Thursday, January 29, 2009

Burn Baby Burn

Yeah, so I set fire to my book last year: every page of it, after a minor and tearful ceremony, in the brick cavity of an undersized fireplace in an average vacation rental on the McKenzie River.

(This wasn’t the children’s book—that’s what I wrote to make myself feel better after I burnt up the “real” book).

I did this not because it was a pile’o’crap, but because it was consuming me. Four rewrites and five dozen rejections and the thing had taken on a life of its own; its rejection, my own; its subject, my identity.

The thing about memoir is that it’s easy to take a bit too personally, as well as make you begin to treat your life like a Hollywood movie.

As I was living, I was thinking about the book constantly. “Is this the climax?” I’d ask myself. “Is this thematically relevant?” Finding the ending had become a bit of a quandary because life kept on happening while I was trying to write. “Should I wait another week—will the happy ending show up by then?”

This process was eating me alive, not to mention keeping me from enjoying the day-to-day imperfect beauty of my own wacky life rather than trying to turn it into a plot point.

So I lit fire to the thing. It was instantly, wholly liberating. And, within a week, I started editing it again. (I hadn’t burnt up my hard drive; no, I am not quite that fond of finality, or commitment for that matter.)

“So you burnt it like the phoenix?” my sister asked, kindly, but sarcastically.

Yes. I burnt it like the phoenix.

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