Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bits and Pieces--Is That OK?

Is this how you are feeling about your writing sometimes? Like you're in a forest of bits and pieces where nothing makes sense enough to be a book?

A reader wrote me about this common dilemma: " I feel like a have a big mess!" she said. "I like what I have written, but I don't know how to add to it at this point. I'm constantly thinking about writing. Constantly putting it off. My question it okay to keep writing this way? Is it okay to have bits and pieces? Do writers of memoirs (etc.) ever give a handful of pages to a 'writer' or editor to be written? Do/can these writers work together to create a wonderful story?"

Making Sense of the Mess
Many writers in my classes encounter this. It's very normal. The random part of you might love the bits and pieces you are producing, but the linear part wants it all to look like Something Good. It's the time-honored struggle between the two creative sides of ourselves. The trick is to acknowledge both as useful, and know when to switch.

If you get that itchy feeling that there is too much mess, it's time for some structuring. My favorite is the storyboard. Used in film production, a storyboard is a giant blank cartoon--boxes waiting to be filled with steps of your story.

So here's what you do:
1. Give a title to 10 of the bits and pieces you've written. You can do more if you want--eventually, you'll do them all but this is a nonthreatening way to get your feet wet.
2. Draw a storyboard on a large piece of butcher paper. Just create blank boxes, row after row, until you have 10 or more.
3. Look at your list of titles. Imagine how they might logically or intuitively be placed on the storyboard. What order could they go?
4. Write one title per box.

This is a very basic storyboard. What does it do? It begins to calm that frustrated part of you that wants to see progress and order in your book writing journey. It begins to show you what might be missing--what you still need to write about, are avoiding writing about, have written about too much and avoided other areas more vital.

Let me know what you think, or if you have more questions. Please post your comments by clicking the little envelope below.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Exercise of the Week for Book Writers

Book writers (and all writers!) need to be able to hear both the random, illogical side of their creative selves, as well as the structuring, logical part. Clues about how to improve our writing come from both. If you have some difficulty listening to all parts of your creative self, ask the questions below. If you find one of the questions harder, it might tell you that you are using an unfamiliar part of yourself (maybe your work and family life demands more of your logic than intuition, so the random side is underused).

1. What do I think I should write about?
2. What am I most afraid of writing about?
3. What can’t I write about?
4. What won’t I write about?
5. What’s a sound or smell or taste I remember, but I don’t want to

write about?
6. What is the most logical thing to write about?

7. How do I feel when I think of writing about that?

Let yourself go into these questions in 10-minute segments of freewriting (no editing, crossing out, or even stopping writing), by setting a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and trying one question at a time. Try to keep the pen moving the entire 10 minutes, even if it’s just to write “I don’t know, I don’t know” until something comes.
When you feel you’ve exhausted this exercise, look over what you wrote. Ask yourself which question brought up the most unexpected material, what you new insights on why you are writing this book. And where you are not listening to yourself completely.