“I trimmed it down to five pages to read aloud for this class. That’s all the further I could go. At first I wrote 70 pages.”
Although this was said in our group more than a year ago, I remember clearly the punch to the gut it delivered. I was aghast! Of course, moving from free-writing to composed essay or story generally involves a great deal of shortening and reworking, but in this case, from the painstaking details of a complex and important family matter being described, it was obvious to me that we had all lost a great deal of the story. Maybe not the facts of the story, but certainly the essential inner thoughts of the writer around the story. What a tragedy, I remember thinking. I wanted to know more of the story. But moreover, it was the distress in which this writer in our group had so obviously persevered to meet the constraints of the class sharing that deeply affected me.
“Yes, it’s 728 pages long so far.”
What? I had known this writer for nearly two years! I had no idea she had written a comprehensive memoir of such length! In our group! She had been sharing short pieces that matched our topics, but all extracted from this longer work, about which we had no idea. She went on to explain that she wanted to work toward formulating and organizing the piece into her book, finally, but was having trouble doing so. My heart went out to her, I wanted to help! We all wanted to support her in this giant task. But as a group we have never worked with longer volumes.
Additionally, others over time have shared that their book-length manuscripts have been submitted to publishers, are ready to be submitted to publishers, or are in process. In the past six months, three writers have come to the group who have already accomplished book-length manuscripts. As far as I know, none of us have read them, and we haven’t talked about them in group. Personally, I have only had the opportunity to read and comment on two book-length manuscripts over the past three years—same author.
We are not publishers or memoir editors or experienced writers. We are members of a writing group, willing to give thoughtful (and kind) feedback on each other’s’ work. Why doesn’t that include long works? It seems obvious that there is a need here, and an opportunity. Both for the writers and for the readers.
What can we do to accommodate these pieces and their authors? Aren’t we falling short in not doing so?