“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.” Bernard Malamud
Laura has been here twice before with these popular posts : “Why I Chose to Write a Memoir as Opposed to Fiction” and “Reflections on Trauma in Memoir: A 9/11 Tribute.” This week, she shares her journey of revising her memoir in the Digital Age of publishing
Welcome back, Laura!
All authors revise; we want to, and we have to. Our writing–if it is to be more than a personal journal–is meant to be read.
Before this “New Age of Digital Publishing,” a book was a book was a book. Once it was printed, on paper … pretty much, that-was-that. Publishers would not agree to a new edition mere months after the first one, just so the author could add a few bits. It was cost-prohibitive and generally, simply not done.
All of that has changed. Whether or not we call it a new edition, a re-release, or reprinting, authors are able to tweak their ebooks. Even paperbacks can be updated with relative ease, given the availability of print-on-demand. I use Createspace, for example.
When I first published Adopted Reality, a Memoir, I wanted it proofread and coherent, a good story … but I also wanted it out there. I wanted to be a published author, come hell or high-water. I did absolutely NO pre-launch marketing, social networking, what have you. I had my priorities, and yes, initial sales suffered for it.
Revision. Re-vision. Discovering a new vision.
For this re-launch of the 2nd Edition of my memoir, I had two purposes.
First, I knew I needed to “beef up” the endorsements in the front. I needed back matter. I needed “social media outlets” such as links to Twitter, Facebook and my blog.
I wanted a way to get readers engaged, to keep them as readers–of my blog and of future books. All of that was fairly straight-forward extremely daunting. It required healthy doses of gumption and legwork.
The second, and I would have to say, even more difficult purpose was to revise the memoir itself. I received feedback from readers that they wondered “if I’d made it” ... As in, following my 2001 bipolar breakdown, was I able to remain (relatively) sane and out of the hospital? If yes, then–how did I actually go about recovering?
Darn it, to heck, I thought. Let’s be honest. I may have used more evocative four-letter words.
I don’t know the answer to this. Long-term recovery from a bipolar breakdown is not easy, and I can’t say that I’m completely “cured.” That’s simply not how it works, at least for me. Learning to manage my depression, mania, hypomania, and something I’m only know recognizing as “mixed states”–well, it’s a huge job. I don’t have many insights.
Seriously, writing about my recovery … over the last twelve years? That’s fodder for a whole additional book, and I may need a degree in psychology to figure it all out!
The elusive “satisfying ending”
How I went about discussing my recovery to give readers not only a satisfying ending, but also some knowledge about living with bipolar disorder … it took time to figure out.
I wanted Adopted Reality to continue to exist as a “slice of life” memoir. The fantastical elements of my mental breakdown needed to have a beginning, middle and end. This can be one of the hardest aspects of memoir–finding an ending that feels complete and adequate for the reader … when the main character has a whole lot of life left to live!
Even so, the reader feedback was sound, especially because it came from fellow memoirists! I needed to give more details about how I struggled after being released from the mental hospital, how I succeeded in earning an MFA from a prestigious dance program, as a scholarship student who should otherwise be at the top of her dancing career. [If only it weren’t for this pesky mental illness.] This early recovery aspect needed to be shown with its attendant relapses and setbacks, warts-and-all.
I had to admit to myself was that while writing about delusions was fun and interesting; chronicling the arduous path to stability and sanity was decidedly not. The two years following my descent into madness were some of the most difficult times of my life. While I was supposed to be living my dream in California–reunited with my first mom, pursuing my love of dance–I was broken and beaten-down, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
But, I did it.
I sat down and I forced the writing out of me. I believe the 2nd edition of Adopted Reality is a better memoir for it. I’ve learned so much in the last year from other memoirists, such as Kathy Pooler, and from a social network of writers, fellow adoptees, and bloggers. Kathy was one of the first non-family-members who validated that my memoir was what she called, “a stunning psychological thriller.”
Beyond mere revision, this too is the power of the online digital age–connecting with kindred spirits, finding meaning in our own writing lives, and sharing that knowledge with others.
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Laura Dennis was adopted in New Jersey, raised in Maryland, and learned how to be a (sane) person in California. A professionally trained dancer, Laura also worked as sales director for a biotech startup. With two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, Serbia. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality, a Memoir, available on Amazon.
She currently blogs at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy. Connect with her on twitter @LauraDennisCA, or email email@example.com.
Thank you, Laura for sharing your memoir writer’s journey with us and for showing us how writing is rewriting. I appreciate how you kept your reader in mind as you revised.
Laura will give a copy of her memoir to a commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing.
How about you? What makes you decide to revise what you have written? Do you ask for reader feedback? As a reader, what makes you want to keep turning the pages of a book?
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Next Week: Memoir Author Nancy Stephan, The Truth About Butterflies, will discuss Narrative Medicine: ” A Tale of Two Men and a Four-letter Word.”