Guest Post: Commitment Makes the Difference By Laura McHale Holland
Writing my memoir, Reversible Skirt, was a push-pull process that took place over many years. I didn’t have a flash of inspiration that motivated me to sit at my desk, begin writing and press on with full confidence that I would produce a story worth reading.
Amid the rafters of my garage I have cardboard boxes of journals going back decades. I expect if I were to pull them down and leaf through their pages, I’d find many memoir beginnings discarded for one reason or another. It seems for a long time, no matter where I began, what point of view I took, how well I crafted a scene or created dialogue, the project always ground to a halt, and quickly.
Many factors led to this repetitive cycle of beginning then abandoning my memoir, not the lease of which was my mother’s suicide, which occurred when I was two years old, an event my family buried so deeply that I first had to overcome decades of enforced denial before I could allow myself to open up and see what I actually felt about the formative events of my childhood.
Another thing that caused me to stumble a fair amount was a feeling that I have nothing worthwhile to say and that books should be written by people far more important and talented than I am. I do know, however, that whenever someone speaks the truth with an authentic voice, the message is a powerful one. And powerful messages conveyed with artful language are the stuff of books that people hold dear to their hearts long after they’ve read the last page.
If it had been up to me alone, the adult Laura, I probably never would have written Reversible Skirt. There are plenty of things to write about, many forms writing can take: plays, songs, poems, stories, feature articles, essays, business profiles, data sheets, websites, manuals. I’ve learned a good deal from exploring all of those forms. But when my conscious mind was occupied with those things, the little girl inside of me was stewing, and every so often, she’d poke me, reminding me to tell her story.
I don’t know what caused me to realize the child I used to be was never going to stop bugging me until I wrote the story. But one day, at last, I did realize this. So I sat at my desk fully committed for the first time to seeing the project through.
Being inspired is energizing; it’s intoxicating; it’s sublime. I’ve found much inspiration in the words of other writers of memoir and autobiographical fiction, for instance, on the pages of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston, Connie Mae Fowler’s “Before Women Had Wings,” and “This Boy’s Life” by Tobias Wolf. If I hadn’t read books such as these, it might never have occurred to me to write a memoir.
But it was my commitment that led to Reversible Skirt, a book that vividly portrays the confusing, gut-wrenching decade after my mother’s suicide from my point of view as a young child. It has sorrow, but also song; cruelty, but also compassion; disappointment, but also victory. I hope what I’ve brought to light in this book inspires those who read it, and if you are a writer with a book in mind, I hope you fully commit to turning your idea into a manuscript sooner rather than later.
Laura McHale Holland’s memoir, Reversible Skirt won a silver medal in the 2011 Readers Favorite book awards. Her stories and articles have appeared in such publications as Every Day Fiction Three, Wisdom Has a Voice, the Vintage Voices anthologies, NorthBay biz magazine, the Noe Valley Voice and the original San Francisco Examiner.
A member of both Redwood Writers and the Storytelling Association of California, Laura has been a featured teller at the Lake Tahoe Storytelling Festival.
To keep up with her, please visit http://lauramchaleholland.com.