Writers on writing
I’d like to write a book someday. For as long as I’ve loved reading, I’ve envisioned myself as a novelist in my spare time—certainly not in a way that would provide me a living, but in addition to my career. And here I am, about to turn 45 years old and, well, it is just not happening, folks. On the up side, I haven’t received a single rejection letter! Yay Jen!
If or when I ever write a book, it’ll probably be about my cancer story. I don’t think mine is exceptionally different or inspiring compared to anyone else’s, but if I can help another person who has just been told “you have cancer,” if I can give them even the tiniest glimmer of hope that they can kick cancer’s ass, I would love to do that.
My book wouldn’t be an autobiography; it would fit into the “memoir” category. In my opinion, memoirs have the potential to be amazing because they don’t have to tell a person’s entire life story, just a part of it, and in fascinating detail. I know there aren’t very many people who would enjoy From Birth to Now, The Life of Jen—OMG, I just totally fell asleep on my keyboard typing that title—but maybe a few years’ worth of it could be slightly readable.
As with all writing, the toughest part is getting started. And because I know several people who have stories to tell, and those stories definitely NEED to be told, I’d like to share some suggestions on how to get started. These are things I’ve come up with on my own (because yes, I have started putting together my story), and some I’ve run across while looking for help on the ‘net.
Create a rough outline of the story, including the theme and major points.
“Find your important moments of meaning -- the true North of your memoir -- by listing turning points or moments that are important to you. Make a list, keep it up for a while, and then you'll have the spine of your memoir. Choose to write your scene from this list, and you can write in any order. Making an outline is helpful too though, because at some point, you'll want to put those scenes in some kind of order.” –Dr. Linda Joy Myers
You don’t have to write in chronological order.
Grab a manageable chunk of your outline and just write. Leave gaps. Try focusing on the most memorable moments, the things you can’t imagine your story without. In the instances where your memory is less sharp, sometimes writing about them will help the memories come back. Skip around your outline and assemble the parts when you’re ready.
Don’t edit as you write. Write, leave it, and come back later with fresh eyes.
If you set a goal—say, to write one page per day—complete the writing part and move on to your next goal. If you set aside that page and move on, you’ll eventually return to your writing and see better how it fits into the big picture of your story.
When you start writing, write for yourself, not an audience.
Hold off on polishing it up for others to read. Sometimes you just need to get your story out for your own healing. I started journaling in high school for that very reason—I didn’t write all that teen angst-y stuff for others to read, I wrote to make sense out of my life. Jeannette Walls, author of the memoir The Glass Castle, says, “I’m constantly urging people, especially older folks, to write about their lives. It gives you new perspective. It was hugely eye-opening for me and very cathartic. Even if the book hadn’t sold a single copy, it would still have been worth it.”
While there are lots of parts of my life I don’t talk about on my blog, the things I do share are what I believe to be true. Sure, it may be the highlight reel, but it’s still honest. “When you’re truly honest and revealing about yourself, it creates a sigh in other people,” says Lorna Kelly, author of The Camel Knows the Way. “They realize they’re not alone, they’re not a freak: Someone else has felt the exact same way or lived their dream. If you’re going to skimp on the truth, then you’re doing a disservice. Honesty is not only a gift to other people—it’s a gift to yourself.”
Know that your writing may cause hurt feelings.
Even if you don’t intentionally set out to hurt a person’s feelings, you very well may. It’s also very possible that you’ll have to write about moments that make a friend or family member seem like an asshole. I’ve heard Armistead Maupin talk about how family members have started to tell him a story but stop themselves because they’re sure he’ll find a way to use it in his books. David Sedaris seems to have no reservations telling horrific family stories (though I’m sure he does have a filter, and when you think about what he doesn’t tell, it’s a little scary). If you’re writing to get revenge or intentionally hurt a person’s feelings, you may not be writing a very good story. And yet, you should be truthful… so there’s a big ol’ writing dilemma for ya. You must find that balance of fairness and honesty. (And good luck! That’s one of the biggest challenges I face in my story, and I have not yet figured out how to deal with it.)
This list isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it ought to get some ideas going in your noodle. These things helped me get going, anyway. If you have a story to tell—and really, who doesn’t?—get busy telling it. WRITE.
If you’re a blogger and want to do our blog challenge with us, let me know and I’ll send you our list! Otherwise, tune in here (and on Sherilee’s happy little blog) every day in September!