When I began writing my memoir, I realized that I was lacking a writing community. While writing my previous books, which were novels, I had unwittingly created a protective bubble around my self. My creative instincts at the time were undeveloped, my voice shaky. When I would hit writer’s block, friends would suggest I workshop my draft with a writers group so that I could get feedback, but I was hesitant. Rationally I knew it would be helpful, but I couldn’t do it. In my twenties and most of my thirties, I had shared the craft of storytelling with my ex-husband, and inevitably, my own voice had become muted. So when starting over on my own, honing my own instincts, I think I was wary of allowing other people’s suggestions to influence the unformed story I was attempting to manifest.
I wrote the first draft of my memoir the same way, but when it came time to get it out there, i was stumped. Was it ready? Was it in the right format? Should I be shopping a memoir proposal, a business plan for the book, rather than a manuscript? What was the best way to query agents, and what would the grueling submissions process be like when what you’re putting out there isn’t an imagined story with fictitious experiences (not that that isn’t painful!), but the inner workings of your heart and soul, laid bare?
And then I received an invitation on Facebook to join a large private group of women writers, which consisted of novelists, memoirists, essayists, teachers and bloggers. I somewhat impulsively posted a question about memoir submission in the memoirist group, and to my delight, received a cascade of useful advice I consequently put into effect.
And along the way, I made friends. I attended a writer’s conference for this group in NYC, where I didn’t know anyone but on my way out, ended up standing in the bathroom line between two women who I instantly clicked with. (And I’m glad I waited, rather than my usual maneuver of ducking into the no-line men’s room). We couldn’t stop talking for hours, and now we are friends, providing feedback on each other’s work, and meeting for dinners to talk about life, love, and writing. I’ve attended cocktail gatherings (go figure) and became inspired by strong and brilliant women who share my passion and who have come out on the other side – who’ve provided me with unsolicited support and comfort, and moments where I’ve been able to reciprocate in kind.
But when I finally secured an agent who began sending my book out to editors, I felt alone again. I went about tending to the needs of my day, but anxiety sat in my pocket like a hard stone. I stared at my inbox, waiting for news from my agent, wondering if what would come would suddenly change the texture and trajectory of my life. There was no advice my close friends and family could give me, or that a community of writers could give me now, no to-do list to follow. All I had was feelings, and lots of impatience (although that’s nothing new), that were mine alone to sit through.
I was wrong. A writer in the group named Joan, who lives in Colorado, saw that my book was out on submission and reached out to me in private message. Joan was in the same situation I was (but with a vastly different life story). She too had a new agent who now had her baby in hand to send out into the world. What was it like? How did I feel? We began pinging one another when a rejection came in. Or when we were irrationally worried or bereft. And then, Lily, another memoirist on submission pinged me too, and we invited her into the group.
That was in March. Our virtual friendship continues to blossom in unexpected ways, unique to the norm of Facebook friendships. We check in with each other almost every day on memoir status, and sometimes also, about life. When I received some exciting news about my memoir’s potential, my hands shaking, that Facebook message box was the first thing I searched for. When I received bad news, fighting tears, I found myself doing the same. When two of us were receiving updates from our agents, but one hadn’t heard anything, we helped her brainstorm what to do. We listen. And sometimes we disagree with one another, implementing tough love, the kind usually reserved for my sisters and closest friends.
When a close work colleague of mine asked me how my book was going, I surprised myself by saying, “It’s going okay, thank you,” my typical urge to unburden myself eradicated. Because I had my support – the kind I needed, without knowing that I did.
While out to dinner with a client in Soho a few weeks ago, I saw our three-way chat box light up. I was unable to read it but the CAPS and “!!!!!!” relayed what we had all been waiting for. Joan had received an official offer on her memoir. She was freaking out. Her husband wasn’t home, and she was pacing her apartment alone. My heart soared for her. I couldn’t get out of my dinner fast enough. As soon as I left, I messaged her: “Can I call you?”
She picked up on the first ring. “Joan?” I said. “Yay!! I’m so happy for you! This is huge!” and other such congratulatory cheer. Her sweet voice – that I had never heard before – was pitched in excitement. She had spoken to her husband, her therapist, and… me. A woman she had never met before, on this most significant milestone.
When I received some disappointing news a few weeks later, and felt as if I was jumping out of my skin with worry, I wanted to go meet Joan and Lily for margaritas. But the three of us know, that that time will come, as we continue to hold one another’s virtual hands on this long beautiful journey.