As my wonderfully supportive writing buddies are well aware, I’m working on what I hope is the final revision of a memoir about the avian and human loves of my life. But I’m not sure everybody knows why the book got written in the first place.
Sure, I had the raw material–years of living with four small, unpredictable South American parrots whose love and acceptance redeemed me through successive heartbreaks until I found my husband, Dennis. Raw material is never enough, however. I needed to overcome my resistance to starting a long work in the first place.
This is where Beverly Claire Jones came in, a writer/photographer friend who visited from New Mexico in 2006 and asked me a key question: Did I plan to write a book about the parrots? Her timing wasn’t random or accidental. A couple of months earlier, Peaches–the first of the birds in what I called The Gang of Four–had died of a virus, possibly cancer.
I told Beverly I’d been thinking about writing a memoir but hadn’t started. Why not? Because I was afraid I’d get bogged down or wouldn’t see it through, and then I’d have another incomplete book sitting in a box, like the fantasy novel I’d begun when I got divorced years before. I didn’t need to mortar one more brick into the edifice of my self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.
Actually, Beverly knew me well enough that I could give her the shorthand version: “What if I won’t finish it?”
She looked me right in the eye and said, “What if you do?”
“Oh,” I sputtered. “Well, uh . . . ”
I was busted. When we sat down to do writing exercises together, I wrote a scene for the book–the one where Maggie got stuck in a wall, and I had to take it apart to rescue him (yes, him). After that, I couldn’t stop.
Fast forward to the 2011 Pima Writers’ Workshop in Tucson, where an agent read my first chapter and asked me to send him the manuscript when it was done. What’s the connection? Having an agent ask for your work is a desirable outcome that you cannot get unless you have a manuscript.
Which means you have to start. And, heck, you might as well, ’cause what if you finish it? For one thing, even if you’re looking at a lot of revision work, finishing just the first draft means you’ve mortared a brick into the edifice of your self-confidence and feelings of adequacy. That that can carry you a good, long way.