Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Pace

So let me tell you why you cannot just turn a blog into a book.

I guess that's what I planned to do, at the beginning of this process. I knew it wouldn't be easy to turn a blog into a book - after all, I post without any proper editing; sometimes I write in present tense and sometimes in past tense; sometimes I just post photos. I knew that in order to get that stuff into book format, I'd be doing a lot of rearranging and fixing.

But then I downloaded all my text into a word document, and I found out that the real issue is not typos or editing or tense or any of that other kind of stuff. The real issue is pace. 

Do you know what I mean by pace? Pace is, basically, how quickly the interesting things happen in a story. A good book has a reasonably constant sense of narrative tension running through it - this narrative tension acts like a tug on a string that is tied to the reader, pulling you forward into the next chapter and the next and the next. Some books pull you gently and others yank you in and give you whiplash, but an interesting story will always leave you wanting to turn the next page.  To make this happen, authors need to make time behave in strange ways. Look at nearly any book, and you'll notice that three weeks happens in half a page, then two chapters are devoted to a one-hour party*. This is usually because no interesting things happened during that three-week stretch, and then lots of interesting things happened at the party.

This is basically the opposite of how blogging works. A blog is a chronicle of life as it's being lived. I post about once a week, so that means that I had about a hundred blog posts on waiting for a match (when nothing interesting happened) and ooh, about one on being in Ethiopia (when lots of interesting things happened). Yeah, that's not going to make for a very interesting book.

In the end - because of this stuff about pace - I basically ditched everything I had blogged and started writing again from scratch; I knew that was the only way to start winding a thread that might draw a reader in. And it made me think a lot about the difference between how we remember things, how we tell things, and how they really are.

Why don't we tell stories as they really were? Why don't we take the same amount of time to tell something as it really took to happen? I think the answer is - the hard bits, the waiting, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the suffering - all those bits of our stories? Boring! So boring. This is why Hollywood gave us the magical thing known as: the montage. You know what I mean - a song is playing, the hero/ine is working** for something they believe in, and  we see everything happen, but quickly, with music and drama. It's very clever, because in  in two and a half minutes all the effort and waiting is over. We feel like we've been there, without any of the pesky, you know, actually being there. Here's the most famous example:




But what does this scene from Rocky have in common with your life? Oh yeah, that's right: nothing. Real life does not have montages. In real life, the  the hard bits, the waiting, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the suffering - those bits don't have any drama, and they don't have any music either. They're just hard and horrible and make you crazy.  And by you I mean me.

The strange thing is, when we remember things, we don't really remember them they way they were - we tend to remember them the montage-way, remember them more like stories. We put put the stages we went through into neat little boxes - or I do, anyway. When I'm thinking about what we went through when we adopted, all the bits fit into one of these little boxes:  The Fertility Horror Show, The Deciding, The Waiting, The Meeting, The Transition, And Then The Final Bits. So, even though the Waiting took approximately a hundred times longer than The Meeting, they kind of occupy the same space in my head. They are the same amount of story, even though they took vastly different amounts of time. It was a shock to me to go back to old bits of my blog and see just how long it all took.

I know that it was years between me getting an unwelcome, fertility-affecting genetic diagnosis and me becoming a mother. I know that I waited years - and I'm still kind of mad about it, sometimes -  but that's not really what the memory feels like. Now that I'm out of it, the Waiting doesn't occupy a hundred times more space in my memory than the other bits, even though it took a hundred times as long.

Sometimes, if I'm honest, this probably makes me unsympathetic to people who are still in the middle of those things, whether adoption things or other kinds of hard-ness-es. I get bored when people continue to suffer and it's outside my limits of patience.

I need to remember to be kinder to people I know who are still living in the middle of a montage, who are in the thick of things. And today, I just wanted to say, if that's you, I hope you're doing okay. I'm sorry if the world's impatience with your suffering is making you sad.

Because I can remember that I've suffered, I think that I know what it's like, but I'm not really sure that I do. As someone who is out the other side, the memory of Waiting is just a tiny piece of my brain -whereas when I was a person who was Waiting, I'm pretty sure it took up all of my brain, entirely.

Once it was my whole life, now it's just a remembered montage. Now it's just a few pages in a book.

I'm trying to remember that this isn't what it felt like at the time.




*Unless you're reading something like 1984, by George Orwell. There are very few parties in Orwell.
**Or, in the case of Pretty Woman, shopping. Worst movie EVER. (And that's from someone who loves shopping).

14 comments:

  1. You hit the nail on the head for me with this post. When I look back at our IF journey, it's truly hard for me to remember how the month after month of despair and waiting felt (and how long it went on!) -- because it's just one chapter in the overall story for us now. Awesome post.

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  2. Ah, so true. I realize as you wrote it that I really AM fairly unsympathetic to the "waiters". Especially when they are moaning about waiting six or eight weeks and we waited nine months....when they have internet contact, and our son was as lost to us in Russia as if he were on the moon (things have changed in nine years!)

    When I look back on my blog I am often surprised by a lot of things - things I've forgotten, firm attitudes I can't remember having had. etc. I am shocked that I remember things so differently than they were - and when I'm only looking back a couple of years at that!



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    1. exactly.... things feel so different when you're not IN them, right?

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  3. I once read a book that was recommended to me and I was about two chapters into it when I noticed that the book was really wonky. It "felt" like a blog. It felt like a bunch of blog posts all strung together and wow did it make for a crappy book. So yeah, I know what you mean about the difficulty of turning a blog into a book.

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  4. Yes, to all that. I've been waiting 4 years (with no end in sight) and I feel boring and unsympathetic. You can't move on from something you are still in.

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    1. such a good point. There's no moving on from something that hasn't happened yet...

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  5. Well put. And yes, I get that you don't have material for a new book. That's a good thing.
    The waiting, the in limbo, is debilitating. Sucks the wind out of your sails just plain sucks. I haven't forgotten, but you're right, now it's a box in the montage.

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  6. Well put. And yes, I get that you don't have material for a new book. That's a good thing.
    The waiting, the in limbo, is debilitating. Sucks the wind out of your sails just plain sucks. I haven't forgotten, but you're right, now it's a box in the montage.

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I've read just under half of your book and am really enjoying it, but finding it hard to read because the part about your adoption process is very representative of my own experience, as I am currently living it. I used to love reading adoption blogs but I don't anymore, for two reasons: 1) most bloggers have their children home and barely acknowledge us waiting folks and 2) most present themselves as an authority on all things adoption even though each of us can only speak to our own experience and NO ONE is an expert in all things adoption just because they have adopted. I appreciate your blog a lot because you are pretty real about both the process (and how much it sucks) and the realities of parenting transracially adopted children without making it all about you and your guilt/grief/frustration. I get that it is hard to put your mind back in the waiting stage when you are no longer in that stage, but it is equally hard for those of us still waiting to read (or listen to) endless complaining about how hard it is to be a parent, how it is up to waiting adoptive parents to ensure all adoptions are ethical and how we shouldn't be waiting for a baby when all we want is what all of you already have - to be a mother.

    Anyway, that is my long-winded way of saying thanks for being real and sharing your story. May we all have a little more compassion for each other, no matter what stage we are at in the montage.

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    1. Sarah, that makes me feel so sad, that waiting folks might feel acknowledged. I have been in your place and I want to acknowledge your feelings. It is a treacherous place. I do think that you have found a place, here on this blog, where those feelings are noticed. And I wholeheartedly agree with you that there are so SO many "experts" out there and it is completely tiresome to listen to so much of that blather. Not that it's not real, it's just a lot of talking. Stay strong!

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    2. Thanks for your kind words Christine!

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    3. Thanks so much Sarah. I keep thinking about what you wrote here. I remember so clearly teh feeling of wanting to strangle people who complained about parenting, and yet now I do it all the time even when I should know better. Sigh. I'm really sorry.

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  8. Unlike bloggers who blog about blogging, writers who write about writing are very interesting. I could read this on and on forevermore. Can't wait to read the book!

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Over to you!