I have a student in the Author Accelerator program who happens to be a fabulous and well-known writing teacher here in my neck of the LA woods. She runs a really stellar an inspiring program called Family of Writers, and has taught in the local schools for years. She’s in demand as a tutor who can get kids to really write – which is not, by the way, about mechanics, as so many of the schools believe. Mechanics are critical – yes. But writing with heart? Writing with true intelligence? Sometimes you need a guru to teach you that. And Lorrie Tom is a guru.
Strangely enough, however, Lorrie has never written a book of her own. She has about twelve in her head – which can be paralyzing. So she jumped in as an Author Accelerator beta tester right when I began the program, and she began to dig in.
She decided to write a memoir. She was burning to write it, and had a million tidbits in her head about growing up fat, and falling in love with movie stars and coming to some deep realizations about herself. Lorrie can write a tidbit like anyone’s business but had only a vague sense of what he story was. So she wrote and wrote and wrote and threw a bunch of things out (so brave and so necessary), and kept rewriting and circling back and moving forward, and then one day came up with this title:
Fat Girl in Love: How to Work it Like a Skinny Bitch
It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s specific, it’s intriguing, it sets a tone, it grabs your attention. It is, in other words, everything a title needs to be.
And once she got her title, she really got her story, and she really got on a roll. She began to write the kinds of pages that yank a reader in and hold them by the throat – pages about a girl who ate to make herself feel better, who pretended not to care about the cruel way she was treated, who ultimately came to believe the narrative spun by her skinny grandmother – boys don’t love fat girls.
One day, as part of her submission, Lorrie said she’d written a dedication. She is not finished with the book – far from it -- and I thought to myself, “And so?” This is one of questions I ask about any piece of writing. Why should we care, what is the point, why does this matter?
But then I read it:
For all the boys who never loved me back.
Without you, I wouldn’t have been available
when The Right One came along.
Now unless you have a heart of stone, that is the kind of writing that gets you in the gut. (Heart-gut connection? I may have just made up a new medical terminology….) It is brave, it is authentic, it has authority, it is clever, it is specific. And suddenly, Lorrie had a perfect roadmap for her whole book. Her point is clear, her theme, her reason for writing. Now all she has to do is drive on through to the end.
It’s just 22 words, but it took 5 months and a lifetime to write those words.
It’s interesting to note that once she wrote that dedication, Lorrie began just killing it all aspects of her life -- writing and otherwise. She has written a ton of pages of her book – and there is NO turning back now. She has lost a ton of weight. And she is writing like there’s no tomorrow. Want proof? Check out this blog post.
We write in order to make people feel something and in order to do that, we have to feel something ourselves – something deep and authentic and specific and brave. That’s how we make people care. That's why stories matter so much. That's why we have enormous power.
And that's why writing is so hard.
I have never done this before but Lorrie is the queen of the writing prompt (see the Family of Writers link, above) and I am also in cahoots to do a webinar over at The Write Practice, which is all about writing prompts, so I’m going to throw out a writing prompt and I will try to respond as best as I can on my blog to people who reply.
The prompt is this: If you had to write a dedication for your book in progress, and you wanted to capture the whole point of it like Lorrie did, what would yours say?