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Nancy Sharp Headshot

Sometimes Bit by Bit Is Best

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I completed my graduate thesis last week -- a crowning achievement (and the reason for my online absence). Readers know that I'll earn my MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College this summer. As it happens, my thesis is the entire draft of Both Sides Now, my memoir. Lucky me. I didn't have to finish the book, but I needed to. I needed to prove to myself that I could write my story, line by line, page after page, part by part, until I had accomplished the following: getting it all down on paper, selecting the moments and shaping it so that the experience could be shared. In this way the written word allows others to reflect upon their own stories of loss and renewal.

Both Sides Now is a complex, layered, deeply personal account of giving birth to twins and learning the same night (yes, that's right) that my first husband's cancer returned. It hardly seems possible, and yet that is what happened. Life and death in the same moment of time. And then life again by virtue of being a parent, wanting to live, and eventually, risking love again. Hello Steve.

Enough about the story and publishing prospects. For now, I want to focus on the process of writing a book. Here are some fresh takeaways that not surprisingly ring as true in life as they do for the written page.

Value singular steps. Sometimes, the long view is beyond our grasp. Some days, it's best to proceed bit by bit. We don't always have to see the clear path ahead; one step generally builds to another.

Dream in color. Which is to say, be fluid and open to change and possibility. We tend to be black and white in our thinking. Embrace the many shades of grey.

Not even Einstein had all the answers. It's just not possible to plot every move, every emotion, every outcome. There's real joy (and meaning) in discovery.

Edit yourself. We all benefit from self-examination and tweaking now and then. This is the path to growth.

Be willing to accept feedback from others while also maintaining your own thinking. Watch your ego. Be gracious. Sure, you can do both at the same time.

Accept that you will have very fine days and days you stumble.
Do-over days.This is normal. Take a nap or step away ("shelve the work" as one writing mentor said) until you are ready to pick up the threads again. There's always tomorrow.

No doubt, some of these insights were percolating prior to completing my book. But I never felt them as a collective whole the way I do now. Which makes sense, doesn't it? It's good, I think, to be mindful of the way our passions fuel our lives.