Living with a work in progress
Once you have written your first draft, the easy part is over and the hard part begins. The hard part is where you begin the process of re-writing and crafting your book, chapter by chapter, sentences by sentence, word by word. That’s exactly where I am now. I’m on my third re-write, revising, expanding and cutting .
I have always enjoyed editing, my own work as well as other’s. But this is work that requires lots of time, thought and tenacity. The goal is to be able to constantly improve and infuse your pages with the authentic you...to maintain a consistent outflow of interesting and compelling story which will hook your reader into wanting more with every turn of the page.
How to do that without getting stale and, frankly, plain sick and tired of reading your own stuff over and over looking for better and better? It’s not easy but it can be done. I have a couple of tips that have been useful to me.
First of all, keep writing, even if it’s only a couple of pages....even if you're just rearranging your chapters, correcting the spelling, grammar or sentence structure, changing your titles or working on your proposal. Yes, it’s good to set a certain section to one side for a day or so, but don’t get caught in the trap of letting weeks go by before you take another look at it. Also, keep reading your chapters. Pull one or two out every so often and read with fresh eyes.
Secondly, I think it helps to continue reading every day. Read books in the genre in which you’re writing...inspiring books by excellent writers. I’m writing a memoir so I’m reading several memoirs at one time now: Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples , Jeannette Wall’s Glass Castle , and A Place in the Country by Laura Shaine Cunningham. And, I can't leave out Stephen King's On Writing. It's a wonderful memoir for writers. They all keep me honest, authentic and in a memoir mode.
Next, remember that you are the protagonist in your own memoir. You must develop a narrative for the story you want to tell and never relinquish control. Find episodes that you think are "important" enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it's because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life.
Many of the chapters in my book are about small episodes that were not objectively "important" but that were important to me . Because they were important to me they also my strike an emotional chord with readers..
Infuse your pages with well-written dialogue, description, and character development. These are all fictional devices that work well in a memoir and make it come to life for the reader. And don’t forget to build tension. There’s nothing more boring than to read a story which is flat and too low keyed all the way through.
It’s important to develop your own unique voice. Once you’ve got the tone for your memoir, you’re good to go. Without it, you’re wandering aimlessly, no matter how great your raw material. I think of every memoirist as one more character within the narrative, the narrator. But we all have many facets and colors to our personality or character. Although none of us is funny or calm or outraged or sad all the time, the reader needs a consistent, persuasive voice in order to enter and follow your path.
Finally, continue to have others read your memoir and comment. Friends, family, writing partners whomever. It’s a great way to find out who your book appeals to, if anyone. Join a writer’s group, on-line or face to face. Post or read the parts you are stuck on and ask for feedback.