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by Shari Caudron
Writing the memoir was easy compared to the thought of putting it out there—to be read by real people with real thoughts and feelings and, worst of all, opinions.What if I humiliate myself? What if I hurt someone? And why am I even asking these questions anyway? I know that memoir writing is not for the faint of heart.
I’ve taught memoir writing for more than a decade at Lighthouse and two universities. I’ve been the “expert” who’s helped other aspiring authors unearth their stories, reveal their vulnerability, and speak honestly about appalling truths. I’ve spent untold hours talking writers off the ledge when fear, shame, guilt—or all three—have threatened to derail their projects. I’ve cajoled, prodded, reassured.
Fat lot of good that’s doing me now. Suffice it to say, the view is different from this side of the page.
I spent 18 months writing my memoir, cocooned inside the safety of a sunny loft in Boulder. The writing felt sacred, like something I had to do, and I fiercely protected my writing time and space. When I finished, the book was vetted by a longtime editor, read by three good friends, and sanctioned by loved ones who appear in the story. In short, I did everything I could to get the book ready for prime time, including writing and rewriting the title about 327 times. (It’s currently called The Second Story.)
What have I been doing since? Looping around inside my own anxiety. What will people think when they read I lived 23 years as a lesbian even though I knew, deep down, I wanted to be with a man? Will my clients still respect me when they read about my sex life? Then there’s the writing itself. When you put yourself out there as a writing teacher, your own words better be good.
Of course, all that is assuming the book even makes it into the hands of readers. How sad would it be for a memoir teacher to not be good enough to get her own memoir published? I can picture the averted eyes, the sympathetic half smiles.
This is when the voice in my head chimes in. But this is what you do, it says. You write. I ignore the voice. It gets louder.
You write personal stories. You read personal stories. You LOVE personal stories. Get out there and find an agent!
So I start to argue with this smug little smarty pants. “But the book, in part, is about how I learned to let go of the need for external validation. How can I shop that story around? Isn’t searching for a publisher all about external validation?”
Come off it. You’re just afraid.
“Maybe. Yeah. So…”
So self-publish. You’ve helped several clients self-publish. Why not you?
“Oh sure. I can hear the whispers now. ‘Poor Shari, she couldn’t find a publisher so she had to turn her book into a vanity project.’”
But this is what you do, the voice insists. You write, and you write to be read.
This is a drastically edited (and far more polite) version of the argument I’ve been having with myself for months now, an argument that has left no time or energy for actually moving forward on the path toward publication.
Hence, my newest project: Conscious Publishing. I’ve decided to start tweeting about the publishing experience at @ShariCaudron and sending regular email updates (write to email@example.com to sign up).
The teacher in me wants to share the emotional experience of publishing a memoir. In writing circles, we talk a lot about the craft of writing and the how-to of publishing, but we don’t talk nearly enough about the emotional turmoil this work creates. Maybe, by sharing my own inner torment, yours will seem a little less overwhelming.
But there’s another less noble reason I wish to share my experiences, and that is because I want to be held publicly accountable for doing something on a regular basis to get my book out there.
My guidelines for Conscious Publishing are:
I wrote The Second Story because I needed to understand a very difficult time in my life. I guess you could say I’m doing the same thing here. I’m trying to stay conscious, trying to stay present, trying to learn.
Shari Caudron is a longtime faculty member at Lighthouse and a past winner of the Beacon Award. She is the author of two previous nonfiction books, What Really Happened and Who Are You People?, which won the Colorado Book Award. Shari’s company, The Narrative Group, helps aspiring authors write the books they were meant to write.
Shari will be teaching a class at Lighthouse this Sunday, April 24, for beginning memoirists called Tell Your Story, Change Your Life.