Sunday, July 19, 2009

guest blogger Peter Jurich

I’m starting out the week with a guest blogger, Peter Jurich. Peter has an interesting story, and he tells it in his book Typing with One Hand, available at and Peter has learned quite about the writing process, and himself. Here’s what he has to say:

Sometime last year, I met a very successful author -- as in internationally bestselling successful. I excitedly blurted out that I had written a book and wanted advice. "You can't be older than 21!" he told me, albeit being two years off. "Your job right now is to be sleeping with the wrong people!" I was bitter about this for a long time. I was not discouraged, but disappointed that a true author -- one who has really made it -- would try to dissuade young writers from chasing their dreams. I was angry that he would be so narrow-minded as to assume that no good could come out of the mind of a 23-year-old

Only a few days ago, though, it hit me -- while I'm very proud of the book I published through Lulu, I can't stomach reading it. Not because it is bad, mind you, but every time I open it up, I squirm over passages that I would now have written much differently. Even though it is being very well received by many readers and I'm still selling copies, it feels to me like it is written by a completely different person. I suppose that is what happens when you start writing your memoir at 19.

Typing With One Hand is a coming of age story with a twist. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with three brain tumors and two strokes. Surgeries went well, but I've since had limited fine motor skills in my left hand and an odd little gait. The story addresses issues that every boy deals with in adolescence to young adulthood, coupled with a unique disability. The narrative follows me from first grade in a private Catholic school that made me both hate my first name and question my faith, to high school where hormones explode and bullies run amok, to college where I moved into my first real apartment... and then moved home again.

Writing the memoir was oftentimes a very frustrating experience for me. Not only was it my first book (so I was in over my head right from there start), but I began writing it at a time when I was still trying to develop my literary voice and find myself as a person. How is it that anyone can write a memoir when they aren't even sure who or where they are yet?

Harper Lee once said that there's a difference between people who want to write and people who have to write. I suppose I was the latter because of my determination, but I was going against all odds because of my age. I never set a schedule for myself; when I did, I wouldn't stick to it; I wrote without purpose; and I wrote with no specific audience in mind ("A book for everyone" is really a book for no one). The results reflected the technique I'm sure, as the first draft was 120,000 words of incoherent nonsense.

The book was finished in two and a half years. The second draft was 80,000 -- one-third the first -- and far more focused. My routine was still pretty sketchy, but I had at least decided it should be a YA book seeing as I'm a young adult myself. Those who had read it online at -- most of whom were total strangers -- proved that the book had marketability, so I self-published using Lulu in January.

Even today, I get a strange feeling when I see someone with my book. It is a strange feeling because, while I know I wrote it, it was written by someone very unlike myself. Someone who was more undisciplined, unorganized, and unhardened by the pile of rejections letters that did not yet exist in his desk drawer.
But, oddly enough, that is also what I like about the book. It's totally representative of the person that I used to be. I understand now what the author was trying to tell me because he had probably been there himself -- determined to write a book while changing hormonally and chaotically as a person. Sure, he could've been a little nicer about his message, but that's OK; I assured him, in the meantime, I can BOTH write and sleep with the wrong people.

What do you do when you read old work that is different from your current style? Do you go back and rightfully correct it, or do you accept that it was written by who you were at the time and proudly let it be? What is the better choice?


Elisa said...

It depends on what I want to do with that particular piece of writing. What's my reason for re-surging a piece of writing, and has it been previously published?

Style develops over time, but if the style is right for the story or the character or narrator, then I keep it intact but maybe fine-tune it. If, however, the style needs a rhetorical upgrade (for example, I'm re-directing the piece to a different audience), then I'll work on it.

If I just plain don't like what I've written years later, I'm likely going accept it and move on, taking what I've learned and applying it to the next book, essay, article, etc.

Sarah said...

fantastic question - one i struggle with a lot. i used to have one teacher who said that you should never, ever change your writing (he meant poetry) because it's no longer "true to the moment" (unless you mis-read it out loud, and then that meant you wanted it to be that way subconsciously, and you should change it.) on the flipside, i had a teacher insist that you should write and rewrite as many times as humanly possible (or so it seemed). for me, i use a little of both. when i write poetry i read it over and over until it's smooth and then i tend to leave it alone. when i write anything with punctuation i'm a revision junkie. go figure.

truth be told, i'm co-writing a book right now and the very idea that i'm bound to read something later and cringe has me a bit terrified. i'm afraid i'll be embarrassed or filled with regret for having chosen that one wrong word in that one awkward sentence, you know? i try to think of my story like a child - i'll love it because of its individuality and idiosyncrasies - but i'm curious, how did/do you deal with that feeling? how do you keep yourself in that accepting mindset?

Elisa said...

"how did/do you deal with that feeling? how do you keep yourself in that accepting mindset?"

After the initial cringing and wincing, you mean? I just resolve to never let anyone see it ever again.

You know what a perfectionist I can be, Sarah. There are words -- not even paragraphs, just words or phrases -- in *Faking It* that I read and say, "I could've done better." But overall, when I read that book, I love it -- love the story and its characters with all my heart and soul.

I wonder if I'll hate the writing years from now, though. I suppose the accepting mindset is knowing that with each passing day, I can only get better, not worse, at my craft.

But I still wince and cringe with embarrassment and/or disgust at the bad stuff. Like my undergrad and grad school stuff, for example.

Oh, and as for the book you're co-writing: you're going to revise it so many more times that you probably couldn't hate it if you tried, especially when you see it published! ;)

Peter Jurich said...

Haha, very true, Elisa. The honeymoon is very short when the book comes in the mail the first time. It's like, "Wow! Looks great! OK, time to get to work."

And Sarah, I'm very curious about how your co-writing will go. A friend of mine and I tried co-writing a novel, but our styles were so different that we both lost interest in the project. I assume you know your co-author very well. How would you get around differences in voice?

Elisa said...

I'd like to hear your answer to Peter's questions too, Sarah!

Jim said...

I certainly understand that challenge you faced in writing a memoir as your first book. I'm now working through some refinement of my memoir manuscript with an editor. This is my first and potentially my last book. Although I do technical writing as a Systems Engineer, I've never felt "called to write". I won't say that God might not inspire me to keep writing, but learning about your "voice" is a very interesting journey when writing such a personal story as you have done. I'm considering custom publishing options and it is inspiring to see how that has worked for some of you.

God Bless,

Sarah said...

@Elisa: i thought i did answer his question in my first paragraph. no?

Rob said...

In the process, I've learned to let it be. I once deleted an entire book with no regrets whatsoever.

When you're not ready, you're not ready.