where I’m at

I’m tap, tap, tapping into a small space inside me marked crash. It doesn’t take up as much room as it used to, but it’s a room that holds remarkable power. Once you step inside, it’s bigger than it appears, stuffed with old emotion and the unexplored under a thick layer of dust. When your editor tells you to let the reader in, that I need to dig deep; I have to open the door wide, shed my armor, and dust off emotion I haven’t touched in 12 years.

When you do something crazy like write a memoir everything is fair game, up for grabs. I understand the advice now to make sure there is enough distance between you and the subject you’re tackling, so one has perspective and prevents further harm. I couldn’t have written this manuscript ten years ago because it would have been too soon. I wouldn’t have been ready. Memoir is about honesty. Not just telling the truth, but being naked, exposing you to the reader. Here are my darkest thoughts. This is what devastation looks like. This is how heartbreak tastes. And then you have to craft it, find a creative way to say it. You don’t get to cover up with facts, lessons, and a smiley face.

Along the writer way I failed in some of the details, in the ‘going there’. I didn’t explain why I felt this way or I made statements about pain with little to back it up. So I’m at it again with the notes and sound advice of my editor, a wonderful woman who knows her stuff. This week I am writing about the driver. The driver of the vehicle that broadsided us. You know. That guy. I’ve been devoted to not discussing him, armor on, so he can’t creep in. Because he’s done enough. I forgave him long ago and I don’t want to give him more of my life. But, he’s a part of the story, a significant character. I can’t skim over the details, over him. The reader doesn’t know the story. You don’t know how I reached my conclusions and why I made my choices. The short answer is survival, but the long answer is what belongs in the book. I need to let the reader in. My job as author is not to guide you through the story, but to bring you in through all the senses and for you to feel what I felt. It means in order to let you in, I need to let the driver in.

So, when I am not working on Annie’s ballet costume (if you know me you know how funny that is) and terrified I’m becoming a Dance Mom, or catching up on laundry because my son is walking around naked in search of clean underwear, you’ll find me at the computer, hunched over, trying to shine a light on the dark places.

swept up

in a compelling story and beautiful writing. I read The Secret Keeper over the holidays and just fell in love with it.

29 thoughts on “where I’m at

  1. tara pohlkotte

    oh, it is hard and scary work to peel back layers and learn that you must peel back even more. I can’t tell you how excited i am to have your words in my hands. i so look forward to the day where i get to know the driver through your eyes, where i see how the world was painted for you then, how that shades the tint of the world you live in now. xo. Also? I just read The Forgotten Garden, can’t wait to read the Secret Keeper!

    Reply
    1. heidi

      Ooohhh, I loved The Forgotten Garden. She’s got such a good way with words, right? As do you. I am so happy to see you here! Very, very happy.

      Reply
  2. Kerstin

    I can feel your struggle and your incredible power in those lines.
    And the way you explain what a memoir is all about has touched my heart. It is a tribute to all the authors who write memoirs and really honours what each and everyone of them puts into it.
    I am sure your book will be amazing. When I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed last year I declared it one of my favourites ever – and just reading this blog I know that your book is going to be right up there!
    xo!

    Reply
    1. heidi

      You are just so sweet! And reassuring. Thank you so, so much.
      I need to read ‘Wild’. I’ve heard from you and a few others how great that book is.

      Reply
  3. tlc

    You’re making a costume?! The end of the world is nigh! ;)

    I can only grasp a tiniest, smidgiest bit of what digging about must be like and then respond with ‘what a dink’ when I see that guy being there again. Completely insignificant response but somewhat satisfying none the less.

    Reply
    1. heidi

      To be clear, I’m not making a costume as much as fixing an old one. I did put Velcro in just the right spot on an apron – now that was something. I also got fancy making a pretend cook book. Maybe the end is nigh…
      You make me laugh!

      Reply
  4. Steph

    It’s fascinating to read about your process, and about what your editor is urging you to do. The great thing is that you believe in her skills – as she obviously believes in yours. Following your blog we have seen many shades of your story, your depth of emotion, and needless to say your talent in expressing it. I for one look forward to all that you have to pour into this book – especially those places that are hard to go back and find. I have your rss feed in my mail program, and I wait hungrily for your posts, just as I wait for your book. Bring it on!

    Reply
    1. heidi

      Aw Steph, that made my day. I’m having a grumpy, blah sort of day and there you are…with your kind, kind words. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      Reply
  5. Jennifer

    Just the other day I was looking at my Twitter feed and wondered how you were doing. Sounds like you are making wonderful progress and I cannot wait to read your book when it’s done. You are such an inspiration.

    Reply
    1. heidi

      Thank you, Jennifer! I am so far into these edits I’ve become a bit of a recluse. Just like a real writer. Ha! ;)
      It feels good to come up for air here. And, truly, thank you for your kind words.

      Reply
  6. Emily

    it’s good to see another post from you! i can only imagine how hard this process must be….
    “It means in order to let you in, I need to let the driver in.” – wow, love it.

    Reply
  7. Jessica

    I can only imagine how hard it is to go there. I keep wanting to begin working on a memoir but I’m just not sure I can. I can go there but only for short periods of time. I can’t immerse myself in it yet.

    Reply
    1. heidi

      I feel for you. There is definitely a time to push and go after the writing and then there is a time to wait…until you’re ready. If you want to write, when you want to write, it will tap you on the shoulder and it won’t leave you alone. Then you’ll know it’s time.

      Reply
  8. Gayle Madden

    Hi Heidi,
    I, too, am writing a memoir. My crisis happened two years ago–a diagnosis of Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer. It’s been quite a trial. At 60 years of age, however, I don’t have the luxury of waiting 10 years before writing my memoir, or the memory!, so am writing it now. In the meantime, I have started a blog to inspire others to Live!
    Thank you for your words. We, indeed, are all in this together!

    Reply
    1. heidi

      Hi Gayle, I’m so sorry I haven’t responded sooner. I’ve been in the thick of these edits and all holed up over here. I want to wish you all the best as you write and explore and inspire. Good luck to you!!

      Reply
  9. Kate Coveny Hood

    Just caught up on MONTHS of reading here (thank god you are like me and don’t post every day!) Instead of separate comments, I’m cramming it all in here.

    Reflection made me feel much less alone in my nogoodenough insecurities. 50 Shades of Ordinary made me LAUGH. All of your writing about writing (and the public speaking tips) made me feel inspired to achieve (how can you feel so proud of a friend and not want to be more!?) Promise overwhelmed me with its universal truth.

    And this. What can I say? You are so very brave – and I’m lucky to call you my friend.

    Reply
    1. heidi

      Kate! I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond! I’ve been in a cave here. I just want you to know I adore you. Thank you for your kind, kind words here and, most of all, thank you for your friendship.

      Reply
  10. John

    Thank you Heidi for sharing how incredibly difficult it is to open a door and invite people into a space that you don’t even want to be in yourself. Your post is a wonderful metaphor for the difficulty we all have sometimes in being open and genuine about ourselves with the people we want to bring into and share our lives with. The courage and strength you demonstrate in all your posts in showing what you go through in your personal struggle to open yourself so completely to the many people who will read your book is inspirational.

    Reply
  11. julie gardner

    I’m sorry you have to ‘go there’ as part of this writing journey. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to reverse a path you’ve taken intentionally; to force yourself to look back again at something (someone) whom you’d decided had already had enough of your life.

    You’re so very strong, Heidi. And your strength (the plumbing of these depths) will help others. Maybe even help you. ??
    I don’t know.

    I do know I’ve missed your words, perspective, honesty. And I hope that the weeks between this post and my reply have been kind to you.

    I hope.

    Reply
    1. heidi

      Julie, thank you for this. It’s been interesting – this journey of writing about him. I explored feelings I didn’t know existed. I was surprised. I can’t get into all of it here, but it was helpful. Hard, but somehow oddly, wonderfully (I know…adverbs!!) helpful.
      I love seeing you here. Hi, friend.

      Reply
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