I remember mornings when I'd be headed to the kitchen in the dark to make coffee when I'd stop and think, "Maybe I'll just take a peek at what I wrote yesterday" and before I knew it, twelve hours had elapsed, the sun was going down, I was still in pajamas, coffee-less, hunched, dry-mouthed, at my lap top, totally in the zone, crazed. Coming back to the present after 10-12 hours was like pushing up from the bottom of the sea -- I'd feel numb and slimy. At such times, rolling around with my dog proved to be a good antidote.
I didn't know about the "zone" until I was being interviewed by Diane Rehm for NPR. She asked me about my writing process and when I described what I have just written, she exclaimed, "You were in the Zone!" and went on to explain that was what her husband (a writer) calls the state of total absorption that writers descend into where they lose all awareness of what's going on around them.
There were the emotional times, especially when I was writing about my mother, when I'd be barefoot with a down parka over my pajamas, hair akimbo, shivering with cold, teeth chattering, tears running down my face as I typed. Without a doubt, writing, when I was in the zone, was a total, somatic experience.
After four and a half years I turned the book in to my editor. I think it hovered around one thousand pages -- longer, in other words, than President Clinton's autobiography! Editing one's own life, even with the help of a talented and diplomatic editor like Kate Medina, is a complicated process that challenges every part of one's ego. "What! Cut that story about the little boy whose father abandoned him on our porch! The one all my friends think is brilliant!" Or the time Kate said I should cut the miraculous story about how I rediscovered my childhood friends Sue Sally and Diana Dunn, and take out most of what I'd written about the Black Panthers. Arghhhhhhh! She's destroying my book!
But then, about a month before my deadline, something just clicked into place. Suddenly, it wasn't my life I was reading. I became a dispassionate outsider (well…almost). Instead of reading the manuscript like a defensive mother hen protecting her brood, I went through it like an anonymous reader, becoming aware of when my attention began to lag and I'd want the writer (me) to just get on with it. Yes, some good stories fell by the wayside but I soon realized that they didn't really feed the main through-line.
And what is that through-line? In a sentence, it is the story of a girl who grew up feeling she wasn't good enough and this made her especially vulnerable to contracting the Disease to Please; how this affected her adult life (specifically in relation to men) and how she managed -- in her third act -- to see that she didn't need to be perfect, that good enough is good enough.
When the editing was done and all my photos lovingly gathered and placed alongside the text, the five-year process was complete, the book was out of my hands and in the care of strangers. I felt bereft and wandered about my home wondering what to do with myself, anxiously waiting to see how people would react.