When I was younger, I wrote first for myself, then to show others, and eventually perhaps I might gain recognition. As I grew older and dealt with the vicissitudes of publishing, I cynically embraced the belief that being paid well for your writing is what made you a real writer. Anything less and I was more or less failing. (Talk about high expectations.) Now I’m not so sure. One of my clients is reminding me that writing is so much more than the pursuit of money.
She’d been working on “her book” for nearly 40 years but never could “finish” it. About five years ago, I coached her a little, but we hadn’t spoken in a long time. Then she called one day and said, “I’ve got to finish the book.” She had metastasized cancer. The doctors told her she didn’t have much time left. I had just endured my own battle with cancer, emerging scarred (a little maimed), but cancer-free and happy to talk, taste, swallow and breathe.
She handed over a dizzying array of paper and computer files, duplicates with one or two lines revised, many with whole new paragraphs mixed in. I painstakingly sorted through them and arranged them in chronological order. We went through them line by line, sitting together hunched over her laptop. Her computer skills were basic, and she was amazed at how I could move stuff around. I printed pages, she marked them up. She read the changes and I typed, revising on the fly, discussing themes, chronology, the merits of each line and each word, moving scenes and creating chapters. My suggestions had to be consistent with her voice. She wrote poignantly, truthfully, clearly. She instinctively understood the writing process, often asking herself what she meant by something she’d written. The chaos of her 40 year attempt was congealing into a powerful narrative.
When I worked at home, she called urging me to go faster because the doctors had done another scan, and it didn’t look good. Through all of this she was getting chemotherapy and courageously plowed on, the act of writing seeming to uplift her enough to be uncannily productive. I’ve had deadlines before but this one gave the term a whole new meaning. I’m not sure what that meaning is – one of the reasons I’m writing this I suppose.
She’d had, to say the least, challenges that made for an interesting life. Abuse, depression, alcoholism, astounding business success, drive and determination, love, humor, a unique pragmatic use of religion, and a useful unwavering belief in God. (I’m not religious or even that spiritual – she never proselytized.) She is an extremely successful, kind, bright woman who wants to remain anonymous. No fame and glory needed.
We’re almost there. At the end, I will format for CreateSpace, Kindle and Smashwords. Clearly she is getting immense satisfaction from the process and the knowledge that she will finally “finish the book.” If it sells half a million, the likelihood of her being around when it does are slim. Her motivation was never to be a successful writer in the sense I’d considered it. She just thought her story might be helpful to others. And if she wasn’t there, well, that was God’s plan all along.