I’ve lost count of the number of drafts of my memoir, working title “Under the Birch Tree.” However, I have not lost count of the years my memoir has been in production. Specifically, I have accrued 7 professional manuscript critiques/editorial analyses over 10 years. (I consider my manuscript a draft when it’s ready to submit to a professional and not the countless rewrites it took to get to that point.) I don’t know which is worse, the number of drafts or years. Maybe neither is bad.
I feel I’m on the homestretch, the final leg to professional developmental editing, that is. But before I can start walking that leg, I need to work my checklist, a recently instituted necessity. I need to weave in bits and pieces from short essays developed over the years from the many legs that sprouted through my story. I also need to consider notes I made from bell-ringing thoughts after reading novels, memoirs and how-to craft writing books. I have paper trails of evolving stages of my “Table of Contents” where I get a visual of the flow, the development of my story, like x-rays revealing bones and structure. I also have research notes about birch trees, their growing conditions and habitat, their history and maybe any symbolism captured in literature.
But it was my recently skimmed first draft, written in 2005, where rewrites and years of change may have adversely affected my memoir. As I read it, I was caught by the honesty of my words, the flow of my conversation, and the somehow organization of my chaos; I had titled my chapters! I had showed many scenes through dialogue; recalling conversations was easy as I typed away while the banter in my head continued. However, in my attempt to tighten things up and stay focused on my theme, I had deleted many scenes and dialogue. With scrutinous eyes I would ask myself if what I was about to delete was integral to my story. If there was no added value, out it came. I noticed bits and pieces of me, what I remembered to be important, were deleted. I had also cut a lot of dialogue.
Earlier in my memoir’s life I had written a scene showing my friendship with two male friends. I was in my mid-twenties, the youngest of our threesome, and the other two were well into their thirties. We were buddies, the three amigos. Fast forward twenty-five years when I recently ran into one of my amigos. We didn’t have time to talk beyond saying “hello” and introductions to me of his wife and 10 year-old daughter. Meeting him took me back in time to my youth and our friendship and I thought about that scene I had written, showing their inclusion as part of that decade of my life. I wondered if our chance encounter was not chance at all, but a sign. I searched through every draft I had filed, trying to find that one scene I had written years ago but it was gone, permanently deleted. I tried in vain to rewrite it, but the essence of what I had captured once in those writing moments was gone.
As I near another professional-ready draft, I wonder about all those scenes and dialogue I had deleted in my attempt to create a better story with effectively weaving theme threads. I wondered if I had lost parts of me I had massaged and carefully placed prose to emotion. Then I thought that losing parts, of me, scenes and dialogue were not really losing anything, but gaining a perspective on how far I’ve come in my life’s journey, in my writing life with this recent draft. I can say that 7 years and 10 drafts was a bad thing in that I am saddened by losing some writing I wanted to remember, to re-read, to take me back in time but a good thing where I can see how far I’ve come with the development of my memoir, ready for professional developmental editing.