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Living in the present

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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Lyall Bay

This is the beach I walked along this morning. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I might have because there were so many big dogs running up and down the beach and I find big dogs frightening. I keep expecting this fear of dogs to go away as I confront much bigger, more potent fears. But it never does. It seems to be a primal fear, something that lives below the level of my thoughts, something that resides deep in my flesh and bones.

Anyway, the fear and the dogs interrupted my peaceful walk on the beach. But it still got the blood pumping through my veins and some air in my lungs before I sat down to write all day. Walking past the scary dogs was probably also good preparation for sitting down to do something else that scared me.

Today I began rewriting my book all over again. Having finally reached the end of my manuscript, having made all the changes suggested by my agent, I sent a couple of chapters to a friend who has worked as an editor and a ghostwriter for memoirs.

She had a big suggestion for me. She suggested that I rewrite the entire book in the present tense.

I resisted the idea initially because I knew how much work it would involve. My book is 100,000 words long. That’s a lot of words to rewrite in a different tense. I want this book to be ready to send to publishers. I want to get to the next step. I want to sell the book and know that it will have a life beyond my kitchen table.

But I also know that this book, this story, matters too much to me to do anything less than the very best job I can with it. So I sat down and rewrote the first chapter in the present tense and I sent it off to Laura, my agent to see what she thought.

She thought it was better. A lot better.

So, now I start all over again. I’m back at chapter two again and who knows how long it will take me to get all the way back to chapter 20 again. I’m working full-time now as well as teaching yoga classes and courses in person and running my 30 days of yoga. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing.

A part of me feels a little bit defeated by it all. But the other part of me, the Taurus part of me, knows that I won’t ever give up on this book. I’ll start all over again as many times as I have to to finish it. Maybe it will never be good enough for a publisher to take a chance on it. But this process of writing it will have taught me at least us much as my two years in Afghanistan did.

It will have taught me that I’m persistent. It will have taught me that I’m braver than I realised. It also will have taught me, again, that it really is better to live in the present.

My book will work better written in the present tense. My life will too. Skipping ahead of myself to get to the end of this process, wanting to see some kind of ‘outcome’, is an fool’s game. There is no ‘end-point’. There is only this, right now, writing and learning as I go.

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28 Responses to "Living in the present"

  1. I like this post very much – a good, and timely point, and well made. I agree with you about dogs too. Good luck with the re-write; from experience I know it won’t take as long as you imagine, and the gain in immediacy will encourage you as you go.

  2. Alexis Grant says:

    Marianne,

    Wow, I feel like our experiences mirror each other so much! I’ve been considering this very thing, and even rewrote my (short) first chapter in the present tense to see how it feels.

    I went through my bookshelf of travel memoirs, and there are almost as many books written in the present tense as there are in the past. Blogged about this recently, too: http://alexisgrant.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/talking-about-tense-past-or-present/

    We’ve got a thread in the Ning group, too, if you’re interested in talking about any issues you encounter. I’d love to hear more about WHY this is working better for you, since I’m considering it as an option for myself.

    Cheers,
    Lexi

  3. You have an agent and a manuscript. You’re so close to the finish line, so make sure you reach it! You’re way ahead of so many writers out there (moi included), so take it one day at a time and keep plugging away.

    I know from experience (hundreds of articles) and “they” say the rewriting is easier than the writing of the first draft. Is that true for your book as well?

  4. alisha says:

    Marianne, this whole book writing business is a lot harder than I initially anticipated! You’re further along than I am, but lately I’ve been thinking similar thoughts about the long-haul of writing. How it requires hours of toil to get it just right, to tell your story in the way it deserves to be told, in a way that will get it into the hands of people who need to read it. It’s hard, but keep going!

    I came across this blog post today by Mary deMuth about perseverance as a writer, so maybe it will encourage you: http://bit.ly/1YSQsy Even if you have to re-write the whole book in the present tense it will be worth it and it will be ready when it’s ready, so there’s no point trying to sell something that you don’t feel in your heart is 100% right yet.

    Good luck!

  5. Helen says:

    Wow, all power (and lots of good chocolate & cups of tea) to you Marianne!!

  6. megg says:

    Oh Marianne, this made me tingle with energy – I can relate to the feeling of knowing a rewrite is necessary – but for some reason this creates so much energy around your book in my head. (You know me, I don’t normally get this woo woo in other people’s comments, but I even grinned thinking about it! Good things are coming my friend!!)

    xo

  7. Right on, my friend. Keep on keeping on.

    Pulling for you on the other side of the planet,

    K.

  8. kerin rose says:

    Marianne,it will be worth it in the end…and more meaningful…I cannot tell you how many times I have ‘rushed’ a piece of jewelry to market, when I did not have that feeling in my heart that it was perfect. Something might be still poking at my consciousness, telling me it wasn’t ‘done’, but I could not figure out exactly what….so I cast it and put it out there…and then a month or two later, it hits me what the piece needed, and I am filled with little sparks of regret….

    Jumping over the fence of ‘I just need this to be done’ I find, often gives the biggest payoff of all….

    Go Marianne, go!

  9. Jen Chandler says:

    Best of luck to you, Marianne, as you embark on this re-write. I understand. I have a story I’ve rewritten several times. It’s grueling sometimes, but necessary. And if you know it’s the story you’re meant to tell, you can get through as many rewrites as necessary.

    Jen

  10. Rachel says:

    That is a huge task to tackle, especially with all the other things you have on. But I know something about the Elliott women. They are able to keep stretching and fitting things in and still do things to the highest of standards. I don’t know how you do it, but you do. And you will. And you’ll know it was the best thing to do!

  11. Helen says:

    Oh hon! Take heart, the big dog book will be tamed, you’re on the homestretch now. xoxox

  12. Julia says:

    Wow – sounds like a massive task but you have already done the 1st chapter… I bet you will find momentum, blitz it and be very pleased with the result. Sounds like a good project for the many rainy days we will have over the next few months – good luck and enjoy the process. : )

  13. Susannah says:

    it’s like tending a garden, or polishing a diamond (or birthing a baby, but i get tired of that analogy & need to stop using it :) Your book is already HERE – you have written it! all 100,000 juicy luscious words of it. so keep polishing, my love, ’cause i can’t wait to read it when it is ready to be sent out into the world x

  14. Liz C. says:

    To paraphrase someone whose work I admire greatly, is there anything we can do to help?

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Thanks so much for your encouragement! Liz, that’s the answer to your question. It helps me a lot to have encouragement from people who have walked the same path or who are just really keen to see this book get finished. It keeps me going on the tough days!

  15. Christen says:

    Wow, that is such a courageous thing to do! Thanks for writing about your progress. I’ve just found your site recently (through Brene Brown), but I can tell you are a person well worth getting to know, and I look forward to reading your book one day!

  16. Marthe says:

    I really like this post :)

    I live too much in the future at the moment. I’m thinking so much about figuring out my passion, what I want to achieve in life, what I want to work with, that I’m not being here right now. Thank you for reminding me!

  17. claire says:

    Good luck with the revision! At least the tense change is a fairly straightforward change, something you can chip away it.

    Also, it’s nice to encounter someone else on the web with dog issues. My fear has lessened over time as I’ve learned more about dogs, become more able to exude alpha-dogness, and realized that I would fight back if attacked. Knowing what I would do in my worst case scenario somehow helps, even though the last thing I want to do is harm an animal. Meeting and hanging out with Kody, an old mellow dog who I could understand, also helped a lot.

  18. Jamie says:

    Marianne,

    What a lovely post. I think this is the perfect example of a “real” writer – that you are willing to do whatever it takes for this book. It reminds me of birthing mothers who’ll do whatever they must for their baby.

    Your book will make it out into the world because there are so many of us waiting for it! And we appreciate every extra bit of time you are putting into it.

    Best of luck!
    Jamie

  19. Alex says:

    You will get there for sure! But until then, the present is as rich as ever for you. Enjoy!
    Always by your side xo

  20. Wendie says:

    As a fellow Taurean I understand and know your persistence will get you there, it is a challenge not to jump to the end of the process but to enjoy the journey whatever direction and shape that takes, I am so proud of you lovely.

    Wendie
    xxx

  21. Brigitte says:

    It takes huge amounts of integrity, humility and commitment to look at your work, know you can make it better and then take the steps that are necessary. Color me impressed.

  22. ije says:

    beautiful post on so many different levels. first off, i LOVE beaches and love that you live close enough to walk along when you want.

    though it feel frustrating, what a beautiful affirmation: “My book will work better written in the present tense. My life will too.”

    and as my taurus sister i know you’ll get through it and create some magic along the way. curious what you’ll discover after ch 20 of your re-write. looking forward to reading it:-)

  23. [...] Elliott, a fellow travel memoir writer, explains why she’s rewriting her book in the present tense. I’ve been considering this lately, [...]

  24. Abbie says:

    I just can’t wait until this book is published :)

  25. Swirly says:

    I think that is the most rewarding, frustrating, scary, beautiful, gratifying, crazy-making things we can do for what we create – give it our very best efforts, no matter what.

  26. Beautiful post! I just thought of how funny it is that the word present means “this moment,” and also is another word for “gift.” Love language :) Writing your book this way is sure to make a difference in the rewriting. I am just at the beginning of the rewrite process, and realizing how difficult it is, and it makes me what to chuck the whole thing. I’m an Air (Aquarius) and wish I could tap the groundedness of the Taureans! Your post is very inspirational to me to keep going.

    Good luck with the rewrite!

  27. [...] All while still teaching my regular yoga classes. And re-writing my book for the third time. [...]

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