Subscribe to Our RSS Feed Check Us Out at Facebook Connect with Us on LinkedIn

Margy Rydzynski and I have been colleagues and friends for years. When I met her for coffee last June, she had an unexpected question for me. Would I be her NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) coach? The worldwide NaNoWriMo challenge is held every November, but Margy was going to do hers in July.

I knew Margy had been writing a novel. And I was aware that she had put it aside to take care of some other major demands in her life. So I was thrilled to know she was going to resume work on her manuscript, and happy to have a chance to help out.

After Margy completed the challenge, I asked her to tell my blog visitors about her experience. The first thing I wanted to know was why 20,000 – 30,000 words? Here are her answers to that and to my other questions.
- Lynette

Margy Rydzynski

Margy Rydzynski

Why that many words? I had already completed 50,000 words of my novel and didn’t think it would take another 50,000 to finish it. The 50,000 word count is provided by NaNoWriMo as part of their November writing challenge. I wasn’t sure how many more words my novel needed to be completed, so I just wrote until I was done! Lynette tells me I wrote well over an additional 32,000 words of the novel in July.

How did I prepare for an effort of this magnitude and what did I give up? I work as a freelance consultant and teacher. My working life is therefore unpredictable, but summer is generally a bit slower. Normally, I use the time to catch up on my own work and plan new projects. In order to produce the amount of writing on my novel as I did, I decided to put all but the most time-critical work on the back burner and treat the writing as my highest priority. I had to be available for current clients, but I didn’t take on anything new.

What was the most difficult part? Getting started! It took me a while to get back into the swing of things. I hadn’t worked on this novel in quite some time and had to read over a lot of my notes to pick up the thread. Fortunately, I’ve kept a blog with possible plot progressions, characters, etc. I spent a good deal of time thinking about the story and writing down ideas, many of which came to me while I was in the shower!

Did I achieve my goal? Yes, although the first draft is very rough. At least it’s done, though. Editing will be a lot easier (I hope)!

My advice to those considering doing NaNoWriMo: You need to jump into it completely, not just dip your toes in. Life can and will get in the way, so you have to look at the big picture and organize your time accordingly. You have to write when you don’t feel like writing and just go on with the story. Above all, DO NOT EDIT YOUR WORK as you’re writing. The goal is to produce a lot of words, and editing as you go will bog you down.

What support did I have to for my July NaNoWriMo challenge? I knew I’d need someone to keep my feet to the fire, since my life is so unpredictable. I immediately thought of my friend Lynette, who’s a writing instructor and coach. I hired her to be my official “nudge” and, I have to say, I got my money’s worth! She sent me daily quotes for inspiration, met me in person from time to time to see how I was doing—and more. I had to send her my word count and writing for each day. There was no way I could slack off with her as my task manager.
__________________

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? Got any tips you care to share?

Want help making real progress on your writing? Use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch with me.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

SOW HEADSHOT

A while back I published a list of Life’s Little Infuriations, and followed that with a request that site visitors contribute their own nagging annoyances. (Check the comments on those posts to see what’s irritating others.)

Now, here are some of my latest infuriations. Enjoy the flowers, which have nothing to do with this post, except that they help to keep me more or less sane.

- Jackets without pockets. Where to put gloves? A tissue?

- Ice cold restaurant salads. Ice cold, brick hard restaurant butter.

- Food stores (supermarket, take out joints, etc.) charging the same or higher price for a smaller amount of food.

- Websites with useful or entertaining information, but no Share buttons.

- Websites that require your email address before they show you anything at all. My experience has been with mostly, but not only, home decorating sites. How on earth do you know if those sites will offer anything of interest to you?

ELM BANK ECHINACEA
- Road sings covered by foliage 3 seasons a year.

- Left turning motorists who don’t use their signals, so you’re stuck behind them when you could have gone about your business in the right lane.

- Tiny score boxes on televised baseball games; our screens get larger, their writing smaller.

- While I’m on the subject of sports: The constant chatter by broadcasters on topics unrelated to the game being aired. Also, the intense crushes they and the sports media get on some players. The hapless players seldom live up to all the hype. (Think recent Red Sox rookies, whose last names begin with “B.”)

- Top bed sheets marked “queen size” that are patently too small. They are the same size as those made for a double bed.

Elm Bank Formal Floral Row

Elm Bank Formal Floral Row

Leave a comment if you can relate to these. Or, share your own.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

When I converted my home office into a writer’s study, one of the first things I did was post on the bulletin board above my desk a card from the National Association of Memoir Writers. It reads:

Be Brave: Write Your Story

That’s what writing memoir and family history takes. Bravery. Cojones. Downright Daring. As Catherine Gildiner writes in “How to Write a Childhood Memoir,” “. . . [W]riting a memoir takes nerves of steel. . .” *

Few of us have steely nerves when it comes to writing honestly about our lives or our families. The stakes are too high. I don’t just mean the possiblity that what you write will fracture family relationships. What you discover as you write might also shatter some of your own fiercely held illusions about your family—and yourself. What you write also forces you to relive less than sanguine experiences, and dredge up old embarrassments, personal regrets, frustrations, and grief.

Of course, you might be one of the lucky few with a history in which every day was sunny and no one ever got sick, cranky, fired, or drunk. You might have no bygones to let be bygones. If you’re like most people, though, your own past and that of your family are peppered with no shortage of secrets, myths (or, let’s face it, lies), or unpleasantness. Or, you might make a fully considered decision to report only the good times, and that’s your right, of course. Some of my memoir and life-writing students state categorically that they do not wish to rake up the sad past.

TREES WATER

I would never tell them, as many proponents of the memoir writing process believe, that just writing your story is healing. I know that it actually can leave you in tatters.

Exposing Secrets
A conviction that our story needs to be told can supply the sheer courage that’s required to exhume old memories and write them into art. For me it was a matter of first, knowing I was in possession of two interesting, suspenseful, instructive stories—one centering on my family, the other on my work in organizations. Second, I felt compelled to put an end to what felt like collusion. As long as I kept my stories inside me, it seemed as if I was abetting secrecy and suppression of the truth. It was suffocating me.

Our families might have been daredevils, drinkers, cultists, swindlers, and involved us as their unwilling offspring in their activities and deceptions. If their story is unflattering, if they’d rather it not be told, at least not from our point of view, should we suppress it even if it chokes us?

With each of my memoir and family history drafts, I find myself revealing more and more of the truth. That’s partly because with each re-writing, as in a palimpsest of versions placed atop one another, I develop deeper understanding. New insights bubble up. New connections appear. Ah-ha moments seize me during the day and tease me in my sleep, making me wonder how I could have missed them before.

And with each draft, it gets harder and harder for me to justify hiding the truth.

Stick With What You Can Tolerate
I don’t allow myself or encourage my students who are writing about their lives or their families to reveal more truth than they can stand. Instead, I say, tell only the truth, but not every truth. The fallout could be unbearable, in terms not only of how those mentioned in your manuscript might react, but also in terms of your own self-recriminations. What if you find out later that what you wrote is just plain wrong? What if you have regrets after your book is released to the public, or even just to family members or friends?

Charges of Libel?
Your friends and relatives objecting to what you write is one thing. Suing you is another. We’re all supposed to be protected under freedom of speech laws, but to be on the safe side, educate yourself about libel (“a false statement made in writing”) and privacy laws, which vary across states. You might want to give careful thought to whether or not to include photos of people in your memoir or family history, unless you’ve gotten written permission from them.

To stand the test of truth, I’ve kept documentation: letters, emails, legal documents. I have no illusions that those who witnessed certain events would testify to the veracity of my account. Why would they want to get involved in my battle, if it came to a court case?

Help Is On the Way
Upcoming posts on this topic will address the ethics of memoir and family history writing (issues such as fairness to both the living and the dead) and I’ll share info on resources and ways to overcome your apprehensions.

Your Thoughts?
What do you think about the possible perils of writing about your life and your family? Please leave a comment, which can help all of us writers of these types of manuscripts.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find the following helpful:

Will My Family Get Angry About My Memoir? Be sure to read the (quite cautionary) comments.

Memoir, Writing the Truth, and Family: Interview with Author Joy Castro

How to Avoid Committing a Libel in Writing a Family Memoir See additional links at the end of the post.

* In Women Writing On Family

Subscribe to this blog so you won’t miss the next posts on this topic.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Charles Schwab Poet

Charles Schwab, Poet

Charles Schwab has taken creative writing classes with me for about five years, during which I’ve marveled at his incredible ability with words and ideas, as well as his prolific production of work.

I wrote about Charlie here when he published his first collection of poems, Keeping Account. Now, he has self-published a second book, The Act of Free Falling.

His work has been published in the Arlington Advocate; the PKA Advocate; WestWard Quarterly Magazine; and Connotation Press online. His poem, Albinos Need an Azure Sky (And a Touch of Red), which appears in this new volume, took first prize in a local poetry contest.

It’s my pleasure to interview Charlie about this latest collection of poetry and introduce you to more of his work.
- Lynette

How did you choose the poems for this volume of poetry?
Of the 150-some poems I had written by end of 2012, I noticed they fell naturally into four groups: animals, seasons, nonsense, and personal life. I arbitrarily picked about 60 that seemed to have been best received by instructors, my classmates, publications, and others.

What are 3 of your favorite poems in the book?
The Act of Free Falling (picked for book title); Wolfgang; and Tea and Sunbeams.

How did you come to take the photo that appears on the cover of the book? Where is that waterfall located?
I used some of my photos for the interior illustrations, and I found one that seemed to illustrate perfectly the book’s title. I took the photo at Akaka Falls, on the island of Hawaii.

What advice would you have for anyone wanting to publish with CreateSpace?
Prepare your material completely in advance, and do thorough editing and proofing. Select from Createspace’s various options or packages, based on what you need and can afford.

What are you working on now?
I am writing more poems in the hopes of collecting enough for another book.

Is there anything you’d like to tell aspiring writers?
Yes. Get help from writing instructors and their classes. It’s invaluable.

Here are some of my favorites of Charlie’s poems. (I chose short ones so this post wouldn’t get too long.) – Lynette

Fly By Night
Said I to the fly buzzing by, “Why
Do you annoy me so (though I try
To refrain from bothering you, too,
Not even shouting that word, “shoo!”) ?”
Your persistence is such that I really ought
To give you a swat, but then I thought
If I could talk your tongue right now
I’d be able to reason with you somehow.
Well, I tried all the lingoes you might speak—
Mandarin, Arabic, Amharic, and Greek—
To no avail, even tongues which are dead,
‘Til you found me sitting in bed where I’d fled.
I had a date with the sandman to keep,
So I turned off the lamp and fell asleep.
The insight: not me but my reading light
Drew you to my room that night.

Graying
Sadly the years have gone away;
I’ve lived to see my heirs grow gray.
The girls not using any tint,
Now my son with just a hint.
My grandson I’ve seen from when he began,
Slowly, now quickly, becoming a man;
And nearly all from my generation—
A spouse of fifty years or more,
A brother who slipped away before—
Have passed on to that unknown station.
I’d hoped they’d all stay young, but, hey,
I’m alive to see my heirs grow gray.

You can find out more about The Act of Free Falling by clicking on the cover image, above.

See Charlie at Ninety, a beautiful video by Charlie’s filmmaker grandson, Matt Ober.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

I met Edith Maxwell a few weeks ago when she appeared at our local senior center to discuss her work. Several of my creative writing students (two of them mystery writers) also turned up to hear from this multi-published writer. During the question and answer session that followed Edith’s informative talk, I learned that a number of others in the audience were nurturing mystery manuscripts themselves. It was clear they found Edith’s words enlightening and encouraging.
- Lynette

Author, Edith Maxwell

Author, Edith Maxwell

I’m delighted to be Lynette’s guest today, here at Tools and Tactics for Writers. I’m a full-time fiction writer. I wrote stories as a child in California, and then had forays into journalism, academic writing, medical editing, and technical writing.

Twenty years ago, when I was an organic farmer (and a wife, and mom to two little boys) in a small town in northeastern Massachusetts, I took the off season to start writing a mystery novel. For it, I invented single woman Cam Flaherty, a former software engineer, who leaves hi-tech and goes north of Boston to run her great-uncle’s farm.

I created a murder on her property, envisioned the antique farmhouse she lives in, and more. After joining a writing group I learned a tremendous amount about creative writing from my peers’ critiques.

When farm season resumed and on into the next fall, I started my career as a technical writer. I didn’t have time or energy to continue the farm mystery while also working and raising my kids. So I put it on hold and began writing short stories, landing several in competitive anthologies.

When I was laid off my job in 2008, I wrote a short story about murderous revenge after a company layoff called, “Reduction in Force.” It was published in an anthology of best New England Crime Fiction and I later self-published the story as a reprint. I found another tech-writer job after several months, and over the next two years I wrote a different novel. Speaking of Murder features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau, who finds her star student dead on campus. It was tough to keep sending out query letter after query letter, but my buddies in the Sisters in Crime organization were hugely supportive, and I found inspiration to turn to small presses after I couldn’t find an agent who felt she could sell that book.

After dozens of rejections from agents, Speaking of Murder was acquired by a reputable small press, Barking Rain Press. When it finally sold, I was more than delighted.

I was then fortunate enough to land a three-book contract with Kensington Publishing for a Local Foods Mysteries series in which I finally got back to the farm. For the first book, A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, I used the “world” I had invented twenty years earlier: same farmer, same farmhouse, even the same murder, but I rewrote all of it, because I had learned a lot about creative writing in the interim. I love immersing myself in the world of farming again, except now I don’t have to do the hard work real farming involves. Writing it is much more fun!

Full-time Writer
A year ago, at age 60, I left my day job to write fiction full time. I’ve completed all three books in the Local Foods Mysteries and have sent in my ideas for the next three books, although Kensington hasn’t yet let me know if they are renewing my contract. I finished the second Lauren Rousseau mystery, Bluffing is Murder; it will release in November.

I’m now writing an historical mystery set in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1888, featuring a Quaker midwife and the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Last fall I won an award for one of several short stories I wrote. And I’ve submitted a proposal for a new contemporary mystery series.

So I don’t consider myself retired; writing mysteries is my new full-time job. It’s not lucrative yet, but the more I write, the sooner it will pay off. And I’ve never been happier.

Advice for Would-Be Authors
If you’re considering a fiction-writing career (whether your first career or your last), I hope you’ll search out other authors. Find organizations that support your genre. Take courses, online and in person. Try to find an in-person writing group you mesh well with and the members of which give you constructive critique without negativity. Most of all, follow the writers’ mantra: butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. You can can’t sell what you haven’t written.

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

Contest
I’m running a contest until May 27: Anyone who pre-orders my new book, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part can enter to win a gorgeous hand-painted signed silk scarf. Details on my web site!
_______________
Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing).‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, which chronicles a murder that takes place after a Farm-to-Table dinner, releases May 27.

Maxwell has published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently “Breaking the Silence” in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold (Level Best Books, 2013); the story won an Honorable Mention in the Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction 2014 contest.

Edith Maxwell also authors the Speaking of Mystery series under the pseudonym Tace Baker; Bluffing is Murder releases in late 2014 (Barking Rain Press). Edith holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics and is a long-time member of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats.

Edith blogs every weekday with the rest of the Wicked Cozy Authors. You can also find her at www.edithmaxwell.com, on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on Facebook. She’d love to connect with you.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

A friend left the following comment on my post, A New Kind of Journal:

I am interested in hearing where people who write their “whole truth” in journals actually PUT these journals? Do they lock them in a safety deposit box at the bank? Keep them in the glove compartment of their car? In the attic under an old mattress? Where??

Your Car
If you hide your no-holds-barred journal in you car, it probably would make sense to write in it in your car as well. Otherwise you’d have to go back and forth with it: Bring it inside the house or cafe or library (somewhere comfortable to write), write in it, then take it back out to your car. Back and forth. Too inconvenient. And all that coming and going could appear silly and surreptitious to anyone in the vicinity.

Pink tulips under our hedge

Pink tulips under our hedge

I don’t lock my glove compartment, though, so anyone with a key to my car (like my husband or my mechanic) could, if he were interested, read my most personal stuff. So, a car wouldn’t work for me.

A Safe Deposit Box
This would be better, but you’d have to go to the bank, get into the box, then sit writing in that bare little room where you’re supposed to be looking over your important documents, then put it back in the box and go home.

Fine, I guess—if you only want to write in your journal occasionally and can get to your bank during the hours it’s open. But, maybe you could pack it away in a home safe . . .

Under a Mattress in the Attic
That doesn’t seem secure, either. There’s always a chance someone’s going to prowl around it looking for an old, well, an old something they lost track of. In the process they think, “I’ll just move this old mattress out of the way . . . Hey what’s this? A diary! Well, why don’t I sprawl out on this same mattress and read it?”

I don’t remember any of the authors in Writers and Their Notebooks covering this issue . . . I guess they don’t worry that someone will peek inside their journals and steal an idea they’re working on. Now that I think of it, I don’t believe the question has ever come up in the journaling classes I lead, either.

How to Keep Your Journal Private
Actually, the solution to the problem of keeping nosey folks out of your journal might be way simpler than hiding it in a car, locking it in a bank, or secreting it in your attic.

Maroon and yellow tulips against the house

Maroon and yellow tulips against the house

Kristin (no last name given) writes in her post, Keeping a Journal Private, that she feels her journal is secure because “I surround myself with people I trust implicitly.” So do I. My husband isn’t suspicious of my writing, so he doesn’t look in my journals, which are stored in open boxes in the attic and stacked in plain view on file cabinets in my office.

So that’s one method: keeping company with trustworthy people. Sneaks and snoops give me the willies in general, so I don’t give them free run of my house.

Kristin has a whole list of ways to keep your journal private, such as using code words or a kind of shorthand you create. Years ago, when I was single, I practically invented a language just for my journal.

But here’s what might be an even easier way to secure your journals: electronic journaling, which Kristin points out “enables you to secure entries with a password and ‘hide’ files” on your computer. Et voila-—your words are safe from snoops.

If you liked this post, please tweet it and share it on Facebook. And comment on your strategies for keeping your journals private.

Coming up: My next post will be about setting down your truths in your memoirs, which are intended for the public. Now, that’s a scary prospect.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

LB-WALKING-225x300A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called Life’s Little Infuriations. I’m working on another one now.

How about submitting your nagging annoyances in a comment here so I can include them in the post?

I know you’ve got them. One might be that your carefully-crafted, open-face sandwich always falls on the floor with the filling face down. Another could be my bugging you all the time to leave a comment—which, not to put to fine a point on it, most of you ignore.

I probably should offer some inducement, say a prize for the best, to get you to contribute your infuriations, but I’m dreaming up a contest for my other site (Stylish Ole Woman), and that’s enough contest creating. Anyway, it’s possible you’ll find that just getting your irritations off your chest and out to the public are reward enough.

Edgeworthia Bush, Smithsonian Garden,  March 2014

Edgeworthia Bush, Smithsonian Garden, March 2014

I doubt if the laws of physics will stop adversely acting on your sandwiches, but perhaps people who are guilty of some sins and slights will read your complaints and change their behavior.

Please tweet and post on Facebook to help me spread the word. Thanks.

While I wait to receive your infuriations, I’ll be working on my next post: Keeping Your Journal Private Might Be Easier Than You Think.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

SOW HEADSHOT
Paper Prompts
When we prepare to write a memoir or record incidents from our family’s history, we might easily think of common paper items that many of us tend to hold onto. These can form the basis of memory aids, and would include:
– photos of people and places
– letters received from relatives and friends
– diaries we can reference for specific events and dates
– diplomas and achievement certificates
– holiday and/or restaurant menus
– tickets to the theatre, a ride on a sightseeing boat, or for that special anniversary cruise
– invitations to parties, proms, weddings
– bills for kitchen appliances, household repairs, cars
– property deeds, birth and death certificates, and medical records

Other artifacts
Not only paper reminders are helpful. What about furniture—your great-aunt’s moth eaten chair that you vaguely remember storing in your attic, meaning to get it reupholstered? It might remind you of the ritual Sunday afternoon visits to this aunt’s house with your parents when you were a child.

What about your grandfather’s old yard tools languishing in your garage? And your grandmother’s table linens you’ve intended to use each Thanksgiving, but always forget in favor of the Bed, Bath, and Beyond tablecloths and napkins you bought in recent years? Your brother’s baby shoes (bronzed or not). The deliberately tacky key chain your friends gave you for your twenty-first birthday. And my favorites, old clothes and jewelry owned and worn by ancestors long deceased.

All of these can prompt memories of the past and the people whose lives have touched and influenced your own. Through their belongings we not only remember, but recapture and relive our own and our family’s past.

For more ideas and prompts as you write your memoir or family history, see Turning Memories into Memoirs, a book many of my adult writing students find helpful.

Turning Memories Into Memoirs

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

Want more memoir writing and family history tips? Click on those words in the Categories column on the right of this page.

NEXT POST: I’m going to take a crack at addressing how people work up the courage to write the truth in their memoirs, family histories, and journals, and where they hide this writing until it’s time to release it on the public (or at least on friends and family).

This is a biggie, so I hope you’ll all weigh in with your strategies.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

I’ve heard Mary Wasmuth’s diary entries and essays in the journaling class I lead at the Weston (Massacusetts) Public Library. They’ve moved me, and made me laugh. And I’m pretty sure they’ve made me smarter.

I’m thrilled that after several years of inviting Mary to contribute to this blog, she has agreed.

Enjoy her guest post! May you be wiser after reading it.
- Lynette

Mary Wasmuth

Mary Wasmuth

I need to start this novel over. Again. No, I mean I want to start over—really. I have a framework now that retains the plot and characters; pulls the story together; and, in a death-defying feat of writerly liposuction, surgically removes great droopy hunks of midsection.

Then why am I spending my time writing this post? Shouldn’t I be starting a new folder, opening a new document, giving it my new title? Why do I sit in front of Call the Midwife—unlikely, I thought, to inspire binge watching—instead of my computer? I’ve seen eight episodes in five days. And why did I choose this moment to reorganize my writing files? Toss out my reams of painful early drafts?

It’s because I’ve started over so many times, so blithely. And, though I really believe (as I keep telling myself), I’ve found an approach that works, my memories of all the other hopeful starts paralyze me. I shouldn’t have gone through those files.

You see, I taught myself to write—with a great deal of expert help and guidance, though perhaps a little late in the game—by writing this novel. I learned and revised, learned and reshaped, learned and rethought and reshaped again. I eliminated narrators (whittling ten down to four) and killed off characters, including my carefully crafted, and re-crafted, second protagonist. I believed I was nearly done.

Thinking to polish things up a little, perhaps add a few final touches, I took the “Setting, Subtext, and Suspense” class in Michelle Hoover’s terrific novel series at Boston’s Grub Street. I rewrote three scenes in the one-day class, and I caught a glimpse of how much richer they could be, how much richer the novel could be. Which gave me the courage to cast a coldly objective eye over my first chapter. I deemed it . . . not good enough. I started to rethink. Again.

Of course, this is how you do it if you want to do it right. I know that. In Do Not Hurry—a blog post I reread whenever I start over, Michelle Hoover makes it clear that writing a novel simply “takes as long as it takes.” No way around it.

This time, at least, I know what to do, and I know why. Rather than the story of a mouthy, defiant girl who starts a punk rock band (called Fatgirlz), the novel will be a fictional history of Fatgirlz, a fictional punk band started by a mouthy, defiant girl. Suddenly, the four narrators make sense. Bands are unstable amalgams of individual musicians; a band story would have to incorporate several personal stories. Why, I could bring back some of my lost narrators!

I pause briefly to squelch this idea.

The new structure will be cleaner. More coherent. Maybe even funnier—because I am going to sneak in one more voice, a music critic. Band histories require critic-penned introductions. The more obscure the group, the more florid and pretentious the preface—and Fatgirlz is very, very obscure.

This could be fun. I really should just make that new folder. Open that new document. Call it Meet the Fatgirlz instead of Tastee Girl. And start over. One last time.

Have you ever decided to rewrite (and rewrite) a piece you’d considered finished? What was your approach? Did you take a break first? Tackle the thing head-on? Or, decide to catch up on all five seasons of Breaking Bad? Perfect your jump shot? Spring clean your apartment? Write a post for Tools and Tactics for Writers?

I hope that's not her novel in that bag.

I hope that’s not Mary’s novel in that bag.


________________
When she’s not avoiding rewriting her novel, Mary Wasmuth works as a librarian and job-search coach. She’s president of the advisory board for Framingham Adult ESL Plus and recording secretary for the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Mary has studied at Grub Street, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and in Lynette Benton’s journaling class.

Follow Mary on Twitter.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

When I give talks on writing life stories, invariably members of the audience say their kids or grandkids are pestering them about their early lives, and they want to let their extended families, friends, and future generations know what made them who they are. Or that they’ve got stories within themselves that are crying to be set free.

But, even if you’re fully ready to start writing stories from your life, the task can seem overwhelming; after all, you’ve been a part of and witnessed countless events and amassed a lot of experience.

So, here are 3 words to help you jumpstart your life story writing project—and your memory:

Images
• Artifacts
• Lists

In this post, we’ll confine ourselves to the first one.

Images
Shimmering Images author Lisa Dale Norton writes that the title of her book refers to memory pictures that we have embedded in our heads (and often in our hearts).

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

I don’t know about you, but I have images that trigger recollections and fragmented reminders of incidents in the past: The look on my father’s face when I was a toddler and screamed when he lifted me onto a bus on our way back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. (My parents must have made a big deal of the excursion, because even then, I knew that was where we’d been.)

I see myself subsequently on a huge metal table, alone in an empty room with a big, boxy, machine moving above me.

Years later, haunted by that scene, I asked my mother about it. She explained that I was lying beneath X-ray equipment, which revealed that I’d fractured my left collarbone. I can visualize the very day I must have injured it; I’d fallen off the bed while playing with my older sister.
PICNIC

What are your shimmering images? You’re not looking for facts here; you’re searching for impressions connected to your past. Your grandmother at the stove, her presence reassuring and anchoring the entire household. Yourself dancing to forbidden music in a basement rec room after school. The picnic where you met your true love. Driving home after being offered your dream job. Driving home after being fired.

These images can lure you into a meditative state that helps you call up and even relive your personal history. Write them down, along with their associated physical and emotional elements. Was there a transistor radio or boom box playing music (what kind of music?) or broadcasting a baseball game at the picnic? Can you remember your father’s exasperated expression as he made his way down the basement steps, caught you partying with your friends, and reminded you that he’d sent you to the supermarket to pick up lettuce for dinner? Was the sun hot and your car without air conditioning the day you lost your job?

Right now, just rely on your own mind to provoke memories for your stories. Since some of your shimmering images might be caught on photos or videos, in my next life-writing post, I’ll discuss how you can use artifacts to further stimulate your memory.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Older Posts »