I was reading this beautiful book. I could already tell that it was one I would remember and that I would recommend to friends.
And then I came to page 125. I read this one single scene. Two pages. And I put the book down and cried.
The five hundred-something words on those 2 pages described a young boy’s bedtime ritual with his mother, a memory so pure, so dear, and so sad… simply because it was gone. Those words made me suddenly understand that my bedtimes with my daughters were as hard for me as they were for them – hard because at the end of the day – days that were imperfect and marred and wrought with difficulties and rage and fear and disappointments – I didn’t want the day to have been what it was, and so I didn’t want it to end. Wait… was that what was behind those hours I spent reading, talking, singing? Wait…
Who wrote this beautiful book?
Stefan Merrill Block, a young man of 26.
What 26-year-old man could possibly throw such a searing light on my own memories as a mother?
What 26-year-old man weaves words into such a beautiful, heart-wrenching tale?
What 26-year-old man gets his first novel published?
I’m trying not to look at this writer and his novel, The Story of Forgetting, as proof that he is simply a better writer than I am, that he simply has more merit or more talent, and that therefore he is facing a life ahead as a successful author while I, now past 60, have not yet published a book nor could possibly do so.
I’m trying, instead, to look at what this young writer did that’s different than what I’ve done (so far). I’m trying to clearly see, and understand, truths that will help me as a writer, not discourage me. And this is what I see:
Stefan Merrill Block clearly decided that he would write this book. He simply decided.
Then he just did it. He devoted his mental capacities, his concentration, and countless hours just doing it: sitting down and writing.
And he got help. Lots and lots and lots of help. Stefan asked for help from experts, advisors, readers, editors, and those knowledgeable about the field his story delved into, and most importantly, he asked for help from those who know about writing and the publishing world. At the end of his book, his author’s note thanks, over the course of three pages, 7 writers and filmmakers whose work inspired him; 17 researchers whose work informed him; scores of people he conversed with in an online community; 29 friends, supporters, and advisors; numerous researchers; a group of editors at his publishing house; and 4 experienced readers and editors. A whole community of support.
This most talented young man wrote alone, as we all do. But he did not publish alone. He surrounded himself with “a group of one’s own,” as Linda Lowen describes in her post about creating community through writing.
Stefan Merrill Block, talented as he is, clearly did not think his writing was destined for publication simply because he thought it perfectly written in its first draft. Nor did he think his writing unworthy, not deserving the time and cost of obtaining advice, review, and expertise from others.
And that’s what the Women At Woodstock Writers Retreat is about. Deciding to write your book. Doing it. And most of all, opening yourself up to a community of support; investing the time and, yes, a little money, into stepping into a community of your own that will give you the encouragement, expertise, and support that one needs in order get published.
Are you a writer who’s going to actually write your book? Who’s going to join a community of your own? Who’s going to become a published author – like Women At Woodstock alums Jill Dodd, Laura Iodice, and Peggy Reskin, and like our Writers Retreat coaches Linda Lowen and Colleen Geraghty? I’ll see you in October.
Want to read the scene from The Story of Forgetting that broke me down? Here it is:
WHEN I WAS LITTLE, my mom and I had a game no one else knew about. There weren’t any rules, or winners, or necessary playing elements like boards or dice. In fact, all there was to the game were two words.
At night, after my mom would tell me a story, we would say “good night” to each other dozens of times. After each time one of us said it, the other would have to say it in return, because when it got to the point that no one was saying “good night” at all, that meant that day was really over, and as remarkable as it may seem now, that was once something we hated to admit.
My mom and I also had another game. While the first we could play only in my bed at night, this game we could play anywhere, anytime. Sometimes, when I would think my mom was being eccentric (or maybe something worse), I would suddenly realize that she was just playing the game.
The game was simple: one of us would start to pretend to be the other. It might not sound like much, but sometimes it seemed like more than a game, like we actually could almost become each other, sharing thoughts like the Isidorans. Once, as she sat on the corner of my bed, after we played the first game for close to ten minutes, to the point that a book of psychopathology would categorize it as obsessive behavior, we were silent. I knew she thought I was asleep, but I was awake, thinking about how I didn’t want her to go to bed because then I would know that I was the only one awake in the whole house, maybe the whole neighborhood. Maybe the only one awake in the whole city, who knew?
Suddenly, into the darkness, my mom said, “I can’t sleep because I ‘m worried about not being able to sleep.”
I said, “Me too.”
“The thing I hate the most is to be the only person awake when the whole world is asleep,” she continued.
“Me too!” I said.
I was little and not yet good at the game, so she made it more obvious.
“When I grow up I want to be a famous scientist,” she said.
!!!, I thought.
“You’re me!” I said, so loud it could have woken my dad.
“Bingo,” she said.
“Ohhh,” I said.
And then, after a long time, my mom said, “Good night.”
My mom said, “Good night.”
I said, “Good night.”
And because my mom didn’t say anything for a long time, I said “Good night.”
And then I said, “Good night.”