Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Telling Write From Wrong (Part 7)

How To Deal With A Roadblock

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON

Today I'm answering more questions from readers. Mrs Nesbitt and Gledwood both say they're running into a roadblock on similar projects. Mrs Nesbitt is writing an autobiography and says she has been hit by chronological issues, while Gledwood says, ``I need some advice. I'm attempting my memoirs and they're driving me nuts.''

Today's question: What do I do when I hit a roadblock?

The first thing to do is relax. Yep, literally and metaphorically. You ain't the first person to hit a roadblock and guess what - you ain’t the last, either.

Mrs Nesbitt, an autobiography doesn't have to follow a rigid pattern. A parade-ground approach to sequential events is often a boring way to write. Instead of going 1980, 1981, 1982 in sequence, why not group your chapters according to decade? That way, the Eighties would reveal the highlights and the best stories, told in an easy, flowing manner. Simpler for you, too, because you would then pick the best yarns - making the narrative easier for a reader to follow.

Gledwood, grab a strong coffee (or whisky!) and jot down the best stories, the most significant turning points and the most interesting encounters of your life. Then just work out a way to group them together. It could be a sequence such as ``Adolescence, High School, University, First Job,'' or anything that works cohesively. The key is to work out the best way to group them.

I've also been in close touch with another extremely popular US blogger, Dan, who is also writing a book. Again, we've been talking about an organised approach to writing - whether it is a haiku, an assignment, an essay, a thesis, or a book. As always, the crucial element is how a writer approaches the task of ``grouping'' random ideas.

Dan was one step ahead of me. Even before I could explain how easy it is when a writer approaches the task of ``grouping'' random ideas, Dan had it all figured out. He emailed me early this week. ``Yesterday the most extraordinary thing happened with the book,’’ he said in the email. ``Remember how I told you that I made a long list, an unstructured skeleton (about four pages in MSWord) with episodes from my childhood? Yesterday I started seeing groupings of those events: my hometown, my neighbourhood, my immediate family, my extended family, school, church, summer vacation, holidays, girls. I started shuffling the items into those groups. And I had the chapters of my book! The chapters wrote themselves.''

As I said to Dan in a subsequent rapid-fire exchange of emails, ``The task is so much simpler now, because things will keep falling into place and you just need to slot them in. Without a skeleton/ synopsis/ grouping of ideas, it's like trying to shove an entire wardrobe full of clothes for every season into a little overnight bag. It's impossible to do, and total frustration is the inevitable result. But when you have a skeleton/ synopsis/ grouping of ideas, you simply take what you want out of that wardrobe and stack it neatly into the overnight bag. Life can be so simple if we do things the right way!’’


Gene Bach said...

I don't usually run into a road block when I'm writing a story. When it comes time to rewrite it and fix the mistakes, well, that's a whole 'nother ball game. LOL!

david mcmahon said...

Hi Gene,

The secret to re-writing is to treat it like sanding down a piece of carpentry!

Keep smiling


Gina said...

Beautiful advice.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Gina,

Lovely to hear from you again. Hope your husband is doing well.

Keep smiling


it's the little things... said...

Excellent post, which entices me to throw my two cents in.
I'm also writing my memoirs, and found that mine loosely grouped themselves into chapters of specific men: Dad, Stepfather, Odd Encounter with X, Etc.
It really surprised me as it unfolded, as I had definitely not considered my life defined by other people.
But the years just sort of fit that way.
And as far as memoirs go, I'm taking your advice to just jot it all down without editing.
More can be added later, or deleted as necessary.

Eve said...

It's amazing to me how writing anything reveals so much about yourself (the author).

I'm currently writing Rebel's Ascent, a fantasy fiction novel. I write a scene and re-read it, surprised to see how I'd feel in this scenario.

Mushy said...

I usually relax too, roll all the windows down, dump the ash tray, and pop in a few minutes...oh, wait, this isn't the subject!

More good tips...thanks.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

this is wonderful advise you're giving out man. I used to find myself in these kinds of ruts when I had to cull through a lot of information and write a research paper. relaxation is such a great skill to have, if you can do it.

Kirti said...

I'll have to file this one away for when I write my memoir! =)