I’m writing a book, a memoir to be exact. I am extremely fortunate to have a contract with Simon & Schuster, one of the world’s premier publishing companies. But I also have a May 31 deadline to get the completed manuscript to my editor. And yes, I did say a May 31 deadline. And that’d be why you haven’t heard much from me lately. Because it’s a May 31 deadline, for a whole book, like you know, 85,000 words – due May 31.
I’ve been writing in 800-word snippets for two decades. I attended the Folio Show for magazine editors back when I was the editor-at-large for a magazine and I remember the editor of Rolling Stone saying, “If it can’t be said in 800 words, in today’s world of short attention spans, you may as well not say it at all.” I’m not sure if anybody from the New Yorker was there. If so, I kinda doubt they were in agreement, given their propensity for publishing articles that require a short vacation to finish reading. But 800 words sounded good to me.
I wrote a weekly back-page column for the magazine for 12 years, roughly 600 columns, all somewhere between 375 and 475 words. Since I started my blog, most of my posts have been in the 800-1000 word range. It seems I’ve gotten verbose.
It is not easy moving from writing in short bursts to writing long form. I have written a first draft of seven chapters of the book, and honestly, I’m not sure much of any of it will survive. My last TEDxMileHigh talk, completed in November (and probably headed to YouTube very soon) had 36 edits. About a month before the talk, Briar, the head TED coach, suggested I start with a blank page. I saw her at a party last night. She said, “But I said it to you in the nicest of ways.” Briar says everything in a really nice way. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I don’t respond well to people who say hard things in a mean way.
A TED talk is fewer than 1800 words, or to put it in perspective, one 47th of a memoir. My blog posts are about one 100th of a memoir. Do you see my problem? It’s like asking a gardener to take care of a 160-acre farm. I might be in a bit of trouble.
All of this to say I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to be able to keep to my weekly schedule for blog posts, or maybe not even the every-other-week schedule I’ve been holding to since I began writing the book. I’m sorry about that. I can assure you I’ll be back to a weekly schedule by July. I have to write. It’s air to me. I’ve been writing a weekly magazine column or blog post since 2003. I’m not gonna stop now. But for a while at least, you won’t see as much of my writing. You’ll have to wait until sometime in 2021 for the book to be published.
If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate a few prayers for the writing process. Writing a memoir is like pulling out your own teeth with a pair of pliers. You go into it hoping it’ll be cathartic, but at this point, it just hurts. You’re constantly riding that D. H. Lawrence line, “A writer sheds his sickness in his writing.” You want inspire your reader, not depress them. You want the pain that leads to redemption, not the pain that leads to drinking. You’re always walking that ridgeline between triumph and disaster. I feel pretty good about the introduction, and chapter one. Well, maybe chapter one. And maybe chapter three. Maybe.
In addition to my excellent editor, I have a few readers who are honest but kind. With their help, maybe I’ll find the right tone for the memoir. We’ll see.
If I ever say I want to write another book, please give me a call and talk me out of it. I’ll be greatly appreciative.