Personal Musings

It Was a Poem All Along

From the ages of 21-24, I wrote a full length memoir. It began as a coping mechanism when my good friend Jeremiah was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2003. A few days ago I realized it was never meant to be a memoir at all — not in the way you think of memoirs, as a structured narrative written in paragraphs and chapters.

It was a poem all along.

I came to this realization as I was rewriting another nonfiction piece originally published on my blog in 2017 titled El Chupacabra on a Friday Night at 1 AM. Like El Chupacabra, When the Lights Go Out at 10:16 is not a traditional story. It’s a vignette. In this case, a series of vignettes being that it contains more than 50,000 words.

A vignette when used in writing is defined as:

A brief evocative description, account, or episode.


I want to use this space to address a few things before I go any further.

I. My Prior Attempts at Finishing This Story

How long can you grieve? Is it a few months? A year? Two years? Longer? None of the above. You grieve for the rest of your life. That’s the answer no one ever tells you. You never stop.

It doesn’t mean the pain that hits you deeply doesn’t subside or transform. It does. But you will always grieve. You may heal but you carry that scar on your soul for the rest of your days.

This book has made me feel like a failure for a very long time. If we go by time alone, I started writing it twenty years ago (2003). But where is it? Why isn’t it done?

There was an internal pressure within me to wrap it up, put a bow on it, and off it went to a publisher to be printed. That way it could live on forever. I wanted this. For a while, I know others did, too. They told me.

They asked me: “Where is it?”

“Have you finished your book yet?”

After a few years, the questions stopped coming and rightfully so.

This pressure I put on myself paralyzed my ability to face the page and finish the story. The reality was, and is, I was too close to the story to ever finish it — and I think that’s an important realization for me to have, finally.

You can be too close to something.

Distance, in this case: time, has played a crucial role in me being able to step back from this story and see it for what it really is. More importantly, for what it was when it began so long ago.

For what it will be in its final form:

A poem.

Again, a very long poem.

And not one that rhymes every other line.

But a poem, nonetheless.

A free verse memoir.

II. If I’ve Ever Gotten Your Hopes Up

Honestly, I’m not sure how many people remember this book anymore. I feel like I need to put “book” in quotations at this point. For those that do remember, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that outside of the excerpts I’ve posted on my blog over the years, that’s all that will ever come of it.

I thought so too.

But you’re wrong and so was I.

Behind the scenes, I’ve been working on restructuring this story from paragraph after paragraph to verse by verse. It’s one hell of an undertaking.

Oddly, I once thought the story needed more words. More paragraphs. More chapters. More everything to tie it together into a cohesive narrative. To set it up into a needed paradigm: a three act structure.

That’s how books are written, after all.

Now I’m tearing down all the scaffolding I had once put into place.

I’m cutting out paragraphs and chapters and moving scenes that once followed a linear narrative back into a free flowing series of vignettes, flashbacks and all.

It’s been enjoyable to do this.

I see white space now all around my words.

It makes sense to my brain to look at it this way.

I never set out to be a memoirist when I began writing.

I’ve always viewed myself as a poet at heart.

Poetry is what I choose to read more than any genre.

I don’t even read memoirs.

I rarely read novels anymore.

But I love poetry. I always have.

I always will.

And that’s what this story will be in its final form.

And it will turn into a book.

And that book will still be pretty damn long.

I’m hoping its final form is around 25,000-30,000 words as opposed to its current 50,000 (with an additional 25,000 in scrap scenes and notes).

III. Deadline for the Rewrite

I’m giving myself until October 31 to rewrite this. It’s not a lot of time but the deadline is important for me not to fail at this again.

IV. Printing and publishing

I have no desire to find an agent and publisher for this book and go through a vetting process. There’s too much need for luck and patience in these steps. I just want it to be done. I want to enjoy it in its final form already. I want others to enjoy it this way as well.

I will be independently printing and publishing it. It will start as only available in paperback. More on timelines in a future post. I’m hoping it’ll be available before the end of the year.

I may one day choose the e-book route but it’s doubtful. I believe, whenever possible, poetry should be read on paper and not a screen. I may make the book available to those who do a monthly membership on my blog, but it’s too early for me to say for sure. I need to see what options I have available to do this on that site.

V. Name Change

That’s it.

That’s the status update.

Wait! One more thing. I’m probably changing the name from When the Lights Go Out at 10:16 to something else. It was originally known as The Court. But since I never completed it, both “The Court” and “When the Lights Go Out…” have been taken by various other authors over the years.

I have a couple alternates I’m considering.

I may get you all to vote on it or something.

Thank you for reading.

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