A little over a year ago, I was sitting in Tupelo, a favorite coffee place near CSU Sacramento and St. Francis High School, the Catholic girls' school that bears a strong likeness to the high school in Greta Gerwig's fantastic film Lady Bird. Anyway, there I sat with my longtime writing partner and friend, Shelley. She mentioned a class she was thinking of signing up for. This class would provide a framework, deadlines, moral support and instruction for completing the draft of a book--novel or memoir--in a year, January to January.
We decided to do it together.
At the time, I didn't even have a particular book in mind. I'd struggled with various ideas for the preceding several years, ever since my one and only previous book, The Reluctant Artist, an esoteric, niche defying "art book/memoir" about my father, was published by a small arts press in late 2015. I'd churned out hundreds of pages of several potential novels. I was really thinking novel this time around. But fifty to a hundred pages in, I'd fall utterly out of love with the writing, the premise, myself for ever thinking it was a good idea.
Enter Ellen Sussman's class. Ellen is a national best-selling author of four novels (including French Lessons). She teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies as well as her own classes. At the first meeting of our group of twelve woman (yeah, all women, as sometimes happens in the world of literary strivers), I realized I would write another memoir, this one much more personal than the art book/memoir honoring my father's artistic legacy.
For the next several months, I wrote like a 63-year old woman possessed. Whatever that looks like. A bit unkempt, too many snacks, schlepping around in robe and slippers. Not pretty. But I did it. I completed a draft and submitted it to Ellen for her review mid-January. I now await her suggestions and thoughts. Whatever the outcome, I completed a draft of an entirely new book in a year. Hurrah!
I thank Shelley for the initial inspiration and for being my pal and coach all year long. I thank Ellen Sussman for providing the framework and tools when I needed them and for telling me she believed in my project. I thank my fellow classmates, a great and talented group of women writers. I thank my family, for putting up with my obsession with capturing the past on the page, even when it means dragging them, and events they'd perhaps rather forget, onto the page with me.
Dorothy, author of Gray Is The New Black, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.