When I stopped posting new Enigma material, someone asked about my writing process. It feels a bit disingenuous for me to address my “writing process.” I don’t really have a process. I’m not a disciplined writer. My fits of writing are stimulated by two things. Either I need an assignment with a deadline, or I need a problem to solve. Actually, I started this blog ten years ago to force myself to write. And even with the blog, I’ve shied away from setting rigid posting rules. (In retirement I’ve grown ever more commitment phobic.) I may go a week between posts or two months between posts. Sometimes when the words are flowing, I’ll write several posts and store them for future dry periods.
While I have helped other writers to publish their work by providing a range of coaching, editing, and interior design services, My Life With an Enigma will be my first published book. The project started several years after my mother’s death in the early 1990s. Many of Mothers friends encouraged me to write her story. At the time, I nodded and thought maybe, some day.
One of the most difficult aspects of her passing was the dismantling of her estate, which required my sister and I to coordinate without killing each other. As difficult as that was, I must say that it takes a lot less to dismantle an estate than to build one. There were some rather amusing things that came out of the process. A year later, I wrote a short story about the experience. Those with whom I shared the story wanted more. Maybe, some day.
I dabbled a bit. I wrote about her early childhood, which seemed to fascinate people . But as I progressed through her life, there were difficulties. There were so many different threads of her story. Which ones were the right ones? What was true? What really happened? I struggled to move forward. Approaching my own birth in the narrative slammed me into a wall. How to write about her and her children when I was one of those children? How to deal with family dysfunction?
The project floundered while I continued my day job, finished my degree, and subsequently retired. Lacking school assignments to push me, I joined a non-fiction writer’s group and hauled out the stale old “mom” project. Advice from the writer’s group led me to change the sex of a troublesome character. That seemed to solve everything! The words flew. I got all the way to the end. Then in the rewriting process I realized that I had fictionalized the entire story. Changing one character led to changing others and to fictionalize locations. As I read through what I’d written, it was no longer my mother’s story.
Back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, the writer’s group dissolved. I needed a motivation to keep at it. That is when I began posting chapters to the blog. It was a great test run. Critical commentary was sparse, but I got a sense of what worked, what stimulated interest, and what caused confusion. And in the research process, I learned uncomfortable things about my mother. Writing about her forced me to come to terms with her flaws, her immense strengths, and my flaws.
The über public nature of posting online was treacherous. I was hanging my ass on the line. Would I end up buckshot? Was I exposing private details of living people? Whose feelings would be hurt by my vanity? Was my material truthful?
All these questions forced me to contemplate the very nature of truth. Who’s truth? Can anyone own the truth? If I am honest, that is my truth. No one can own my truth. Nor can I own anyone else’s truth. Posting to the blog provided me a trial run with public criticism and the possibility of ostracism.
Once launched, the book will travel its own trajectory. If I do no marketing, it will simply answer the desires of a friendly audience. If I force myself to market it, Enigma may reach a larger audience. And as it goes into the world, it will reflect back on me. I own the book’s flaws. I own the unanswered questions. And I will own the criticism. That’s the best I can do.