Bear with me. I am now going to tell you a long, circuitous story with no clear ending. It’s about becoming “a writer.”
It was right around my 45th birthday (April 2008), that one of my BFFs took me for a birthday tarot reading with a guy named Howard, who studied the cards he laid out for me and said, “Your job is soul-destroying.”
“Why yes, Howard,” I said, trying not to laugh. “It IS.”
Afterwards my friend asked me what I’d do if I left my career. A surprising answer bubbled up. “Well, I always thought I might write my memoir.” I think I first discarded that thought in college, but a few decades later I shrugged and thought, “Why not?”
I pulled my journals from their storage bin, transcribed excerpts and cobbled together a narrative, finishing the first draft on July 4, 2008.
When I shared this draft with a couple of journalist friends, they were kind, but it was clear my manuscript had a long way to go. I tried a revision, but work got busy in 2009 and I put my manuscript in a drawer. For almost nine years.
In 2013 I finally left my soul-destroying job, went to coaching school, set up a business and started a blog called Advice for PR Girls, mostly because it was fun.
In April 2017, that same BFF who took me to the tarot reading came to my birthday tea with a work memoir/professional advice book and said, “You could write a much better book than this. Why aren’t you writing a book?”
Ugh. Challenge accepted! I spent September- December 2017 stitching together stuff from the blog with the memoir draft from 2008. I shared the result with three friends. Again, no one dug it. I did not know what to do.
In January 2018 a colleague of mine mentioned a writing coach she knew. Maybe she could help! I reached out and she asked to read the original memoir, the collection of blog posts and the stitched-together manuscript.
She came back and wanted me to rewrite the OG 2008 memoir, but she wanted me to start with a blank page, not editing but rewriting from scratch. I felt like I was drowning when she said it, but somehow I knew the only way out was through, so I started.
In 2018, she and I worked through five revisions on the new memoir manuscript. I finally thought I had something. I had climbed the mountain and come down the other side. I thought I’d be able to rest and reap rewards.
Not quite! I went to a writers conference where I learned that first-time memoirists are about the least-desired writer population alive. If I wanted anyone to read my memoir, I’d either need to be extremely famous like LeBron James or build my own audience by writing and sharing personal essays.
In January 2019 I took a personal essay writing class at the San Francisco Writers Grotto. In the Lyft home from the first class I freaked out because I realized I knew nothing. But still, when you’re going through hell you keep going. So I knuckled down, learned the form, read a ton of essays and memoirs and wrote a long personal essay – a distillation of the major emotional and spiritual themes from my memoir. I pitched it in the spring to a journal.
In August 2019, that journal accepted my piece. I cried when I read the email. It was the first time a journal had accepted my work. However, they had a backlog of personal essays. About a year later I checked in and found they’d changed editors, but they did still want to publish my piece. The Complementarity Principle was published in May 2021, only 13 years after I wrote that first memoir draft.
The Complementarity Principle getting published may be the end of one story, but I hope it’s the middle of another. I have no idea what to hope for with my writing. I wrote a dozen essays in 2019, and another 11 and a short story in 2020. I’ve submitted to 145 journals in two years. I’ve had a handful of pieces published. It feels miraculous every time I get an acceptance email.
Maybe, someday, more of my work will be published, maybe even a collection of essays, maybe something else. In 2021 I’m rewriting the memoir as a novel. Fiction is a terrifying leap! Do I know what to hope for with this new project? Absolutely not. The only thing I do know about writing is that I am supposed to just keep going.
I have no idea why I’m doing this. But I guess that’s the whole point of a leap of faith. You leap. You can’t see the other side!