I believe telling our stories has the potential to change our lives and the lives of those around us. I learned this from my daddy and carried that lesson throughout my life. He was my hero and listening to him tell his war stories were some of the greatest memories I had with him. His stories changed my life because they possessed the power to help me face uncomfortable truths, embrace empathy and compassion, and live a life grounded on a foundation of love, faith and honesty.
For me, stories can show the world the unseen. They make the insubstantial substantial and the general specific. Stories strike a chord in people and make them change; make them feel they are not alone; make them act; make them laugh and find happiness; and even help them heal in ways nothing else ever could.
Stories connect us to one another and they join the past to the future. For me, most of my stories are written in the middle of the night when insomnia calls. Most of my stories begin when I can’t remember how I got from where I was to where I am. I believe stories are for eternity, so if the memory is erased, the story lives on.
My latest story is not mine, but much of me feels like it is. When I read the Facebook message sent to me 18 months ago, I was both excited and scared to death.
Here is the message:
Bill: Side bar… Do you do ghost writing. I would love to write a book about the Philippines but my writing skills suck ass. Just curious to know if you would like to go on this venture. I feel it could make us a few bucks.
I didn’t even take a second to think about it and I shot this response: Yes, I do, and for you;I am in. I would absolutely love to do this! Just let me know when you want to get started!
In a little over fifty words a negotiation was made and a few weeks later the journey began. Neither of us knew what to expect; but we anticipated obstacles- emotional, intellectual and psychological to name a few. We worried if the story would have the “wow” factor to lure in an audience and if we had the combined skills to be successful. What we did not anticipate, was the level of trust that would be required on both our parts to get the story out. At first, it was hard to draw out some of the more intimate details about events. You will meet a very lovely young lady when you read the book and she was my biggest obstacle. It took a while to get Bill to open up and be honest about his feelings; but once he did, her story became one of my favorites.
The chapters starting rolling in, and before I knew it, there were nine completed chapters; but something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first; however, the stories Bill told me on paper were flat and lacking the emotion and excitement I heard when he told me the stories in person. Bill can tell an amazing story that leaves you gasping for more. In his speaking, you hear the emotion, see the humor, and occasionally, feel his frustration. His writing voice was much different than his speaking voice. I struggled with how to tell him this because the stories were so good and I didn’t want to discourage the writing process. A light bulb lit up in my head. He wasn’t the problem, I was.
Bill had asked me to be his ghost writer; not his editor. I was editing grammar, changing the tense of verbs and playing with sentence structure. What I was supposed to be doing was making his story on paper read as well, if not better, than his spoken words.
I took a huge leap of faith, and rather than check with Bill first, I rewrote the first nine chapters in what I had come to know as Bill’s voice. It was the story the way I heard it, not the way I read it.
Bill had said from the beginning, writing wasn’t his thing, and rather than trust that, I fell back into what I like to call teacher mode. I corrected, asked for clarification and offered suggestions. My notes probably made no sense to Bill because all I told him to do was put the story on paper. I never told him how to do that. To make a very long story short, Bill was pleased with what I sent back to him. Something clicked in both of us, because the chapters I received after that began to show the Bill I know. Although I had received something very special from Bill-the gift of his voice; he also found his voice when writing. As the collaboration continued I felt honored to have Bill’s permission to speak with and for him, to remember his memories and to help tell a story that needed to be told.
From that point on, we worked a little closer together tinkering endlessly with sentences and structure. We would delete, add and expand upon each thought until our voices were one. So much so that when the story was complete, I felt like I stood beside him in those memories.
Once the last word of the book was typed, the grueling process of editing began. We spent an entire day sitting in a room so quiet you could hear a pin drop. No distractions and no interruptions, except for two almost fifty-year-old people needing to get up and stretch.
I helped Bill tell his story because it was different. His story made me feel things about the world I had never experienced before. His words reached in and took me back in time to a tropical paradise I knew nothing about. Now, I consider myself an expert in the culture and history of the Philippines. He taught me life lessons, he made me cry, he scared the hell out of me and he made me laugh so hard my belly hurt for days.
Helping Bill write his story and share it with the world has been a hell of a ride. Once buckled in, I got to take a journey from his head to his heart that allowed me to show the rest of the world what I already knew- he is simply one of the best.