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Bookmaking

Bookmaking

Recently a writer told me she has about 300 hits a day on her blog site. Amazing. I am sure it helps to write more frequently than the once every two or three months I manage to write something. And, I’m sure it helps to be a little less self-conscious about one’s writing—it’s about communication, not about how good you write, isn’t it? (How much bad criticism has kept us from good writing?)

Last fall I taught a workshop for women of color focusing on how writing saves lives—our own, and others, based on the book I’ve been writing for the last six years, How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life. This blog site was part of the workshop, a way for the writers to get their stories beyond the page, to share them, and to have the opportunity to hear other women of color stories from across the country, maybe even the world.

How does one measure success? Although we reached a few women writers outside of our class, even we as a class sometimes failed to participate. But, we believe in what we started, and though we may be slow in gaining momentum, we haven’t quit. For me, sometimes life gets in the way, and that is more important than the writing. In other words, for me, I write to live so when I’m alive and living, life takes precedence!

Of course, sometimes I can do both, like now because I’m writing on my lunch hour and writing is a pleasant activity between bites of my sandwich and tortilla chips. Of course, my mind is wandering and my writing is unfocused, but I know I have something to say that I will eventually get around to saying.

Serendipity! I’ve always loved that word. Microsoft Word thesaurus also suggests: chance, fate, destiny, karma, providence, luck, fortune, coincidence, accident, and kismet. But, I believe there is more to serendipity than serendipity. I think one must plan for it. Be aware. Be ready. Know that destiny relies on hard work.

I have written a book. It started out prose, but I couldn’t write prose. It became poetry. The class I taught was multi-genre. Currently I am teaching a workshop on bookmaking. In-between I queried a publisher and received a book contract. Serendipity, yes. But, also hard work.

The hard work is about surviving. About working on relationships, as well as working on the writing. Here is a quote from the intro of the book:

It has taken me six years to complete How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life. It is memoir, a writer’s guide, and a guide to living.

It has taken me six years to write because I don’t follow any how-to- write rules, I follow my heart, my head, and my gut; I follow my emotional and intellectual needs. I don’t write every day, nor do I want to. I want to live.

I write to live. Attempts at suicide for me were desperate attempts to be seen, to be heard, to be loved—to be alive. Writing saved me.

Saved me and continues to lead me toward love. How to Write a Suicide Note is about writing through and beyond historical trauma and my everyday remembrances of it. It is about discovering where trauma originates, why it has subjugated me, and how I am letting it go. It is about acknowledgement of the trauma, about anger, about grieving, about saying goodbye--about endings, and, most importantly, about beginnings.

I discovered, after I sent the proposal to teach a class on producing a chap book, and/or a poetry manuscript, that there were few resources on how to do it.

What does the map of your life look like? Are there stop signs, detours, back roads, freeways, and tunnels? Do you travel one particular road over and over again? Are you writing that one story over and over again? Does your collection of stories need closure? Is closure possible?

Memoir can be the stories remembered and made sense of as you chart the map of your life. Memoir can be the connection, the collection of those stories. Memoir can be your stories written in poetic form. Memoir can be poetry enhanced with pictures, and other visual materials.

In this mentorship, we will explore the healing power of poetry as memoir. Initially, we will examine the stories that navigate your life in order to discover the theme of your memoir. Your theme will be your writing prompt to gather more material. We will discuss poems belonging in your book, but emphasis will be on overall theme, organization, format, and production. This mentorship is for poets (who may sometimes write prose) interested in completing a chapbook or manuscript draft.

I am teaching mostly from my recent soon-to-be-published experience—serendipity? Creating, learning, and teaching almost all at the same time! I did discover Phillip Gerard’s book, Writing a Book that Makes a Difference and have found it helpful, even if it isn’t necessarily about writing poetry. I am also relying on other poets’ experience, local poets who are willing to come to our class and tell us from A to Z how their book entered the world.

I guess what I want to say is, I hope you will gather your notes/your poems and write the book that saved your life. Produce a chap book, or query publisher with a longer manuscript. Find a way to put closure to a part of your life that needs closure, while at the same time sharing your stories with those of us who are in need of hearing them. Loving Healing Press is the publisher of How to Write a Suicide Note. This publisher has never published poetry before. He said my story needed telling and he would do what he could to make it happen. With a name like Loving Healing Press, how could I say no? The publisher is serious about stories that matter. Also, on the publisher’s Web site there are interviews with writers about writing, including one last fall with Anya Achtenberg whose novella, Devil Girl, will be published by Loving Healing Press this spring. Anya is also the writer who first told the publisher about my book.

Serendipity? Hard work? Luck? Who you know? I think it’s a lot of each.

We, last fall’s women of color writing class, continue to welcome stories from women of color on how writing has saved your life, as well as stories regarding your experience with having your work published, as well as any resource information regarding how to put together a chap book or manuscript. I am enjoying teaching a class on bookmaking and think the act of collecting one’s stories and poems is an act of resistance, an act of saying “I am here, I am here, I am here.? And, an act of sharing that can make a difference to someone who is listening and needing to hear what you have to say.

I am not going to worry about this blog entry, whether or not my writing is Writing 101 correct. Sometimes it is more important to just write and get it out, than to spend the time revising. Not to say revising is often necessary, worthwhile, rewarding—and, yes, fun!

Sherry Quan Lee

Comments

My life is filled with detours and crossroads. Sometimes get off the beaten path only to get lost then found and then lost again. Writing has become difficult these past few months. Can't seem to keep myself focused. Guess it's part of the journey, my journey. I want to write another chapbook about my dad. But when I think about the task, I feel overwhelmed, sad, mad, lost again. I think about my Masters that I need to finish. That needs to come first. Should come first. But I am not drawn to that writing right now. How do you get yourself to write what you are supposed and how do you get yourself to write about what you feel you need to write about? I know, time. Just like that phrase that everyone says, time heals. What if I don't have time? What then? What do I do then? What will people say to make me (themselves) feel better?

I hate the whole thing about writing books: It takes too long to write one, and in the meantime how are you supposed to make a living as a writer (not less have a life)? I've been working on a book for the past almost 10 years (the oldest story in the book was written long before that). In the mainstream writing world, you're supposed to spend all this time on one work and then put all your hopes on it -- for publication and success.
I'd rather write shorter work because it takes less time and you have more and quicker opportunities for publication (publishing is success for me: so many people write great stuff but it never gets out there), but there are few opportunities to get paid this way.
This is such a bind when writing is all you want to do in life. If I didn't have to have a day job, I would write every day.
Even now, since I only work three days a week, I devote my two off days during the week to writing (and I'm grateful for that!). My prime writing times are 12-5 pm; that's when I have the most energy and creative juice.
I am determined to not work full time at a job outside my field (writing or editing--my day job is as an editor) because writing is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. I've worked full time outside of my field before, and it was so destructive to my soul (because I didn't have time to devote to advancing my writing career) that I just won't do it again. Without writing, I don't have a life. Sacrificing writing is sacrificing my life.