My Cheat Sheet For Writing

There’s no other way to say it.  Writing a book is complicated.  The further into the process I go, the more complex it becomes.  My saving grace is I love word puzzles, and this is a word puzzle in the extreme.

I’ve discovered there are parts of the writing which don’t come naturally to me, probably because this is my first book.  Until I worked my way through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius process, I didn’t consciously know these bits existed.

Yesterday, I decided I needed a cheat sheet to help me along.

My book is a memoir of healing, and I am the protagonist.  Under my cheat sheet header, the first note talks of the two things driving me all through the story—what I most desire, and the core misbelief that shapes my world view.

I most desire love.  Being loved, giving love, having and doing what I love—all the things my illness makes difficult, if not impossible. I have a core misbelief, formed in childhood, which says love can’t keep me safe from the bad things in life. Every day I am ill, and my misbelief is made stronger.  My desire and misbelief are in constant opposition.  My emotions fly between love and fear, with fear in the ascendant. 

The second note is something Lisa repeats throughout Story Genius—the answer to why always lies in the past.  I spent much of last year writing backstory.  The time spent was worth it.  I found the answers to most of my why’s, and the story is so much richer as a result.

Two questions make up my third note.  As the protagonist, what am I most worried about?  How will it affect my judgment and reaction throughout the story?

The fourth note is another set of questions, under a heading “as I write ask why of everything”.  For every scene I ask:

  • Why does the plot need this to happen?
  • Can it happen?  Is it logistically possible?
  • Given my inner struggle (desire vs. misbelief), why would it happen?  (Here is the scene’s true meaning.)
  • Ask “and so . . . .” Why does my reader need to know this?  How does this move the story forward?  What will happen as a result?  Aka what is the point of including this in the story?

Asking ‘why’ is so crazily key to everything.  I feel like a toddler who has discovered her new favourite word. Sometimes I feel like the mom who is really tired of answering.

Finally, the fifth note is all about building the emotional connection with my reader.  The connection exists because I make both thought and emotion visible in the writing.  I do three things:

  • The protagonist (me, in the story) draws a conclusion from all she notices.  Think ‘survival’.
  • Emotion shows on every page, and it is complicated, layered, nuanced, and conflicted.  For example, grief is a constantly shifting mix of anger, pain, guilt, regret, confusion, numbness, denial, and more.
  • I stay in the protagonist’s (me, in the story) subjective mind set, and filter everything I write through it.  This means I consider how my world view, core desire, and core misbelief are running me, and I need to track how these things shift as my healing experiences change me.

Yes, just a little complicated.

At the very top of my cheat sheet is the header.  From page 267, I copied the third to last sentence of Lisa’s book.  “…the only way to change how someone thinks about something, is to first change how they feel about it.”

This quote captures the essence of the book I am writing, and it shows me, in a few words, how to tell the story. 

In truth, it is what I experienced as I healed a chronic illness.  My feelings changed, and as they changed, my thoughts changed.  As my feelings and thoughts changed, my body healed.  It was a long miracle.

I love my new cheat sheet.  It’s helping me write the best book I can.

I’ve said this before.  Thank you, Lisa Cron, for creating Story Genius.

_________________

In this post:

Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1

The page references are:  first note from chapter 5; second note from page 210; third note from page 265; fourth note from pages 210 through 215, plus page 266; fifth note from pages 256 through 266; header from page 267.

The Woods And The Path

Something is happening as I write my book.  There is a discard pile developing, the writing I am sure won’t fit into the final draft. 

These discards aren’t bad or wrong.  What they are is a different path through the same tale.  

It feels like there are a million ways of telling my tale.  For my book to be the best telling, I need to find the path that fits both the story and the kind of writer I am.

Philip Pullman, in his book Daemon Voices: On Stories And Storytelling, talks about the woods and the path.  The woods are the biggest picture, everything about and around this tale, whether strongly or vaguely linked.  The woods are vast, shadowed in places, bright and open in others, both chaos and order.  Somehow I write a path through these woods, and the path becomes my book.

I am a writer who blogs about living a creative life with an open heart.  Knowing this about myself helps me choose the path I take through the woods of my book.  The woods are the illness and healing I experienced.  The path follows my heart’s tale, telling what happened when my heart was besieged by the illness of my body.  Telling what happened when my heart declared “no more”, and found a way to break my body free, a way most everyone else told me did not exist.  (It does so exist.)

Yes, here is the path I write through the woods.  My heart showed me how to heal my body, and how to choose love instead of fear.  The path tells how I learned to listen and trust what my heart told me. The path tells how I learned love. 

I know there are a million other paths through these woods.  For now, for this book, I have found mine.

___________________

In this post:

Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: On Stories And Storytelling, Knopf Doubleday, 2018, page 139:  “There are the events, and what you tell about the events.  There is the wood and the path.”  https://www.philip-pullman.com/

About my discard pile:  I always keep the pieces that don’t fit, no matter what writing project I am into.  It’s something I learned as an artist, not to toss away what isn’t working.  Put it aside, and let time show me if it fits somewhere else.

Dump Truck And Treasure Map aka Creating My Book Outline

Here’s the truth. I completed two drafts of my book without an outline. The result is pretty much what you’d expect.

Picture a dump truck, loaded with words. Now picture said dump truck emptying its load in my studio. See that messy mountain. That’s my book.

Oof.

And that’s why I am in organization mode.

I separated out the writing, backstory, research, etcetera into nine piles of files. Wrote about it too, right here
https://catfinkknowtrustchoosecreate.com/2019/04/25/nine-piles-of-files-and-one-book/

The nine-pile process directed me to work out the sections of my book, and this is where I am now. I am writing a list of phrases under each section heading, and at the end of this step I will have seven lists, each a full description of that particular section. I will have identified the themes, big and small, of my book.

I already know my next step. My awesome friend, Synchronicity, showed me an online image of a page from J. K. Rowling’s writing notes for Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

Her notes inspired me to see a grid for my book. Across the top is the themes. Down the side is the essay titles. A check mark or note in the intersecting box tells me, for example, this essay contains themes of love and fear, this essay is all about choice, and so on. What I am doing is sorting the essays into the sections.

What I am creating is a treasure map. At one glance, I will be able to see a snapshot of my next draft. The map will help me organize the order and flow of the essays. Gaps will show up. Themes that require trimming will show up. I have a feeling it will aid me in other ways I have not yet considered.

This is a perfect tool for me. I need to see both the big picture and the details when I am creating, and my treasure map does exactly this. I may be creating more grids as I continue the outlining process, more treasure maps that show me the big picture of my book.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for sharing some of your writing process and inspiring me.

______________________

In this post:

J. K. Rowling https://www.jkrowling.com/

Receiving Everything Most Loved

April was a writing month for me. I pushed myself. Pushing was the right thing to do, because now I am exactly where I wish to be, deep into my book draft.

Today I am changing my creative routine, receiving rather than giving. It’s a reward for all the creative work, and it’s one of the things I love most. I’m having a reading weekend, beginning today.

Julia Cameron would say I am replenishing my creative well. Yes, I am and with great pleasure.

My book list contains one mystery novel and three non-fiction. The non-fiction include one on energy work, one on creativity, and one a melding of memoir and creative writing. Here is my list:

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear. This is a murder mystery set in 1930’s London, and the detective is Maisie Dobbs. She searches and solves with both heart and head.

The Answer Is Energy by Jarrad Hewett. Everything is energy, including thought, belief, and emotion. Jarrad’s work helped me to heal fibromyalgia.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon. This is Austin’s new book. Yayyyyyyy!

Tomorrow I’m adding one more book to the weekend reading pile. The staff are saving it for me at the local bookstore–Where The Past Begins: Memory And Imagination by Amy Tan. I read her previous book on writing, The Opposite Of Fate: Memories Of A Writing Life, and completely enjoyed it. There is fourteen years between these books, so I am curious to see what Amy has to say now.

I haven’t decided if I will read through one book before moving on to the next, or if I will hop back and forth. The choice is mine, whatever I feel like in the moment.

A stack of books. Hot milky coffee. Background music by George Winston and Joe Hisaishi. My comfy studio couch. Four days of receiving something I love most–good writing.

_____________________

In this post:

Jacqueline Winspear http://jacquelinewinspear.com/

Jarrad Hewett https://jarradhewett.com/

Austin Kleon https://austinkleon.com/

Amy Tan http://www.amytan.net/