The Many Lives of a Storyby Diane Hurles
You never know where a story will take you. Even a story as dusty as mine, now nearly 50 years old. I never intended to go way back and write about my childhood when I first enrolled in Annette’s "Introduction to Memoir" class at StoryStudio Chicago five years ago. A former journalist brand new to Chicago, I had signed up for the class because I was looking for a creative outlet, a chance to dive deeper into my writing. I was anxious for the challenge of trying to write my own story for a change, rather than the third-person articles I was used to as a reporter.
I intended to write about my recent move for a new job in the Loop - the trauma of downsizing from a three-bedroom ranch to a 1,000-square-foot city condo, the excitement of such a big mid-life adventure. But as I unpacked, I came across a box of old letters that I had written as a child, letters that had been saved and tucked away decades ago. In one envelope was a small note I had written to my mother, whom I lost to cancer when I was 12. "Please get well and come home soon – I am waiting for you," I had written during one of her long hospital stays. It had a pencil-smudged drawing of a sad face with tears.
I felt a wave of inspiration to share that little girl’s story. Thus began my first attempt at memoir.
As I wrote, my piece became more than just the story of my mother’s long years of illness – the story I probably would have written in my newspaper days. It evolved into the story of how the rest of the family coped. I reached deep within myself to unveil the ugly truth of how that little girl felt: Scared, overwhelmed and angry at the world. It was a hard process for me – putting such raw honesty into words – but as it turned out, it made all of the difference.
After three or four rewrites – with plenty of feedback from Annette and my classmates – that piece became my first published work of creative nonfiction when it was selected for inclusion in the anthology Wisdom Has a Voice:Daughters Remember Mothers. The book came out in the summer of 2011. That success alone left me more than satisfied – but there was more to come.
Jill Pollack, founder and director of StoryStudio Chicago, shared my excitement when I told her about the anthology. She immediately asked me if I’d write a post about it for StoryStudio’s blog, Cooler By the Lake. So I wrote a blog post about my writing process, the thrill of getting my story published, and the support I received from my class at StoryStudio.
But that still wasn’t all.
More than once Annette encouraged me to look into submitting to Chicken Soup for the Soul. "Your writing fits their brand,” she’d say. When I discovered Chicken Soup was planning a book themed “Inspiration for Writers,” I thought about my story, or rather, I thought about my story about writing my story – what it took for a late-bloomer like me to finally get published as a creative writer. So one weekend last fall I enhanced the blog post I had written for Cooler By the Lake and submitted it to Chicken Soup on a whim. I remember thinking that if I didn’t do it right then, I’d chicken out (pun intended!). It took several months to get a response, but I finally received an email telling me my story was on the “short list.” A few weeks later, I learned it had made the “final cut.” And then finally – about a month after that – I received an email that began with “Congratulations!” and went on to welcome me into the Chicken Soup family. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers will be published in May, and I’m beyond excited.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned throughout my journey of trying to tell the story of one little girl’s loss and resilience, it’s this: Don’t be afraid to dig deep, get messy, and spill a little of yourself on the page. Oh – and take one of Annette’s memoir classes!