Delivering Stella Adler’s Biography: The Labor Pains Are Killing Me!

James Coburn in "Duck, You Sucker" (1971 - Year I was born)

James Coburn in “Duck, You Sucker” (1971 – The year I was born)

I could be writing Stella Adler’s biography for the rest of my life. Just this week a journalist contacted me to “pick my brain” on Stella for a feature he’s doing in GQ Magazine on James Coburn who was a student of Stella’s. The journalist had a meeting with a woman who audio taped Coburn the last couple of years of his life. Turns out, Coburn talked a lot about Stella. The journalist sent me an MP3 of the Stella-related stuff.  You’d think I’d listen to it right away. Who knows what anecdotes he related or insight he may have had that would build upon themes I’ve written about in the biography.

And yet, I haven’t had one hot second to listen to it. It sits unopened in my inbox with the other flagged emails. This happens all the time. This has been happening for the last 10 years.

Relax, it's only a book

(Relax! It’s only a book)

Three years ago I decided I had to stop the research and finish writing the book. So, it’s done. I guess. I’d love to listen to Coburn; I’d love to go back to the University of Texas and listen to and watch the 1,017 audio and visual recordings of Stella’s classes from 1958 to 1992 because when I was there for 9 days I only had enough time to watch a couple dozen what with going through all her papers; and I’d love to track down some more people I never had the chance to  interview.

But I can’t.  I have signed on with a publisher. I’m due to deliver the manuscript by October 1st.  Am I complaining? It sounds as if I’m complaining. Let’s back up. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment. Well, not this exact one in which I’m blogging to complain that I have a book contract. I’ve always known I would write books. So, here I am and I feel like I’m going into labor. Seriously, I have all the doubts and insecurities I felt just before my son was born.

Okay I’m breathing. I still have three months, which would be equivalent to the third trimester. During this time, I wanted to polish my manuscript: smooth out language, passive voice, repetition, consistency of style, pacing. Baby proof, paint the nursery, take breast-feeding classes.

hard-contract-1969-dvd-james-coburn-free-usa-shipping-74d1But there’s more to preparing the manuscript than meets the eye. All last week I had to dedicate to writing a 200 word summary of the book (impossible!) for the publisher’s Spring/Summer catalog, find images for the cover, find out who owned copyright to those images, and then the whopper: read a 59 page Author’s Guide featuring a “How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Submission” manifesto. I didn’t realize I’d have to be learning things I apparently should already know such as type coding and page breaks – the equivalent to diapering and swaddling. You mean I should know how to swaddle my baby?!

I’m a Luddite. I don’t want to research how to do page breaks. Besides I Googled it a few months back and never understood it.

So now I’m “preparing” my manuscript, not polishing my book. I have to take this in stride, I know. It’s just been such a journey with Stella and I feel a huge responsibility to tell her story with as much charisma, truth, drama and keen observation as she had in class. The foundation is all there. I just need time to dress it up. And I don’t feel I have it.

Before the book contract, I complained, “I just need to publish this book so I can move on.” I felt the way I felt towards the end of my pregnancy: Get it out. Now! I hadn’t been able to devote myself to other projects such as writing that play that’s been percolating for years, or the screenplay I started last year, or organizing my poetry into a proper collection.

But the days before my son was due, I panicked. Kind of like right now. I’m not ready! I need an infant CPR refresher. I haven’t read up on how to raise boys. (How sexist is that?) But he was ready. I guess Stella’s biography is ready. It’s all going to work out, right?

To Be Continued . . .

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5 responses to “Delivering Stella Adler’s Biography: The Labor Pains Are Killing Me!

  1. jorgine averett

    take stella’s advice: know where you are (circumstances), pay attention to details and be truthful.

  2. Today, as a family crisis prevents me from writing and I don’t feel I have one day NOT to write, I needed to hear “know where you are.” I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Thanks, Jorgine.

  3. I relate to the “research” aspects of working. I can get stuck there as many, many, many other writers do. You are living proof that once you STOP the research and get on with the writing… MOMENTUM KICKS IN. You have been on fire with your writing. I don’t have the luxury of time to read all your posts but when I do, I always learn and gather insight and wisdom. This time… inspiration and a kick in the pants. KIDS are, for me now anyway, all consuming but I MUST shut the door and write. Someone is waiting for my work, it is my responsibility to deliver it and let it go to see where the wind blows it. Hopefully, like you, a tornado replies and offers, which reminds me about balance. Don’t want to burn out, another excuse to “research”.

    Mary

  4. Reblogged this on 1REAL GIRL WRITER and commented:
    Get on with it and WRITE!

  5. Real Girl, I would “get on with it and write” if I weren’t drowning in all the legalities of getting permission from my sources. So that’ll be in my next post. Thanks for reading!

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