A big part of the reason I started this blog initially was because I’ve never had a very good memory. I was always good at my job because I had the ability to remember facts and figures in the short-term, but the farther back I go the fuzzier things get. I’m also guilty of revising my own history and remembering things as I wish they were. In particular, I am prone to use this tactic when thinking about stressful or chaotic moments and although in some respects that is a nicer way to live, when I started this full-timing journey I made the conscious decision to really face what was happening to me head-on. That’s was one of the major reasons I started blogging. I viewed it more as an online diary of sorts and the idea that more than a handful of people would read it seemed unlikely to me. As a business analyst, I decided to capture my lessons learned as I went, just in case someone stumbled across the blog and would find the mistakes we made helpful.
Over the years, things have of course evolved, and as Camper Chronicles is closing in on half a million hits, I am still startled on how far it has come. As our life and circumstances changed, the blog has changed, but hopefully it still remains true to what I originally envisioned. Writing this book has been very interesting though, because in order to refresh my memory I have gone back and re-read many of my original posts. I am completely aware that the story I told initially was not the entire story. I never lied, but I certainly left big chunks out and for very good reasons. Lee in particular had a high profile job in a small community, and we were extremely cautious of sharing our plan, before we were 100% certain we could pull it off.
Although I wrote the various steps to prepare “offline”, and eventually published them on my Becoming Fulltimers – Step by Step page, this was a summary of events rather than a moment by moment accounting. I’ve always felt that the details of what happened and how it happened was an interesting story, and that was the genesis of the book. I thought when I started this it would be relatively easy to fill in the blanks. I had what I wrote both here and in the forum, and I also had my memory. But as I said before, memory is a funny thing, and even though I have shared many of these stories in person with people, I am finding that the truth and the legend are not always the same thing.
Plus it’s not only my story, but Lee’s as well, and his truth and mine have always been two distinct things. Finding a way to incorporate both of those perspectives into the narrative has been a little challenging, but in this first draft at least I have tried to be as accurate as I could be. I mention this, because Lee has finally started his first read of the book. Unlike the blog, where he occasionally jumps in and says his piece, the book, by design, will be in one voice. The changes he makes, grammar and spelling aside, will require some discussion and although I totally trust him he is adamant that I review those changes prior to them being “written in ink.”
I’m totally fine with that, but I will say I was a little nonplussed when we had that first conversation this afternoon about an inconsistency on page 2. I wrote that the idea to buy a little camper and take weekend trips was his idea, and it turns out it was actually mine. That’s a pretty big misconception on my part, especially because I have told that story 100 times. I always tell it the same way because that’s how I remember it, and he never corrected me because when you are telling a campfire story it doesn’t really matter. For the book though, he felt he should set the record straight and went on to give me a detailed account of the conversation. Lee’s memory has always been better than mine, so I didn’t doubt him, but it was strange. I remember where we were (in the car), what prompted the comment (we had passed by a small RV dealership on the way back from a weekend in New York), and how we both got excited about the idea. But I truly thought this entire time that he was the one that initially brought up the idea. Here’s the very first paragraph I ever wrote in this blog and as you can see I never really said whose idea it was.
“Lee and I have been married and raising kids for a long time–a really long time. Over the years we have often talked about what we would do someday when the kids were grown and gone. One of our ideas was traveling around the country in a camper. My grandparents did it for years. They sold their house, bought an RV, and spent six months traveling the fifty states. The freedom of that was VERY appealing to me, and I’ll admit I had a completely romanticized view of what that would be like. As we grew older, and frankly more practical, we still talked about it, but the practicalities were a larger part of the conversation and through the teen years there was always something going on. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, our first romantic weekend getaway in 20 years. I kid you not, we had taken two vacations alone, but hadn’t had a romantic weekend alone since the kids were babies, and our oldest is 24, you do the math. We loved the weekend; we went to the Corning glass festival, stayed in a lovely B&B and really enjoyed each other’s company. But the weekend cost well over $800 and on the 5 hour drive home were lamenting the fact that we wouldn’t be able to afford to do this very often. The subject of camping came up again, and as we often had, we started to talk about how great that would be but what the challenges would be. This time though the conversation was different. There were less challenges than ever before and oddly the idea seemed almost feasible. You can cover a lot of conversational ground in a 5 hour drive! I had taken an extra day off from work so we decided to travel to Campers Inn (a large RV dealer in Nashua, NH) and take a look to see what our options might be.”
Actually reading that paragraph makes me feel better, but it also clearly illustrates the problem. And although this is a memoir and I am not going to get too bunged up over minor inconsistencies certain things need to be correct. I guess I just thought that with all this information, it would be a little easier, but on occasion it actually muddies the waters. Like now for instance I have been writing about our Quartzsite experience. Although by this point in the blog, I was being much more open about the negatives of the lifestyle, I still was very careful about not offending anyone. Lots of people absolutely love Quartzsite, but we struggled from the beginning. Plus we had lots of other things going on in our life (I had just quit my job for one thing) and I wasn’t ready to completely share those emotions. Going back and filling in the blanks has been pretty interesting, especially because I am looking at those events through my current day lens. I’m still not in any big hurry to offend anyone, but my experience didn’t happen in a vacuum and there were other people involved.
To some extent this has been a positive thing, because as I have been walking down memory lane, I am remembering how much support our friends have given us. Writing a thank you letter of sorts to the people I love has been a really wonderful thing. As many of those experiences we have had, there had been more conflict and drama. My daughter Kyrston, who is my alpha reader, has found those parts the most interesting, and her reactions to certain stories has been pretty gratifying. If nothing else it has really brought home to me how much I have changed over the last four years. In some respects I feel like a completely different person to at least a better version of myself and taking a step back and looking at that objectively has been a truly amazing thing.
All that being said, I have no illusion that even this book will be the complete and absolute truth. There are stories I will leave out because they are not mine to tell, and others simply don’t fit the narrative. There are stories that are too personal to tell anyone, others that would hurt feelings for no good cause. As I write or edit I have to make those decisions and be extremely careful I am not “over editing”. I don’t know if you remember, but last year I donated to a charity to have a one hour Skype session with my favorite author. Despite the length of time now and then I sent her an email and asked a followup question about editing. Not only did she respond quickly, but she wrote me a beautifully detailed response. Although she was very careful to say that every writer’s process is different she did give me some amazing advice. Since she is a much better writer than I will ever be, I’ll just share what she said here. Keep in mind she writes fiction, but I still think her advice makes sense. There are just some additional burdens when you are writing about real people that I need to take into account.
“I have it constantly: fear of failing the story. Fear of failing the readers. It is, sadly, a normal part of the process, for me. And for most of the writers I know. Some have that fear at the start of a new book. Some have it in the middle (most that I know get middle-of-book-blues). Some reach that at the end (whereas I love endings).The process is personal. It’s highly personal. No two writers work the same way. So it’s hard to give process advice because it’s so distinctly individual.”…
“If you are making edits that are entirely motivated by fear, I’d suggest that you’re over-editing. I can move sentences around and change scenes when I’m in high anxiety mode – but I have no clear sense that doing this rearranging of furniture is actually making things better. I’m doing them because I’m in the middle of anxiety about whether or not it will work for my readers and I have to do something. What if it doesn’t work? OMG, it probably doesn’t…
If you are making edits that clearly improve the book or the clarity of the book – or if you’re making edits in which whole conversations and characters change or plot points become suddenly sharply clear to you, I’d actually suggest that you’re on the right path. The book isn’t finished yet, even if you’ve typed “THE END”. You are still in the process of writing the book.”
Wonderful advice! The author, Michelle Sagara, actually took her complete answer and wrote about it in her blog. It is different of course because I can’t change the characters in my book, because they are real people with real lives. I am however trying as much as possible to not make the story about them. They get to decide how transparent they want to be in their lives, and as tempting as it is to talk about other people’s challenges so I don’t look like a complete screw-up, I’m not going to do that. What I will do is share those moments where they helped me or experienced joy with me and thankfully there are many of those. For myself and Lee, I am trying to be as brutally honest as I can be and in certain sections the story can be a little rough on both of us.
And that’s the whole point I think, although it’s taken me awhile to get there. I told Lee today to make whatever changes he needed to as long as they were in service of the story. I mean that, and it will be interesting to see the differences after he finishes his edit. Whatever gets us closer to the truth I think I am OK with, knowing that ultimately it is impossible to achieve. And in case you are wondering why I wrote all this down, I guess it’s to say there are things going on over here. I write about my life, and this process has been a huge part of it these last few weeks, so I thought it deserved a mention.
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