I had such good intentions. I made it one week into 2018 sticking to my promise that I’d regularly write something, somewhere that at least some other people could read it.
Then the flu was a plague upon our house, then it was awards season, in between a furious mix of work and travel and suddenly it’s mid-March and this is the first full weekend I’ve been healthy and home since MLK Day.
I’m resisting the urge to abandon the hard-won resolutions I’d made my around to by the end of 2017. We’ll just call this an early Spring reboot. I’m trying every day, every week, to think about what I am doing to care for my body, my mind, and my future.
In between rounds of the flu, we did yoga while watching whales leap through the ocean off the coast of Mexico during a short trip to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate 10 years since our first date.
I read a lot, from a Marcia Clark-penned mystery novel I found by the pool at the hotel, to a YA novel that had been on my list for a while, the amazing Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, to a very un-me fantasy-history novel, The Philosopher’s Flight.
By far the most influential thing I inhaled while spending a lot of time in bed was a recommendation from my friend Annika, Rachael Herron’s Fast-Draft Your Memoir. Annika wrote in her TinyLetter that she’d finally pushed way into a long-contemplated writing project thanks to Rachael’s advice.
My formal education as a writer is a little all over the place—journalism school broke my ability to form short, declarative sentences into crumbs and then helped me rebuild that skill, one excruciating class at a time, which for all that I tend to shrug off the value of a Medill degree is in retrospect fairly invaluable. I took a series of MediaBistro screenwriting classes shortly after moving to LA, which I snobbily liked in large part because they were for working writers, mostly journalists, rather than casual hobbyists. It was more focused on how to tackle a new format than a reassuring or nurturing support group. Other writer friends contributed their own story-breaking best-practices from the various camps/cults/classes they’d paid for. I learned a lot from blogs Jane Espenson and John August faithfully updated, often daily, through the mid-2000s. I have a dog-chewed and dog-eared copy of How to Write a Romantic Comedy that more than fulfilled its title promise.
Mostly, I wrote. I wrote thousands of essays and blog posts, both on my own and for work at Popnography, dozens if not hundreds of feature and cover stories for magazines, a short film and three (four?) screenplays, one of which I revised and rewrote seriously for the better part of maybe five years, parts of a half-dozen other short story collections or novels. In my bones and heart I’m a writer, even if in this phase of my career I rarely do it for my day job.
So one night, only sort of high on cold meds, I bought Fast-Draft Your Memoir for six bucks on Kindle and figured, especially with Annika’s recommendation, that at the least I might find something that would help me advance the almost-ready-to-be-written book I finally found myself on the cusp of tackling. Then, as Jessica joked, I did a very typical Shana thing and speed-read a book about how to speed-write a book. Two hours later I’d highlighted and annotated my way through Herron’s advice and even begrudgingly hauled out a notebook to follow her instructions to write an outline.
I have, I am pretty sure, two big books in me that I need to write before I die, and for the last three or four months or so I’ve been inching my way toward being ready to finally tackle the first. I’d thought maybe it should be a novel. Narratively neater, more easily compacted, free of the hurt that still stings in recalling a very precise and largely awful time in my life.
This book changed my mind, if only because for the first time it was actually simple to outline what parts of the story needed to be told and which could be skipped. (Herron’s perhaps obvious but important advice: a memoir is not an unabridged autobiography. It’s a story.)
Just before the flu struck, the first lay-on-the-floor yoga class of the year included the option to draw a card from a deck of intentions. I’d been agitated through the first part of the session, more distracted than usual due to some work drama that just wouldn’t fade from the front of my mind.
Instead of trying to find some elusive clear consciousness, eventually, I’d prompted myself to consider the tiny spark of the book idea I’d been trying to tease into more, and in a blissed-out haze of long-held horizontal poses and calming chimes, I felt my mind unspool across the entirety of a story. I could see the beginning, middle and end. I knew what to title it. I understood how, though the story had started 16 years before, I was only just now ready to assemble it properly.
I rose from my mat at the end of the class feeling light, buzzing with a calm certitude. Then I drew a card from the deck the teacher had left on her mat at the head of the room.
CREATE, the oracle said, and I may not be one who often asks the universe what to do but I’m also not one to ignore when I’m given such a clear answer.
Annika’s already made her way through a first draft, which is amazing and so exciting and inspiring. I’m just now finding my way into something resembling a regular writing schedule and I’m sure around some unforeseen corner I will hit a wall, hard, like always happens.
But for now it still feels absurdly easy. I lived this story a long time ago, and I’ve spent some part of probably every day since trying to make sense of it, telling myself over and over how I survived. That I survived. Now it’s time to write it down for real.