Nine Piles Of Files And One Book

It’s sunny and warm outside.  There’s a breeze and birdsong.  The cherry, pear, and apple trees are in full bloom, and I can smell the cottonwood trees.  Life is sweet today, and I am feeling contented and lazy.  Sitting outside and doing nothing feels terribly appealing.

However, I have a blog post to create, so coffee is brewing in the kitchen—bribing myself with lattes—while I begin writing.

I am back to seriously playing with my book draft.  Yesterday I set up a card table next to my studio work table, and laid out the various files of writing into three rows of three stacks each.  This is everything so far, my whole book where I can see it.

The tallest pile is Scenes In Development.  Here is the core of my book, and hooray to it being the tallest pile because it tells me I am making progress.

Next to it is Random Scenes, writing that sort of fits the story but the connection is tenuous.  With some rewriting, these scenes may fall in and be included, or they may not. If not, I’ll put them aside for use in something else.

Idea Lists/Maybes come next.  Here live the undeveloped thoughts, waiting to be played with and nurtured to see what grows.

In the middle row is Why This Story.  This is the what-if’s and why-I-care’s, the what’s-the-point’s and what’s-my-point’s.  Reasons, needs, and wants that push me to write.  A list of themes.  A one paragraph synopsis written crazy-dramatic, as though this story of healing is a suspense thriller.

Characters is next.  Bios and backstories, parallel story scenes, what drives each character and what trips them up (sometimes the same thing), and the rules of their worlds (how they see life).

Appendices are last in the middle row.  This is a story of healing, and as I wrote the first draft, I realized it needed a place for information beyond the story.  References, suggestions, examples, and how-to’s that don’t fit in the story-telling space, yet are a necessary second level for the reader.

The third row of files begins with Readers.  Here are my notes about who I am writing for (imaginary bios), who I see wanting and needing this book, who picks it up and reads it, what I want this story to do for those who read it.

Processes comes after Readers.  This is my collection of prompts and methods that help me imagine the pieces of my story and book, and guide me into seeing what I need to see in my mind’s eye.  This collection unsticks me when I get stuck.

The final pile on my card table is General Info.  Information on writing memoir, lists of memory triggers, timeline construction when interweaving past and present, tips on layering complex emotions, and more.  References that teach me and enrich my writing.

It’s all here, what I’ve collected and written into story so far. 

Seeing the work laid out makes the book real to me. 

Writing this story was never just a whim or something to pass the time.  It was always serious play, but now I truly see I am creating something tangible.  My nine piles of writing make me proud of what I’ve accomplished, and they show me where I go next in my creation.

__________________

Related to this post:

Tom Hart said of all the material he gathered, wrote, and drew for Rosalie Lightning: a Graphic Memoir, only about 10 percent showed up in the finished book. He needed all 100 percent in order to find the story thread he wanted to tell. Tom’s book The Art of the Graphic Memoir came out in 2018, and it has become one of my essential references as I write my book.
http://www.tomhart.net/

The Shape Of The Story

I love the phrase ‘the arc of the story’.  I see an arrow in true flight, rising high and piercing the target.  A single, loud note sounds (middle C) as arrow and target become one.

Sorting out my story’s arc is not so direct.

I begin with the form I learned in high school, the arc of arrow to target.  For three years and two drafts, I attempt to fit my story into this shape.  It’s a struggle, and I think the problem is me.  A first attempt at writing a book—what do I know?

More than I think I do.  I know it isn’t working.

And less.  I don’t know there are other shapes for a story, and I don’t know I am free to invent a shape.

The name of a book falls into my lap.  Austin Kleon, in his weekly Friday eletter, talks of reading Draft No. 4 by John McPhee.  He talks of how John diagrams the shapes of his stories.

I am a visual thinker. I need this book.

Here is a revelation.  John’s stories are shaped like algebra equations, like maps, like an uncooperative graph line.  Whatever shape fits the story is what he imagines, and then writes to.

Here is freedom.

I go back to my draft.  I picture the story in my mind’s eye.  All the pieces.  All the experiences.  I see how my writing keeps circling a set of themes.  With each circle, I learn something, and carry that knowledge into the next question and the next circle.  A bird rising on the thermals of a summer day.

My story is not the arc of an arrow.  It’s the circling rise of a spiral.

This I understand.  I know the feel of a spiral.  My life moves in exactly this shape, and has always done so.  Of course the story I am writing does the same.

I see how my story builds upon itself, how it begins, moves, and completes.

Again I see the bird rising on the warm summer air.

The view from here is exactly right.

______________________

In this post:

Austin Kleon’s new book is out!Keep Going, Workman Publishing, NY, 2019.  https://austinkleon.com/

John McPhee, bookDraft No. 4: On the Writing Process, Farrar Straus and Giroux, NY, 2017. 

Yesterday I discovered ‘Picturing the Personal Essay: A Visual Guide’, by Tim Bascom, on the Creative Nonfiction website.  https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/picturing-personal-essay-visual-guide

Everything Matters

A few months ago I listened to a webcast.  The speaker compared life’s experiences to climbing a ladder.

“Every rung is important,” he said, “Every rung is equal.”

At first, the idea of “everything matters equally” felt paralyzing.  Taking even the simplest of actions could be life-or-death in a world where all is so completely important. I might do it wrong.

Then I heard the words differently.

Everything in life has equal meaning. 

At first, this didn’t seem logical.  Holding a door open for someone and saving someone’s life has equal meaning? 

Yes, it does. 

Last Fall I was deep in grief over the deaths of my Dad and my cousin.  The feelings came and went, unpredictable tides that left me feeling helpless and lost.  On a day when things were especially colourless and I desperately needed to feel better, I took myself to the library.

As I walked towards the door, it swung open and someone came out.  Their arms were loaded with books, a balancing act, but when they saw me they paused and waited, holding the door open wide.  They looked me in the eyes and smiled.  I thanked them and walked through. 

Holding the door open for someone and smiling, a momentary gesture frequently repeated, nothing really in the larger movements of life. Except this someone, a stranger, smiled for me as if we knew and loved each other well.

That brief action was pure kindness, a connection that gave me light and space and breath.  I was offered a moment of love that buoyed me for the rest of the day.

I don’t know what happens as my actions and choices ripple outwards.  I don’t know who I affect every day in my life.

I do know I want my life’s touch to be as kind and loving as the gift I received that day.

If everything is important and equal, if everything has meaning, I choose to do my days with kindness and love for the people around me and for myself.

Saying Yes Please To Help

I was one of those children who regularly insisted, “I can do it myself.”  My parents heard those words a million times.  Bless their patience.

Now I am in the messy middle of writing a book, and I can most definitely not do it myself.

I didn’t fully realize, when I began this process, creating a book is a communal effort.  I kind of knew, but hadn’t considered it at depth.  After all, book covers say “by author’s name”.  They don’t say “by long list of names.”

The clue is inside the book on the acknowledgements page if the writer has added one, and most do.  Right there is the long list.

When I think on it, I had help long before the book idea crossed my mind.  Every creativity book I have worked my way through, and every author of everything I’ve read throughout my life have helped me.  They’ve laid paths and rhythms of language within me.  I move to that beat when I write.

I learned from every teacher ways I wanted to play with words, and ways I didn’t.

My circle of friends are artists, writers, and readers, book lovers all.  They patiently read my drafts and ask exactly the right questions to unstick me from swamps of my own making.  They celebrate, commiserate, and push when I need it.  I do the same for them, and gain a deeper understanding of my own creative process.

In my future beyond the drafts stage, there is a stream of wise partners who will help me create, support, and present the book that shows up online, in bookstores, and in readers’ hands and minds.

The help list is long and growing.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I treasure the community coming into being, the wisdom and experience shared with me, the yes they are offering my project.

I was a do-it-myself child.

It’s a good thing I have changed.

(Written at a friend’s home, grey-blue ocean beyond the windows and a morning sky clearing towards a sunny day.  Thanks Wren, for lending me your place!)