Writer’s Journal_8: Third Draft is Just the Start of the Art

For some fiction or memoir writers, a third draft might be a final draft. For me, however, my third draft of memoir #1 is still a lump of wet clay–mostly centered, spinning on the wheel, but awaiting the artist’s hand to shape it into something beautiful. No pressure (cha, right!).

This is real life and it’s taking a while for the nuances in my story to emerge, for the patterns of my life to be revealed to me through my own relentless investigation. The patterns will help me to weave a deeper story, and a deeper story is where the art lives.


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Writer’s Journal_7: Crap

I stare at the sullen face staring back at me in the mirror . . . I look like crap. I’m only a week into what will be a month-long marathon of rewriting and editing, and already I look like a vampire. The artificial blue-white light of the moon and my computer screen are reflected in the darkening blue circles creeping out from under the corners of my eyes.

Memoir #1 looks like crap to me at times, too, depending on what else I allow to influence me. Today, it is an article in a writing magazine about plot points, about successful fiction books having a tantalizing crisis, climax, and closing. I’m writing a memoir, not an autobiography, so it must moonlight as fiction–not that it be fabricated, but that it borrow from useful, successful storytelling techniques. I fret at times with this memoir, because life doesn’t always follow a neat crisis-climax-closing structure. Sometimes, it is crisis, climax, crisis, climax, crisis, climax, and eventually a closing of some sort (before the next crisis and climax muddy the mix again). Almost as often as day turns into night and back into day, I change my decision of where memoir #1 will begin and end.

I feel drained, like I want to trash this book. I wonder how I’ll make it through the next three or four weeks like this.

In response to my downward spiral, I make a command decision to stop writing and editing, to escape the draining blue-white of the computer and instead bask in the replenishing yellow-bright of the sun. I set up a lounge chair in the backyard and lay my sick body down so it can soak in as many rays as I imagine might replenish a body with Vitamin D and positive energy. After 15 minutes, I pick up the writing magazine again. This time, I find something between the lines that gives me hope for my memoir.

When I return to my cave in the house, a quick examination in the mirror shows I still look like crap, but when I return to the blue-white screen, my memoir looks considerably better than I do. Maybe there is hope after all.


Copyright @ 2016 AccidentalWriter.wordpress.com | All rights reserved.

Writer’s Journal_6: Starting at the End

Memoirs seem more challenging to me than fiction. In fiction, a writer can design an alluring opening, a smash ending, and then set to the task of writing all the interesting stuff in between. But in memoirs, as in life, aside from being born and dying, beginnings and endings aren’t as clear.

In memoirs, we often don’t know where our particular sub-story began. That’s what we pay a psychologist many decades of analysis for, if we’re so lucky to be able to afford one. Often, we don’t know where the end is either. Because when we’re living life, the ‘end’ never really happens. In the process of living, we blur the lines between the end of one story in our life and the beginning of the next.

It’s the very reason, I now have TWO memoirs in progress. Not because I love torturing myself with two major projects at once, but because they’re closely related, sharing the same backstory, so it’s difficult to decipher where one ends and the other begins. I constantly flip-flop between the two projects, jotting down notes, moving a piece from one into the other and back again.

This morning, I stared at my first memoir, hoping to tackle the third draft, trying to nail down a beginning and an end. At best, I still only have a vague idea of the beginning, but I did settle in on an ending that just might work. I’ve used this approach many times before . . . even if I don’t know exactly what scene will be the last in the story, I at least have an idea of the “take-away”–the “lessons learned” that I hope the reader will ponder as they close the book cover. This, I know, is the most important part of the book, the part that drives the entire story. Today, the ending was an excellent place to start.


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Writer’s Journal_5: Distraction

There’s a reason the work doesn’t get done when I say it will: distraction.

Yesterday, it was a glance at an essay contest advertisement, with a hefty payout for the winner and publication in a national magazine. I dropped my memoir writing in a heartbeat and set to the task of whipping out something that I thought might fit the theme.

The words and concept came easily. I liked what I had written. It was good. With additional cutting, lifting, creating, finessing, it could be great.

Today, I picked up on it again. Bound. Determined. I checked the advertisement again. Originality–Check. Creativity–Check. Use of language–Check. Adherence to theme–Check.

Then I pulled myself back from the micro-view and took a look at the macro-view. Wait a second, now. Will this magazine’s editors see my subject matter as a fit for their magazine?

No. No they won’t. Why did I not see this from the start?

Because I got distracted. By prize money. By the thought of being published again.

So, I’m back to the memoir. And stashed away in my file folder is a decent personal essay about a difficult life lesson that boiled down to “my efforts weren’t wasted,” which ironically is the theme of today’s life lesson . . . that none of my efforts related to writing are wasted. Every time I put together something meant for someone else’s eyes, it commands me to write my best. Winning a contest is great, but I’m also winning whenever I’m writing under pressure, because it elevates my writing to higher heights. Whether I win a contest or not, I win whenever I pressure myself to write my best.


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Writer’s Journal_4: Planning or Pantsing?

Once I finished first-drafting the bulk of my fourth chapter, I sat back and stared at the screen. Now what?

I had gotten past that point, that easy point where I had deposited the fury of words stirring in my belly onto the page. Writing by the seat of my pants had taken me as far as it could go. Before I could write . . . one . . .  more . . .  word, I needed a plan.

So, without much choice, I wasted spent an entire day laying out a timeline of events I intended to cover and then working through a story outline as best I could.

The timeline was helpful and essential. It would seem a no-brainer to tackle a memoir just as you experienced it, but if you don’t decide ahead of time what the dozen or so major events are of the whole, you spend too much time writing too much about–and, therefore, drawing too much attention to–the less compelling stuff.

The story outline was critical. What am I most passionate about that has led me to want to write this book? What is it I want to convey as the take-away lesson or theme? What characters will I bother to mention by name (because only they are critical to the story)? What is the premise of the protagonist (me!) relative to her major flaw (oh, I have so many!) and to the theme? And what are my true story events I’ll try to overlay upon the major story points of any story (hook, backstory, trigger, crisis, struggle, epiphany, plan, climax, ending).

So, yes, I’ve wasted spent an entire day doing something other the one thing I wanted to do, write!, but considering how far off the path I could have wandered without a plan, I think I’m now better off.

Today, without reservation, I write.


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Writer’s Journal_3: Addiction

Most days I’m just feeding my addiction.

I’m rather obsessive now. Consumed by it.

I’m back to three blogs again. Really? I tried this once before and failed. I simply can’t keep a steady pace on all three at once. Clearly, this glaring fact doesn’t matter. I’m back in the saddle.

I’m bouncing around between blogs, memoirs, and short stories, trying to score big on the writer’s pinball machine I insist on playing. Still not sure what scoring big means. Adding to my word count? Adding to how many pieces get published? Adding to my chances of writing something that isn’t pure rubbish and has value beyond what it does to me?

I’ll keep playing. I’m an addict. An addict for these words that keep lining up waiting for me to inject another into the game.


Copyright @ 2016 AccidentalWriter.wordpress.com | All rights reserved.

Writer’s Journal_2: Published

Just after I finished writing a chapter today for my second memoir, I checked my email and found a bit of good news . . . one of my short stories made it into a feel-good Chicken Soup for the Soul book, coming out this fall. This is good news, for it places upon my head the crowning title of “published author.”

“Barely,” some may say. But for me, this feels like chicken soup heated up to exactly the right temperature . . . good for what ails my writer’s mind. I feel better already.  Mmmmm . . .


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