16 December 2007

Write Or Rewrite?

As some of you know, i spent a couple years writing a memoir which I finished in the spring of 2005. At that point I showed it to a couple of agents, both of whom were not interested in representing me, and in a typically (for me) childish fit of pique, I tossed the manuscript into a box under my bed and more or less forgot about it.

Now that I've moved and no longer have a bed to store things under (these days I'm sleeping on a futon on the floor), I'm not really sure where the manuscript has gone, though I think it's around here somewhere. But the real question - it's also stored on my computer - is what if anything to do with it. Lately, people seem to have been asking me what ever happened to it - my stock answer: "Nothing" - with increasing frequency. That plus the fact that I'm not getting any younger leads me to believe that maybe I had better get round to doing something with the manuscript, even if it's only to walk down to the bottom of the stairs and deposit it in the trash can, erm, I mean recycling bin.

As I remarked here a few days ago, I've been seriously considering giving up on the whole memoir business and turning my attention to writing something else, probably a novel. But the reaction to that idea seems generally negative, and I myself am kind of disinclined to just toss the whole thing as well (in case it's unclear, my 1,000+ page suicide note turned journal is something entirely different from my 511 page memoir. The suicide note might actually make more compelling reading at times, but it's way too raw and personal to contemplate publishing.

But the memoir has serious problems, too, one of the main ones being that it tries to cover too much material: my dysfunctional childhood to my teenage greaser/hoodlum years, my hippie/psychedelic gangster era, back to the land, drug and alcohol abuse, zine publishing and playing in bands, and of course the Lookout Records adventure, which is really the only aspect of my life the general public is likely to be interested in.

The result is a rather exhausting string of anecdotes piled in a ramshackle manner atop each other, with not enough attention devoted to the incidents that really mattered and a perfunctory name check of a host of events that probably don't. "Rewriting" this mess would more accurately mean taking a meat ax to the existing text, which in turn might feel like taking said meat ax to the sinews and fibers of my life, which, however unimportant it might seem to the general public, is of at least passing interest to me.

The other big problem with the memoir is that it contains too many recriminations and self-justifications. At the time I was writing it, I was still very angry at certain people and events that I felt had contributed to the downfall of Lookout Records and the stiffing of the many bands I had signed to it. Whether my anger was justified or not isn't the issue; the fact that I hadn't successfully dealt with it and moved on is.

My account of my last years with Lookout too often resembles the lancing of an especially putrescent boil: yes, it needed to be done, but that doesn't mean that the contents of said boil need to be publicly displayed. Today I've gotten over most of my resentments toward others with regard to the Lookout debacle with the possible exception of those I harbor toward myself, which leads me to believe that if I'm going to do a memoir at all, it will need to be so different from the one I originally wrote that I might as well sit down and start over from scratch.

On the other hand, that's a lot of work I'm talking about there: maybe two years, if the last version is any indication. Whereas if I set about rewriting the original, I only need to take out a lot of stuff and completely rewrite a few chapters. In theory, that is.

Actually, I just realized that all this dithering is yet one more form of procrastination, and that the only way any version of this memoir is going to get done, let alone published, is if I stop thinking and talking about it and simply sit down and start working on it. And that, my friends, is the scary bit. Very possibly you'll be hearing more about this tomorrow.

3 comments:

hanny said...

what about getting an alex haley to your malcolm x?

J.B. said...

Larry, just edit the fucking thing. You've more than got it in you-- you're clearly already aware of the work's major faults and the means by which you should overcome them. Go to it!

I should add, however, that it's worth treating the greaser/hippie stuff in simply because it's fascinating stuff if told well, and I've neither heard nor read you tell it badly.

If you want another pair of eyes, I'd be happy to offer mine. Lord knows you've offered read enough of my crap.

-Jesse

Anonymous said...

"....my dysfunctional childhood to my teenage greaser/hoodlum years, my hippie/psychedelic gangster era, back to the land, drug and alcohol abuse, zine publishing and playing in bands, and of course the Lookout Records adventure, which is really the only aspect of my life the general public is likely to be interested in."

I would like to read it and am *least* interested in the Lookout records stuff. Keep the business history and stories about bands you aren't a member of out of it as much as possible. It's you, your history and your perceptions that would make the memoir interesting to me.