When the story you write changes

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My next book, A Living Remedy, will be released in April. Last month when I shared Vivian Lowe’s beautiful creation cover for this and began to beg for preorders (as writers must) it felt like the beginning of the book’s life as a public object – something I find both thrilling and nerve-wracking. For a long time, my book was like a small island, an island on which I lived alone with only an occasional visitor. I can’t wait to share it, but I don’t know yet who will find it or how it will be read. I know it’s all my heart. I know I’ve never worked harder on anything.

Until I started writing this newsletter, I was deprived of my writing process. I tend to think something is risky or lost when I’m too open about a work in progress – I’m protective, I guess, when I’m still figuring out what it wants to be, and I prefer to talk to you about when I feel like I’m on solid ground. I can’t stop thinking about something Megha Majumdar said during our conversation a few months ago, about writing “quietly”: “Every book is an instrument of communication, and so we often have the impression of wanting to have a certain veneration for this instrument… The thing you want to say [people] about the book is the book.”

When I write, I rely heavily on planning and preparation – once I’ve plotted something, I believe I can finish it. I always knew this book would be a memoir about personal and generational grief, how this country abdicates its responsibility for the health and well-being of those who live here, how we struggle to support each other and take caring for each other when systems fail us, and what it can mean to survive and move through deep loss. But my life and the whole world changed after I started it, which means the story changed too. My plan was useless; plot points that I considered important landmarks have shifted or vanished altogether. I had to start over, and over again, and learn to write about things I never thought I would write.

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