by Jerry Waxler
In her memoir, “Again in a Heartbeat,” author Susan Weidener tells about the life and death of her relationship to her husband, and the subsequent resurrection of her life. In the first part of this interview I asked her about her radical honesty. In this memoir, I ask more questions about the process of writing the memoir.
Click here to read Part 1 of this interview.
Jerry Waxler: When did you first think about writing the memoir? How long was it until you actually started? How long did it take to finish?
Susan Weidener: Shortly after I left my job as a journalist, I attended a women’s writing retreat in Kentucky. We sat in a circle at night and read to each other. Tears and laughter flowed from poems and memoirs of sneaking kisses with neighborhood boys, fathers who had done the unthinkable to their daughters, babies who had died without warning. I remember afterwards I went up to my room, opened the window and looked up at the moon breaking through a bank of clouds. It had been 13 years since my husband’s death, but he had never really left my side. He was my dream come true. Could I write the story? And why would anyone want to read it? What could I possibly say that hadn’t already been said a million times before? I decided I needed to write it, anyway. It took another two and a half years after the retreat to finish the book, although I did work a fulltime job in 2009 and could only write on nights and weekends.
Jerry Waxler: How much did you edit it? What can you share about your editing process, such as how many times through the book, or number of readers who gave you feedback.
Susan Weidener: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of editing and critique. I started the Women’s Writing Circle in November, 2009 as a way to bring together a community of writers. It was at our first read-around that I met the woman who would become my editor. She was a professional editor already. I always say she “held the magic wand.” She taught me how to take my journalistic recounting of a memory and make it dramatic and compelling. I also began reading parts of my memoir to the other women in the writing circle. Their critique and comments were invaluable. I wrote at least eight drafts before I was satisfied with the final version. I gave a copy of the completed manuscript to a former colleague from The Philadelphia Inquirer and to a family therapist. Both provided additional editing and copy editing. Of course, I edit manuscripts myself, but there is no way you can edit your own work. You need an objective person, a professional.
Jerry Waxler: Readers want to become immersed in an engaging story. How did you challenge yourself to transform your events not only into a readable account, but into an account worth reading? What aspects of your book and your writing did you strive toward in order to achieve these effects?
Susan Weidener: I challenged myself to be unafraid to write the disturbing. A writer’s job is to question; to bring to light what’s left in the dark, what’s unsaid. Stories that can do that have a universal message; they engage readers. This whole business of falling in love, finding the person who makes it all worthwhile, and then losing that person whether it be through death or life circumstance; the bitterness and resentment that follows . . . it is something I believe most people relate to. I also had a great “character” in John. He was a complex and interesting man. John penned his memoir the year before he died. He called it “scriptotherapy.” How true!
I think first person narrative is harder than writing in third person. There is not as much “distance.” When we write our memoir, we must step back, take the longer view. On the other hand, when you write in first person, when you are the narrator of your own story, you have lived it. Who better than you to chronicle that this is real, this is true? At the same time, you ask yourself, is this story larger than me? That’s where the craft of writing comes in. It takes hard work and skill to craft a story, move it along, and portray real people, not cardboard characters. I needed to stay focused on one question: “What is my story about?” Repeating that question over and over is your mantra as a writer.
Jerry Waxler: Did you ever feel like giving up? What techniques or attitude adjustments helped you keep going?
Susan Weidener: It all feels a bit overwhelming, writing a book, but believing in your story is what carries the day and gave me the motivation to finish. I loved the “lessons” along the way. I learned so much about myself. I had been hard on John because I was losing my dreams and youth. There were other revelations, too. John was irreplaceable, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I love to write, but I discipline myself to write every day. I write early in the morning, grab a cup of coffee. I work for about two hours and then take a break and go to the gym. I’ll pick it up again in the afternoon, if I can. I don’t worry about revising right away; rather I let it “percolate” overnight or for a few days, think about it and then come back to it. It’s not like pushing toothpaste out of a tube. I try and keep my “inner critic” to a dull roar. Eventually, there comes a point where you have to say, “This is it. I’m going to stop here.” Otherwise, you can be caught in a vicious cycle of editing and self-doubt.
Click here to read Part 3 of this interview.
Click here for a link to the Amazon page for Again in a Heartbeat
Click here for Susan Weidener’s Home Page.
For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.