How to Sew a Book Together, in 767 Simple Steps

Hi, and welcome!

About two weeks ago, I set a deadline for getting the manuscript for Ordinary Magic to readers. That – and the totally gratifying response of my friends, both longtime and actual as well as never-met-before and virtual — has been a HUGE motivator. So too is the feeling that I’m closing in. Compared to the spinning of my wheels that I did for years, the work I’m doing seven days a week brings an amazing feeling.Camino de Santiago - Camino Frances

I can’t yet see the whole book, but I am beginning to see the figure inside the stone. I’m whittling it down from a much larger number of words, and events, sculpting it into existence, figuring out what it’s ultimately about. How much will be done, and how polished, before December 21?

I’d love to get your feedback on the different types of writing, voices, and subjects in here. Where are you most interested, or moved, or enlightened, or whatever it is you read to find?

You’re most welcome to join the conversation. About writing and love and courage and compassion, even for people we’ve never met, no matter how far away they may live, or how different from us they may seem to us to be, about death and dying and how do we show up. We’re also going to talk about resilience.

If you want to be sure to see every essay or other writing from the Ordinary Magic blog, it’ll be better to subscribe to the blog than risk Facebook’s algorithmic gauntlet. You can find the subscription field on the upper right column of any blog page. Look for the green SUBSCRIBE button.

What’s Going On

I work with three main manuscripts, up from the one I used for most of the book’s tortured history. For years I’ve used only one person to input the revisions I’ve made to the main manuscript. Her name is Lucija. She’s from Croatia, and that’s where she was during the years we worked together before Mom’s death. Now she’s married and living in Wisconsin.

But I’m going so fast now that she can’t keep up, so I’ve got other typists standing by. I put out a job on Upwork, a site for freelancers (it merged eLance and ODesk) and got bids from talented people in Pakistan, the Dominican Republic (a British expat), Nigeria, the U.S., and beyond. I gave the finalists about ten pages of my hand-written notes and editing notations and had all of them do a really difficult page. (No one got it all right, and I wonder how Lucija would have done).

By the 21st of December, I hope to have stitched all of these together somehow:

  • Ordinary Magic

This covers pre-Camino events, including a short history of Mom’s cancer and her prep for the Camino, as well as some context for my life at the time, and, finally, the Camino itself. This section has always comprised the bulk of the book, and the Camino the bulk of this section.

I worry constantly that this section is too long. Somehow it’s always too long. And mostly I’m talking about the first 40 pages or so. I’ve become sort of numb to how much useful information I’m putting out there, and when the reader might get impatient. The blindest spot I have is that of my own voice. When is it making something sound interesting enough? When is it too much?

I’ve been wrestling with where to put the line between sometimes chatty travelogue and a story that may need to put more focus on my mother’s story alone. I guess I’d say it’s also hard for me to see my own arc as others see it. Help!

I have erred on the side of cutting very practical information of the sort you’d get in a guidebook, and which can change. But does the travelogue itself hold interest? Is it jarring to have the voice there be so different from the other parts of the book? And why isn’t there more of my Mom? (Answer: if I didn’t write it down at the time, it’s unlikely I have any memory of it. And I didn’t write everything down by a long shot).

  • Intermission 

This is new. This part covers the three years from late October 2011, when we returned from the Camino and I stopped writing in the blog, through late October 2014. Mom did most of the blogging. I did nothing with this material until a few months ago, so it’s very rough. I could think of no way to get a headstart on it. I knew enough to know I had no idea which events I would find relevant in the end, whenever and however that would be. So I had to wait. I also think I may have lacked the energy (will? motivation?) to write so much down, for three years, as to be really useful in reconstruction. Combine that with the way my memory works, which is all gist with no episodic, and there are great gaps here.

My initial idea, a few months ago, was to make this a very brief, summarized section. In other words, not spending much space on her various torturous pains and her ups and downs over the three-year period before she began to decline, and we entered another camino, the Last Camino, where I think the best material is.

But then I spent a few months just whittling down all of the content, rather than writing some narrative content afresh. Then for a while I thought surely I need to include more dramatized detail – Mom’s thoughts and statements in her blog and to others – for these three years; can I just really rush people off the Camino de Santiago and straight to the Last Camino, where her decline begins in earnest? Now I’m going back to the idea of a summarized Intermission, with liberal quotes from Mom to keep it interesting. In any event, I seem to be cutting it down a lot. This is where I need readers’ feedback. Is this section too long for you? Or did you want to see more of something that I glossed over?

  • The Last Camino

The Last Camino picks up where Intermission leaves off and goes through around December 21, about 8 weeks later. I used to call this “the Hospice Period”.

I still feel like it’s too long. But there are also many, many conversations between my mother and me, or things she said. Some could be said to make a point already made, of course. But do they have their own comic value, or their own pathos?

mom-dancing-by-creeksideUnsurprisingly, I’m realizing I may have even less objectivity about this section than I thought I would. For me, all of our conversations, all of her statements, may as well be art. They’re truth and beauty and they’re all I have left of her, far more so, even, than in my own memory. It’s very hard for me not to fall into sentimentality, and this may be one of the most crucial ways you can help me. I’ll ask you to tell me which you think should be kept in, taken out, or put back in.

As always, I’m open to any help or evangelism you may find it fun to offer. See ways to help. And feel free to comment below or on Facebook!

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