Many of the books about cancer and other critical illness experiences reflect a drama and intensity that can make a compelling story for a reader. Right from the first symptom through diagnosis, treatment and resolution there is tension and momentum that makes a story fly. Not that anyone would wish for such an experience, but if you’ve experienced it, it does make for good copy.
The first part of my health story is, indeed, very dramatic: The critical diagnosis of a weird disease nobody has heard of – very dramatic; A heightened fear of death – ooh, lots of drama; and a drastic treatment – what could be more gnarly than a stem cell transplant. It turns out, however, that this drama is all at the beginning of the story. Twelve years later, after many ups and downs, I’ve reached a kind of stasis. I’m still sick, I’m still in treatment, but I’m not that sick at this moment. As my health has become increasingly stable over the years, the sense of drama has flattened out entirely.
As the drama has receded over the last twelve years,, I have gone from worrying about dying of this disease to learning how to live with it. While this process of learning how to live a life as a patient has been very interesting and dramatic to me, to the rest of the world it’s up there with watching paint dry. My biggest fan, my husband, has been starting to glaze over lately as I read him chapters that take place in the more stable years. So my challenge as a writer is figuring out how to draw out the juice from this time of internal drama and struggle, and make it visible to my readers. But it ain’t going to be easy.
Likewise, many memoirists write about growing up in dysfunctional families. Dysfunctional families also make for great, engaging stories. Sadly, I had a perfectly happy, normal childhood. No alcohol abuse, drug abuse or child abuse. No natural disasters, divorces or financial crises. Boooring. How am I supposed to become a famous writer without material?
Perhaps I would have better luck with fiction?