It’s easy to get bogged down in too many details when writing the first draft of your lifestory.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “My life is about the details.”
Yes, but . . . (There is always a but, right? Some purists declare everything before but is erased in the mind of the reader or hearer. But, that's not today’s topic.)
Yes, but notice these words in the opening statement: bogged down, too many details, first draft.
Writing and editing are different processes. I’ll have more on editing in a later tip. When writing your lifestory you should have a first draft you clean up by adding, deleting, rearranging, clarifying, and re-purposing days or weeks after you wrote it. If you stop to do those actions while writing it you may never have a draft to finish.
Bozo and Cheerio Syndrome
Suppose you are writing about your twelfth birthday party at your grandparents’ house. Your grandparents hired Bozo the clown and his dog Cheerio. You strike through twelfth; it was your eleventh birthday. You strike through grandparents; it was your uncle and aunt. Oh, and the clown’s name was Cheerio and his dog was Bozo. You trash the whole thing until you can get it exactly right. You could go on like that and never write the story.
It’s okay to make your first draft ugly. This is the hardest part of writing for me. I always want to do the Bozo/Cheerio routine, even though I know I shouldn’t. Many writing gurus say write it and worry about fixing it later.
Also in your freewriting don’t try to censor yourself. Eliminate from your thoughts ideas such as this is not an interesting story, I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, my family remembers it differently, this is too personal, I’m not a writer (see last week’s post on this one). Go ahead and write what you are feeling and decide later whether to include it or modify it. Open your thoughts to all possibilities.
William Zinsser Model
Ninety year old William Zinsser has had a distinguished career as columnist, university professor, freelance writer, and author of eighteen books including two on memoirs. In On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 30th Anniversary Edition, he suggests this model for writing your memoir:
- Write about one event today; could be in longhand, could be on the computer, could be one page or several pages. Just one event. “Don’t be impatient to write your ‘memoir’—the one you had in mind before you began,” he says.
- Tomorrow, write about another event. And the next day and the next until you have written thirty or sixty or ninety stories or whatever fits your purpose. Do not edit or arrange the stories as you write.
- When you have written all you want, lay all of the stories onto the floor and arrange them in the order you prefer. Rewrite to your satisfaction.
Photo courtesy William Zinsser
How have you overcome your urge to edit and censor as you write?