On February 1, 2009, I completed my second dissertation, a 240 page memoir. I graduated in May 2009 with a PhD. I thought the book was pretty good. I was happy with it anyway.
I sat on it for a year, tweaking commas and line lengths. A waste of time. In March of 2010 I sent query letters to agents and a few editors. The editors gave me form rejections, and half of the 25 agents or so asked to see more. A few asked to see the whole book, maybe 5. One talked to me on the phone and pointed me where I really believe I needed to go but was just obstinate, or too stupid, to do so.
The last month I've confronted my academic upbringing and said no, no more. All throughout grad school I avoided literary theory and high-horse-ivory-tower-soap-box preaching. But this month I noticed it was all over in my book, a manuscript that tries to hybridize landscape theory and philosophy with narrative and lyric memoir. And then some cultural history. And some poetry. I was showing my work too much and thumping my chest in the process. Bad writer.
If you're still reading, here's the issue--I was doing what I tell my students not to do--compartmentalize research and memoir. What was I thinking? No wonder the book never flowed well, never really upped the ante with metaphor, really hybridized.
So I've been integrating the researchy sections with the memoiry sections, splitting up long academicy essays while making them readable and digestable, i.e. cutting like mad. And you know what happened? I got excited again. Really excited. What had been a book of metaphor became one of rich metaphor. What became a book of distilled story lines became a double or triple helix of deeper story.
And most importantly spreading out the research, the essay essay stuff, has helped open a new avenue or dimension in the final movement of the book--the book goes a bit further now. So, any students past or future stumbling their way here, as I told you, as I must continually rediscover for myself, research opens up new avenues of exploration and narrative while making the form of creative nonfiction do more metaphorical work. Not a bad thing. Still, my book is what the business calls "quiet," but it's what I call elegantly understated, and, well, literary. No sensationalism, just honest to god struggling and reflection--I'd like to think it reads how we feel, not how we feel while watching a tightly choreographed two hour movie.
Why didn't I see this earlier? Because the first book is always the hardest? Does it get easier? If my years of poetry writing tell me, yes and no. Your instincts get sharper from editing practice so you trust youself more, but the editing is still rightfully hard.
I've gone on, but I wanted to document this process in some way on my hybrid blog. Victory is mine. For a moment.