Saturday, May 12, 2007

I'm About Half Done

This post is for everyone who asks, "How's the book coming." Rather than lie, I will simply ask my future readers to checkout Derek Powazek's blog entry "How to Write a Book in Three Easy Steps and kindly note that I am in the painful middle of Step Two.
All the people you've told about your book will now ask you about it when they see you. . . and every time you will get a new knot in your stomach. You will say one thing, and one thing only, when they ask: "I'm about half done." And every time you will rationalize this to be true.
I have not begun smoking, yet. I have not left my husband nor moved across the country. I moved across the country (and back) once before and I don't recommend it. And I have not gotten any new pets. Powazek promises that this step will last three months. He lies. I'm well into my second year. But really. I'm about half done. Really.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

"The important thing [in writing memoir], is not the life, but the meaning extracted from it." - Ellen Boneparth

Hi Writers:

I haven't yet figured out the true secret of writing memoir, but my struggle with this book has clued me into what went wrong in my early personal essays. When I first began crafting essays, I simply culled events from my writing practices and stopped there. I edited each piece down to the details of funny or sad things that had happened to me, my family, our dogs, my friends, the neighbors, etc. While these events were funny or sad, they didn't really have a point. The resulting pages were anecdotes, not essays.

When I began graduate school in creative writing, I made the same error in my critical papers. Recognizing that an author had used a particular technique excited me and so I simply pointed it out. I didn't analyze it, ruminate over it, roll it around in my mind. I didn't explain what it meant or voice my opinion. I didn't go far enough.

Now, when I revise, I reread the pages and question each section: What's the point? Why does the reader need to know this? How does this contribute to the theme I'm presenting? What am I really trying to say?

In the early days, I found these questions daunting. Reticent to let the reader know what I felt or thought about each interaction, I stuck to the facts. As I push toward the third year of work on this project, opining becomes easier and easier. Without this musing aspect, the work is lifeless. My job as a writer is to filter the material and shape it in a way so that the reader knows the point I'm trying to make. I don't hit her over the head, but gently guide her. "Over here," I say. "The point is over here."

If you find that your essays are lifeless and dull, don't throw them out. Just ask some simple questions. What does this mean to me? Why do I think this is important? What do I really want to say? That's what your reader really wants to know.