"No one can help you if you’re stuck in a work. Only you can figure a way out, because only you can see the work's possibilities." - Annie Dillard
When I first read Dillard's statement in the introduction to In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, I felt slightly ill. If that's true, have I been blindly flailing about by taking writing courses? Have my years with Natalie Goldberg and the MFA classes at Goddard College been for naught? Of course they haven't. But ultimately, no advisor, no teacher, not even a good writing friend can see my book the way I see it in my mind.
Why can no one help us when we're stuck? Aimee Liu, my MFA Advisor, says the only good reason to write a book is because we want to figure something out. In my memoir, Memorial: Our Last Year on the Links, I'm trying to figure out something about the relationship between my father and I. I'm not entirely certain what that is. There are questions like: Who was my dad? Who was he to me and to others? Who was I to him? And the really tough ones: Did he love me? and Who am I? I know the story is there. I feel as if I'm filling out the sketchy scenes and trying to make it work, but it's all still fuzzy like a cloud before I've figured out what animal it resembles.
I remember sitting on a friend's back porch watching clouds. We made them disappear. We each chose one cloud - a small one usually - and we each focused on our cloud with the intent to make it disappear. Sometimes we would do the reverse - pick a small cloud and focus and make it grow. It always worked. Whatever intent either of us directed toward that cloud happened.
It's just like that with a book. The difference is that, instead of just sitting and staring at a book and hoping it will take shape, I have to work. I get in there and muscle around some sentences and some paragraphs and sometimes an entire chapter. I have to be willing to show up with very little besides my sheer determination and a faith that I will see what to do next.
Even if no one can help me with my book, it's all good. All the courses I've taken and the feedback I've gotten and the structure it has created has made me know one thing: I want it bad. That's the bottom line for me. I want to see this book go into print and I want it to tell some truth about us. In the end, my truth is all I have.