Eat, Pray, Love was one of those books I hated for years before reading it. The set-up of visiting three “I”-countries was a little too convenient to be authentic, and the whole thing came off to me as a lot more pre-planned than the book or its author lets on. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, is a career magazine writer who got an advance on this very book idea before her soul-searching travels. If only we could all be so lucky!
Why did I read it, then? I write in a similar genre, and it’s important to get familiar with my genre, know what sells and why, and which aspects you can apply to your own work. So when I found myself on vacation and bored, I picked it up.
At first, I was satisfied to be proven right. I did indeed find the main character grating, as she had the insecure and not very charming personality common to a lot of chick lit. However, as the main character moves past her emotional breakdown, and especially as her spiritual search begins, I got hooked.
What I really appreciate about Gilbert’s writing is the light, focused, and the conversational way she not only tells her own story but also summarizes big ideas from Hinduism and other spiritual paths. She’ll often include a quote from a friend or a light-hearted quip that really gets the point across, often in a humorous way. A lot of the ideas she expresses are not new (many are common precepts in Buddhism), but she is able to describe her personal realization of these so vividly and viscerally that it becomes a very refreshing primer in a very human context. I found myself enjoying the nuggets of wisdom as the main character herself realized them, and often charmed by the unique way she described them.
How can I apply this to my writing? After reading this book, I wonder how my own narrative would read from an adult perspective, one that could more easily reflect on wisdom gleaned amidst the main narrative. But my story is not from when I was an adult, although my search for healing is. Maybe that is my narrative focus. Or, I wonder how my story would read if I completely cut that out and focused only on my young experience and what I felt and thought at that time, written in that voice. It would be raw and much more immediate. It could be my own narrative version of Welcome To The Doll House(1).
Maybe I need to try re-writing my story in both ways. Then, if neither work on their own, combine them for a stronger back-and-forth between the present and the past. Perhaps separating and putting them back together again might make each narrative stronger and the manuscript as a whole read better.
Hmm. This re-writing thing (what I call ‘editing’ but is very much becoming re-writing) is challenging, and a little intimidating. I guess this is where you have to try not to get frustrated and just keep going, trusting that it will be worth it and you’ll end up with something much stronger in the end.
(1) Welcome to the Doll House was a popular (but not too popular) ’90s indie film by Todd Solondz which focused on a pre-teen girl’s frustrated helplessness in the clutches of her crazy family.
Originally published on August 6, 2015