Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Not the Write Way

The Complete First Draft
of my Book
I've had some recent comments and questions about how I write. Let me tell you, I'm sure it's not conventional, but it works for me.

I started writing over eight years ago -- yes, eight years ago! It was a novel about a woman who had a special needs daughter and was traveling with both of her children over the summer to visit friends and family. Over the course of the trip, the woman recalls experiences with her children (i.e. flashback stories). At the end, she realizes how she got to where she is as a woman and mother and has an unexpected triumph. Basically, I wove our story of Brielle into this "fictional" story.

Flash forward four years (pun intended) -- I wanted to get serious about my writing and get that novel done. I joined a writers group through MeetUp. The group was a huge boost to my motivation and the feedback was extremely helpful.

About two months into the group, one of the "wiser" members asked me a poignant question: "Why are you trying to hide YOUR story in this fictional story? Why not write it as a memoir?" That changed everything.

Although I was about 75% finished with a rough draft of that novel, I chucked it in a drawer and started from scratch. (Note: I'll admit, it was a terrible story anyway.)

"The Write Club"
I began writing the first draft of the new memoir in March of 2010. My writers group morphed into an even more serious group of six members meeting once a week. Every three weeks, each member had to present his or her work. Talk about motivating.

Chapter by chapter I got our story down on paper. I'll admit, I was still a pretty lame writer especially when it came to sharing my feelings. My group eventually got direct with me and metaphorically "knocked me out of my comfort zone" until I broke down (literally). A few months later, the group fell apart for a number of reasons. It had run its course.

Then, a writer's nightmare. Apathy.

For six months I didn't write a word. I think I needed that cleansing time. On the other hand, I felt horribly guilty for putting all of that time and effort into my novel and memoir only to stop writing. I didn't want to quit. I knew I had an important story to tell.

My Current Writers Group
(although we very recently
added a new member)
Finally, 18 months ago, two members of the core group and I started meeting again. This time, we met every other week (instead of weekly) and there was no pressure, just share when you wanted. That's exactly the kind of group I needed to get going again.

For the last year or more, I've been hard at it and loving it. Maybe this is the first time I've ever "loved" writing. My writing improved A LOT. I actually shared my feelings in each chapter (yikes) and told a story worth reading.

Last July, I finally finished the rough draft of my memoir and started re-writes. I hope to be finished by the end of spring and start looking for a publisher. (Dreading that process. But willing to do whatever it takes to get my story out there.)

So, what's my crazy writing process like?

First of all, I sit down to write at least three afternoons a week. If I get a little time on a slow weekend, that's just bonus. I probably spend a minimum of 10 hours re-writing each chapter. Yes, the originals need THAT much re-working. I wrote those chapters as long ago as March of 2010 and I've come a LONG way in my writing!

Writin' and Watchin'
I received a new notebook computer for Christmas last year. I absolutely love the size and freedom it gives me. I have a difficult time sitting in silence, so I usually have the television on low as background noise. And what better inspiration for fabulous writing is there other than "Lost"? (Yes, I've seen the entire series at least 15 times....)

With the original chapter in front of me, I review the notes from my writers group and just sit in thought for a while about how to approach the chapter in a better way. Then, I start typing away, editing for hours.

Since I originally started writing the chapters, I've changed the format. I open each chapter with a short "story/vignette" that uses Brielle's own words so the readers get to know her. I also started using text boxes to share technical information some readers may choose to skip. Finally, I end each chapter with a relevant Bible verse. Although my book is not heavily ladened with my views as a Christian, I try to sprinkle my growth as a person, and therefore a Christian, lightly throughout the book. Nothing is "in your face". It's just my small way of sharing my walk.

Then, I consult my little scraps of paper. Whenever I hear an interesting phrase or have a thought, I scribble it down on a sticky note. These "tidbits" come from anywhere. I might here something on the radio or a phrase from a television show or a funny thing Brielle says. However unimportant it might seem at the moment, I put it on paper. I then put it with the chapter I think it's most relevant to for future reference. I don't use everything I've scribbled down, but some little note might become a significant revelation I share in a chapter or a useful way of communicating a complicated thought or feeling.

Next, I go through the chapter again looking for words I use too often, grammar issues, and all those tiny things I learned in English class many years ago.

Finally, I read it... out loud. This is a VERY useful editing tool. Reading aloud make you read every single word and hearing it somehow makes me recognize countless issues and mistakes.

I email it to members of my writers group a few days before we meet so they have time to review it and write comments. At our meeting, we spend about 30 to 45 minutes discussing. Then they had me their notes and I go home to do one last edit on it (for now). I might spend an hour or two more on it incorporating some of their suggestions. Then, I print it.

Now for the scary part...

I let Brian and Ashley read it. I also send a copy to my parents to read.

The Finished Product
After Re-Writes
(but before final edits)
I usually get a few more suggestions from each one, but I set them aside with the most recent version of the chapter in a freshly labeled folder which contains all of my drafts, everyone's comments and all of those pesky sticky notes. When I get through with re-writes, I'll take another pass at each chapter before I start looking for a publisher.

That's my process. Clearly not conventional. (Who watches "Lost" while they write???)

My goal in writing is to help other families raising special needs children. I never give specific advise or "preach". I believe that by sharing my story, others will glean what they need naturally.

Maybe my book might also make it into the hands of a few teachers, therapists or medical professionals who would benefit from it as well.

However, the greatest gift has been just getting it all out. Pouring out my story has been cathartic and a personal learning experience. I'll never make big bucks on it. I'd certainly hate to do the math on what I might get out of it financially for every hour I've spent writing or at my writers groups. But, it's not about that.

Thank you to everyone who sends me a note of encouragement or even just asks me how it's going. I love hearing from you!

I've had plenty of request for an advanced copy, but nobody (outside of family and my writers group) is allowed to peek until it's published! I'll keep you all posted on my progress!

--> Any other writers out there??? I'd love to hear about your process!

**(So, where's the old novel now? It's on a jump drive collecting dust, for now. I doubt I will ever resurrect it. But, it got me to where I am today.)
Collecting Dust
(but not forgotten)

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