I’m participating in Camp NaNo, a spring version of NaNoWriMo, the annual novel writing event in November. Two important aspects of the NaNo movement are a clear due date and a vibrant community of support.
In November, I wrote my first book-length memoir. Almost 100 pages of people, memories and the foolishness of my youth. I felt blessed how the words poured out.
I let it sit for the proscribed six weeks as recommended by Stephen King in his brilliant book, On Writing.
Then I started to edit. Or sludge through unrelated scenes, summaries and free associations in valiant hope to find one strand of a narrative thread. Alas, not a strand! I spent more hours editing than I did writing. I started to wonder where I had gone wrong.
I talked to trusted friends and did some reading. I realized I had too many characters, too many messes and too many places for the story to be readable. Without a narrative thread, 100 pages were too long to follow.
Have you ever spent hours on something only to realize you need to go back and do it all from the beginning?
In mid-March, I decided to start from scratch and rewrite the whole memoir. The day I made the decision, I felt a sureness I’d never felt during the weeks of editing.
I needed to write the first draft in November to get it all out. Now I’ll write the second one with the intention to make it readable.
A plan, a pair of friends, a purpose
With an outline prepared, I put strict limits on my characters, scenes and layers. My plan is to show fewer scenes in a slower pace.
I have the good luck to be writing this month with two talented friends who are working on their own books so we can encourage one another to keep slogging when the writing gets tough.
My purpose in writing my memoir is to show how grace and faith—even in amounts as small as a sliver—kept me going and they can get you through your dark times.
I’m putting my writing hours into the memoir so this month I’ll post raw excerpts from what I write. We’ll return to our regular blog posts in May. I hope you’ll enjoy the excerpts and I welcome your feedback!
Here we go!
Broken hand to pray with (working title, excerpt one)
Vacation Bible School
The summer I turned seven, I spent a week in vacation bible school. It must have been the church of someone my parents knew, some mother probably in fear for my soul in light of my non-believing parents. She offered to have me go with her daughter.
I didn’t know the girl, Kristie, well. Every morning, the mother picked me up in a wood-paneled station wagon and drove us to the church. It was a church combined with a school. We went to different classrooms depending on the activity.
The girl was quick to clump to her friends once we shut the heavy doors of her mother’s station wagon. I shuffled between activities as best I could, all the rooms and other kids unfamiliar to me.
On the last day, we learned we would have a contest. I walked into the classroom with excitement. I thought of myself as a lucky person. I won a goldfish at my brother’s high school carnival and often found pennies. I felt I had a good chance in whatever kind of contest this one would be.
“I haven’t seen you before,” said the man in a chipper tone with horn-rim glasses and a grey crew cut.
“I don’t go here,” I said. “We don’t go to church.”
He looked me over and focused his attention on the cleaner, smiling girl settling into the seat next to me. “Well hello there Kristie! How are you doing today?”
Once we sat down, he held up a plastic box molded in beige with brown spray painting on it to make it look aged. It was the size of my hand in length and width, standing about three inches high. It had a lid that came off.
From as long as I remember, I’ve appreciated a good container. Plastic, paper or wooden box, ceramic mug or china teacup, woven basket or stone bowl, I love them all.
Empty, they represent potential. Full, they make random items seem like treasure.
I wanted that box. Through my seven-year-old eyes, it looked wondrous.
The chipper man explained that whichever girl recited the most Bible verses would win the box.
“Study the Bible, girls!” He said as he handed out small Bibles for us to look over. “And you’ll use what you learn the rest of your life.”
We had an hour to look it over. The Bible was an edited children’s version. It included watercolor pictures every few pages. Noah on his ark. Moses parting the sea.
I skimmed the stories and tried to remember them.
The man announced it was time to recite our verses. Girl after girl went to the front and prattled off sayings. Then it was my turn.
I walked up. I could remember nothing. He hinted, “How about, ‘Do unto others…'”
I repeated, “Do unto others.”
“No, do unto others as…”
I stared at him, waiting for more of a hint.
“Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
I gave him a blank look. It meant nothing to me. What was “do unto others”? What was “done unto you”?
He shook his head.
I walked back and sat down.
Kristie went to the front of the class and recited verses about lights and words, green pastures and sheep. The man gave her the box. We clapped.
As I sat behind Kristie on the ride home, I could see over the front bench seat. Her mom chirped happy words about how proud she was of having such a daughter. With narrow eyes, I watched Kristie take the lid off and fit it back on.
People knew her name. She belonged. She won boxes.
I rode in the back seat, driven by someone who felt sorry for me. I had no box of my own. The car creeped down my steep driveway to drop me off.
“Bye now!” waved her mother in her cheerful voice. Kristie said nothing. She held the box in both hands as she looked at me through the window of the station wagon pulling away.
I dropped the coloring pages in the trash as I walked in the house. Noah, Moses and Jesus rested on top of cantaloupe halves and coffee grounds.
That was my only–and last–experience with vacation bible school.