, a virtual journey to promote Walking Nature Home. My previous stop was with artist, writer, and considerer of a creative life Susan Gallacher-Turner. Last night Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett interviewed me for their insightful teleseminar series for Women's Memoirs. (If you missed the live event, you'll be able to hear it via a link on their site beginning on Monday.) The tour ends at my blog, Walking Nature Home, on 4/12, with a wrap-up and surprise. If you want to know more about the book, check my web site or read a review on Story Circle Book Reviews. (Illustration of the constellation Orion by artist Sherrie York, from the book.)