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In three days I will join Lambda Literary Foundation’s 2010 “Writers’ Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices” in balmy California, a state that recently had the common sense to repeal the voter-approved decision to oppress a people. And while I’m on that topic, which is not really the topic of this post, I understand there’s now been some debate about the judge who overturned Prop 8. Why this judge’s sexuality would even be discussed, mentioned, debated at all, is beyond me. Whether he is or is not “gay” has, as far as I can see, absolutely nothing to do with his decision. Nada. Nix. Besides, what about all the so-called straight judges who have, since the beginning of the Constitution, been rendering decisions on behalf of a straight majority? And I say “so-called,” since it would not surprise me at all if more than a few decisions to oppress homosexuals have been made by closeted gays who wish to squash what they cannot face within themselves.

Anyway.

As I said, in three days I will join a class of 32 other writers at Lambda’s retreat in Los Angeles–at The American Jewish University in Bel-Air, to be exact. I’m deeply appreciative that I was even invited, and thoroughly pumped for the experience. I’ll be workshopping part of my memoir, CROSSING STYX, about my six years in a therapeutic cult trying to “cure” my sexual orientation, and the lawsuit against my former shrink for treating my homosexuality as a disease (all of which occurred between 1989-2002). That last part of the book, the lawsuit, has, in recent revisions, taken a less central focus of the book than the first part, my six years in the therapy, five of which while living in a “therapeutic house” the doctor had called “the Styx.” The irony of living in a house called “the Styx” was lost to me during my many years of prescription drug-induced stupor (near fatal doses of prescription medication was one of the doctor’s many ways of “reverting” me to my “innate heterosexuality,” but in retrospect seemed more like a prescription for death), but became a central theme as I wrote the book.

As I prepare to dive head first into a week of intensive workshopping, I’m pondering the years I’ve invested into the writing of this memoir, CROSSING STYX. I’m always amazed and not a little but dumbstruck when I hear writers say they did maybe “4 or 5 revisions” to their now-completed book. Huh? 60 or 70 revisions would not be overshooting the number of times I have “revised” my own. Not that I’m complaining. The book is, today, not the same book I started writing soon after my lawsuit against the doctor concluded in 2002. Maybe I needed all those revisions in order to find a voice. The right voice. Maybe I needed to rip the guts out of this book and build it back again, one word at a time, in order to find the story that needed to be told. Which, as it turned out, was not the same story that I thought needed to be told when I sat down at my laptop in 2004.

How long has it taken others to write their own books? I know it’s always difficult to count the number of times we revise on computers, but if you were to guesstimate, what number would you come up with?

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Peter Gajdics PETER GAJDICS has been published in numerous international journals, including The Advocate, The Q Review, New York Tyrant, The Gay and Lesbian Review/Worldwide, Gay Times, The Printed Blog, and Opium, where he won their 2009 500-word memoir contest. Peter lives in Vancouver, Canada; he can be contacted at [email protected]

9 Responses to “Memoir Madness”

  1. Alison Aucoin says:

    I’m not far enough along to have a real draft so I can offer no answer to number of revisions. What I can reflect is the process of evolving significance. It’s a constant evolution as I write about simultaneously coming out and becoming a mother. It’s not that the story as changed. It’s that with time, my understanding of it does. So my question is, when do you stop waiting for the final realization?

  2. You’ve asked a really poignant question, Alison. Is there ever a “final realization”? Is there a core to the onion? I don’t think so. Not really. My own book has also not “changed” much since I started writing it 6 years ago. The truth of what I had to say is still the truth of what I had to say. But I have etched deeper into the story than when I first started, and that has occurred only as a result of etching into myself. Some might call this “naval gazing”; I prefer to think of it as “self-examination.” The deeper and more clearly I have looked into my own life, my underlying motivations, the better the writing, the more compelling my story has become. I’m convinced of it. At some point, though, we have to spit the story out into the world. Otherwise we’re writing for no one but ourselves.

  3. dwoz says:

    Your question has a grounding in technology.

    When you were typing on an Underwood or a Smith Corona, there was only one sort of iteration.

    Now, in the age of micro-messaging, you do not need to COMMIT to anything, even for a moment.

    So now we have Capital “I” Iterations, (drafts) and lowercase ‘i’ iterations.

    Is the fact that we no longer have to COMMIT a good thing? perhaps. We can fix it in the mix. We can make story changes 2 hours before presstime. (as contrasted with typographic or fact verification changes).

    Is “commit early and edit ruthlessly” better than “edit incessantly and commit eventually?”

  4. Gloria Harrison says:

    Well, it’s taken me ten years to start my book, so I’m guessing that the editing of it will take at least that long.

    Have a great workshop!

  5. Erika Rae says:

    I hear you, Peter. My memoir alone has taken so many iterations, both capital and lowercase. My publisher has his hands on that one right now, which I have to say is a bit of a relief because I HAVE to let it sit and wait until I get his feedback and it’s once again in my hands.

    Fiction books I’ve written have been just as bad, with current states of some of them barely resembling what I started with. The funny thing (at least to me) is that when I finish chapters, I often read them out loud to my husband, who is extremely helpful in telling me what’s good and what sucks. Then invariably – after I’ve read it to him – I go back and make serious edits. Later, he’ll be asking me about certain characters, not realizing that I have now killed them off or taken out altogether. Drives him crazy. Can’t say that I blame him.

    I like Alison’s question about how to know when she’s had the final realization.

    So…how many iterations? Infinite until the day they come out in print. (And even then, I bet I’ll be marking up the margins in red.)

  6. dwoz says:

    So Erika, the answer is “as many draft iterations as you can fit in between now and the end of your 2nd deadline extension?”

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    I don’t think there’s any ‘finished’. Even when it’s on the shelf stores. I remember a good quote from Jeffrey Archer, who spoke about how young writers would say ‘Yep! I’m all done! I’ve edited it and everything!’

    Which meant to say, they had edited it once.

    And Archer would say ‘No, no. You haven’t edited. Trust me on this.’

  8. Sara says:

    “Official” versions… 5 revisions.

    Earlier incarnations of the book… 3 revisions.

    “half-drafts” (as in getting back into an “official” draft, then scrapping it and starting over): 2

    Periodic poking and prodding: Endless.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    I’ve never been particularly good at editing my own work. Often, I only write one draft and then end up feeling guilty that I haven’t revised.

    Except that I realized one day that I DO revise. On a line-by-line basis as I work. I write a sentence and scrutinize it. Immediately. Rinse, lather, repeat.

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