Emily DeArdo decided more than a decade ago to share her experience living with Cystic Fibrosis. In more ways than one, she is an inspiration. I’ve asked her to share a little about her story as an author.
When did you discover your love for writing?
I think I’ve always loved writing. I remember writing my first “report” in first grade for a project, and even though it was just marker on construction paper, I liked seeing it “finished.” I started keeping a journal when I was about 12 years old, and I’ve never stopped.
When did sharing your story become a personal goal?
Probably when I was in my early twenties? It’s hard to pick a date because it was a growing realization that I had something to share with the rest of the world. So, probably around the age of 20, 21, I started writing down pieces of my story and showing them to my friends, who, not being writers, they just read and said, “Oh, it’s good!” I knew it really wasn’t–it was just the beginning.
How long did it take to write the original draft of your memoir?
The original, fully written draft took about one to two months. I just sat down every day and wrote things out, chronologically, with as much detail as I could remember. I just wanted to get it all down so it was somewhere other than the inside of my head. I let it sit for probably a month or so after that, then I went back and went through and hacked and burned, slicing and removing and making the story more readable and streamlined, removing details that didn’t really have to do with the main thrust of the book. I didn’t completely delete those–I kept those sections in a file called “scrap”, an idea I got from Elizabeth Gilbert, in case I ever needed them again. In most cases I don’t think I did. But these early pieces are still there, if I ever do need them for anything!
Can you compare your original concept for your memoir and the final, published book?
The original concept was essentially a memoir–a straight memoir. It wasn’t tied to any particular devotion, there wasn’t anything overwhelmingly Catholic about it, except that I am Catholic, and that obviously played a part in the story, both in what I emphasized and in the characters that showed up (priests, nuns), and events (sacraments, going to Mass, etc.).
This is what I sent to Ave Maria Press. My editor looked at it and said, why don’t we tie this to the Stations of the Cross? I really did not like this idea initially–in fact, in my journal, I write how angry I was at the idea of turning my memoir into some sort of devotional! Obviously, eventually I came to see how it would work, and how it would also be easier to write–because as a straight memoir, there were sections that were touchy (I had been engaged, for example–do I write about that?, etc.) With the stations framework, what to include and what to leave out became very clear very quickly.
What were the best and most difficult parts about working with an editor?
The best part is having someone who champions your writing and is willing to bounce around ideas with you–and also someone that fills in the blanks for you. There were times, especially in the writing of chapters 10 and 11, where I sent in drafts where I said, “I have no idea what I wrote, tell me if any of it is any good.” And she did. She was great at steering me onto a better track or giving me ideas when I wasn’t coming up with any.
The hardest part is arguing with them! 🙂 Not really arguing, but accepting that I know more about things than she did, even though she was an experienced editor. This mostly came up in the medical aspect–there were things that she edited, or that copy editors edited, and I had to say, “No, it was right the first way, this new way is wrong–and why.” Because it always bugs me when I read a book and it’s clear the person has no idea what medical stuff actually is, they’re just going off of what they watch on ER of Grey’s Anatomy, and they don’t actually understand what a condition or procedure entails. At first I would have been so afraid to ever contradict my editor, but I knew that I had to be as accurate and truthful as possible in telling my story, and normally once I explained it she’d just say, “OK!” and we’d move on.
What role has community with other writers played in your journey?
I really liked being able to bounce ideas of other writers, sharing the good parts and the hard parts. The feeling of “this book will NEVER get published!”–sharing that with other writers was good, because a lot of people just don’t get it. They don’t understand how hard it is to actually publish things. They think that writing is easy, when we all know it’s really not, and that to get published you have to have that drive to share your story, either fiction or nonfiction, and that’s what motivates you to keep sending out queries and letters and subjecting yourself to rejection!
Also, it’s nice to be able to exchange pieces with other writers and get honest feedback. Not just “oh, it’s good” and not “THIS IS CRAP” –as in, you definitely don’t want to share your writing with someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart. You want the honest feedback as well as the positives in the writing, and if you have a fellow writer whom you can share things with like that, that’s gold.
Do you have ideas for another book?
I’m working with my editor right now on another proposal. This one is about single saints and how they impacted the Church and how they found purpose in their lives. The Catholic Church has a ton of saints, but there aren’t that many who were single and not consecrated (ie., priests, nuns, sisters, consecrated virgins). It’s hard to find plain old single saints! But I think we need the example of them, and my editor agrees. There are a lot of single people that don’t understand how this can be where God wants them to be. So I’m hoping that this book could give them inspiration and consolation, and also show that being single doesn’t mean you can’t actively work for God and the Church and have a fulfilling life, even if it’s not the one you originally thought you’d have.
Want to be inspired by Emily’s words on a regular basis? Follow her blog to learn more about her and the ways her faith has shown her how to live a full life, even with a chronic illness. You can purchase copies of her book, Living Memento Mori: My Journey Through the Stations of the Cross here or through Amazon.