I’ve been reading a lot of craft books lately. (I’m sick of pregnancy books.) The more I learn, the more I look at my manuscript and think about how much work I still have to do. Right now I’m reading Deepening Fiction, parts of Burroway’s Writing Fiction and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers’ book Workshop in a Book. I’m learning about plot and use of detail—when it’s too much, when it’s not enough. Memoir writing is very similar to fiction writing. You need character development, you need a plot, you need a balance between scene and summary. Some people think writing memoir is easier than fiction because the author knows what happens next. But you don’t. Not only do you have many, many beginnings, middles and ends to choose from (and conflicts, climaxes, etc.), but you are limited to telling the truth. So you have to choose which arc works best while remaining within the confines of reality. I find it very difficult! And one piece of advice that I came across in one of the books I’m reading is to master the short story before attempting a novel. In other words, master scene, plot, characterization, etc. BEFORE trying to write a book. I didn’t do that. I wrote many chapters of my book before I wrote my first short story, which I wrote in the fall of 2005. In other words, I’ve been learning to write WHILE I’m writing a book, which has made it all that much more challenging. I hadn’t taken any creative writing classes before I attended Mills, or started writing my book. The only creative story I remember writing was “Christie Goes to the Olympics,” which came in second place in the third grade writing contest. It lost to my good friend J’s “How the Leopard Got Its Spots.” (J is now a film producer in Hollywood.) Otherwise, I’d written hundreds of news and feature articles—a whole different ballgame.
A chapter in Workshop in a Book that I found entertaining is called “Fear of Finishing.” It states that no finished book will live up to the hopes and expectations of the author. No finished book will be as good as what the author intended it to be, or thought it could be. So by not finishing a book, the author can keep dreaming about what a fantastic book it would be if only she DID finish it. She can fantasize about the awards she would win and the money she would make. The true fear is, of course, that the book won’t win any awards and won’t make any money, if it gets published at all. That keeps a lot of people from completing their books, but I don’t plan to be one of those people! My deadline for myself is Thanksgiving, although I’m aware that I may not meet that deadline and that that’s okay. But I will at least have another draft done by then, a draft that is better than the last.