Repeat Performance: What to Do When the Book You’re Writing Throws You a Curve Ball

As I was working out a topic for this week’s post, I came across this one from May 6, 2014. Reading it, I am reminded that once more my memoir has thrown me a curve ball. I need to sort out what to do with this draft still waiting in the corner.

The two curve balls came from different directions and for different reasons. If you want to know more about the second curve ball, you can read a personal note to my followers and friends who subscribe to my newsletter.

Upon reflection, I believe my May 6, 2014 post may stand me in good stead when the time is right to begin inching my hands toward the binder holding my manuscript. I don’t think I’ll be rewriting so much as restructuring and moving things in my draft around to make my memoir more readable. The wheels are turning and never forgetting this draft, but the pull to go back and revisit this post left me with a need to share it with you once again.


Here’s the original post from May 6, 2014:

WHAT TO DO WHEN THE BOOK YOU’RE WRITING THROWS YOU A CURVE BALL

The drafting of my memoir began in earnest sometime the late spring of 2012. I had jotted down notes and memories plus digging through boxes of my mother’s personal papers for years. Folders filled with potential material for a book cover a work table.

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

Now, here we are approaching late spring of 2014, two years later. A few weeks ago as I was considering my progress and listening to my husband’s take on what I had written for one particular chapter, I felt like I had been hit by a tidal wave of emotion.

It was as if a tsunami had taken over the life of my memoir, and what came next threw me for a curve.

An epiphany in the form of a major change in direction left me wonder struck. Not so much because it was such a stunning transformation, but because it had stared me in the eye since the year 2000, when the seed germinated into thoughts of a memoir after moving my mother to Oregon from Tennessee.

Now, what am I going to do was the next thought passing not so silently through my mind. It was simple: Regroup, rethink, rewrite–the writer’s three R’s.

REGROUP: 

When I began writing my story of life with Mama, I sat down and started pounding out words on the computer screen without any thought for an outline or a plan. I knew the story I was writing and thought I needed no organizational scheme to get it done. So far, I believe I have a pretty good draft on that first turn. But this curve ball I’ve been thrown made me stop and take stock of the time I would have saved if I had gotten my writing act together first.

  • The first thing I decided I needed to do was spell out what I wanted to tell my readers and why. And I did.
  • I then moved on to think about outlining or story boarding. I vaguely remembered a post of Kathy Pooler’s on Memoir Writer’s Journey where Kathy talked about story boarding. Unable to find it, I emailed Kathy and she sent me the link, which is here.

 

Kathy Pooler’s Storyboard
Kathy Pooler’s Storyboard
  • As I sat and studied Kathy’s storyboard, it occurred to me that my favorite writing software, Scrivener, uses a bulletin board with index cards to act as an option to an outline. I rarely use it, but checked it out and below is an image of my current storyboard or imaged outline in Scrivener:
Scrivener corkboard
Scrivener corkboard

 

  • I think it’s going to work perfectly, and I’ve set about rewriting my first draft.

RETHINK

A good deal of rethinking went into picking up the draft and rewriting it. Was this worth making the book into a better story to share with readers? Would the rewrite get my point across any better? After all, I’d spent a goodly number of hours not only in writing but researching, retrieving and reading.

  • I decided the answer was a yes. I want to publish not just a good book, but a book people will refer to as a “really good book,” perhaps a “must read,” maybe even a “bestseller.” No matter the nomenclature used to describe it, I want it to be my best work product. So, yes, the extra time is worth the effort.
  • As I rethought the outline I’d come up with it, I could actually see the story unfolding in a much more cohesive fashion and with greater ease.
  • Rethinking taught me a great lesson: Rushing in headlong isn’t always the best route to take.

REWRITE

I am actually enjoying this “R” of the three “R’s” because I am sensing a better writing style, a tighter style. I feel the story coming together with less negativity about my mother, seasoned with a dash of her goodness here and there, because there was goodness in her. And at the end of her story and mine, I learn there was good reason for her parenting skills, or lack thereof. I think in the rewrite this will be more easily finessed.

Like schoolchildren sent off to learn their three “R’s”–reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, we writers can also learn from a different set of three “R’s”–regroup, rethink and rewrite.

We’re never too young or too far along in our writing to learn a little something or make a change in the direction we’re headed.

Happy writing!

What Is Creative Nonfiction Anyway?

Creative Nonfiction vs. Memoir
Creative Nonfiction vs. Memoir

As my writing and blogging gained momentum, I would see the phrase “creative nonfiction” used to classify an essay which, to me, was clearly memoir, or a book similarly characterized. For the life of me, I could not understand the need for separation of the two.Until . . .

I began to dig for an explanation of differences between creative nonfiction and memoir. What I learned is vastly important to how I’m refashioning my latest revision.

As I combed the Internet, local libraries, and writing publications, I found an online and in print magazine, Creative Nonfiction. When landing on a new or unfamiliar site, the first place I visit is the “about” section.

To my surprised pleasure, I came upon an article entitled “What is Creative Nonfiction?” written by Lee Gutkind, lovingly referred to by “Vanity Fair”  as the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”

Gutkind begins his articlewith the following:

The banner of the magazine I’m proud to have founded and I continue to edit, Creative Nonfiction, defines the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as “true stories well told.” And that, in essence, is what creative nonfiction is all about.

And Gutkind’s words clarify what creative nonfiction is–“true stories well told.” Aren’t we told to share the truth in our memoirs? Isn’t it the truth we are seeking as we write about our lives?

I suppose I should have been satisfied with Gutkind’s definition, but I kept digging. Discovering a site hosted by Barri Jean Borich, I read with interest her post entitled “What Is Creative Nonfiction?” In her opening paragraph, Borich provided an extension of the answer found in Gutkind’s article:

There are many ways to define the literary genre we call Creative Nonfiction. It is a genre that answers to many different names, depending on how it is packaged and who is doing the defining. Some of these names are: Literary Nonfiction; Narrative Nonfiction; Literary Journalism; Imaginative Nonfiction; Lyric Essay; Personal Essay; Personal Narrative; and Literary Memoir. Creative Nonfiction is even, sometimes, thought of as another way of writing fiction, because of the way writing changes the way we know a subject. (Emphasis added.)

If we take the two definitions and combine them and agree with the simple use of the word “nonfiction” to mean we only write what is true, not fictional, we have the beginnings of creative nonfiction. But what about the word “creative?”

Just because we write nonfiction and tell true stories from our lives’ experiences does not mean we cannot and should not be creative in the process. The best memoirs I have read were filled with creations as delicious as a cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. Others took me down dark, painful paths into lives of abuse and suffering, but they created the darkness for me, the reader, to experience and reach and understanding of the writer’s story.

Never let it be said a writer writing creative nonfiction cannot paint a beautiful scene or imagine the garments and buildings of ages past in his/her family’s life.

Even though we write nonfiction, our true stories must be “well told” as Gutkind suggests. And as Borich states a lot of what is written as creative nonfiction “depends on how it is packaged” and “who is doing the defining.”

The only caveat to using your creativity in nonfiction writing is not to stretch the truth of your story.

We cannot overstep our bounds in using creativity to make up incidents which never occurred, or statements never made, or whatever else you could invent.

Are you finding opportunities to “paint” while you write your memoir or some other piece of creative nonfiction? Do you see other ways the two words, “creative” and “nonfiction,” come together to define the genre or form we are writing? Let’s find out in the comments section below.

Timeline Story: 2. First Contest Submission and the Writing Bug

This is the second post in a series sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing life to the present. The first post is found at this link.

As the days in elementary school began to pass by, I grew increasingly fond of books and words. Learning to write words down on paper gave me a sense of power and fulfillment, even at that early age.

Most things came easily for me, and I found myself experiencing pride and elation over good grades. Not to mention having a good time.

It wasn’t until sixth grade that the writing bug bit in a serious way.

Our teacher announced an essay contest among all sixth graders early in the year. The contest was sponsored by the Hermitage Auxiliary Foundation, an arm of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.

The contest required an essay on a topic closely related to the history of Andrew Jackson. The three top winners would be presented at The Hermitage, home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson in a ceremony with photographers from a local newspaper.*

My excitement palpable I found it hard to wait patiently to head home and get to work. I chose to write on Jackson’s role at The Battle of New Orléans, the last major battle of The War of 1812. Major General Jackson’s reputation was boosted because of his actions and the result of this battle, opening his path to the Office of President of the United States.

Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson | Attribution: History Channel
Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson | Attribution: History Channel

I submitted my essay and waited, and waited, and waited. Often being among the first to submit creates what seems like interminable waiting. But I felt I had a good essay and, therefore, a good chance of coming in among the top three. I was ready!

Finally, right before Christmas holidays, our principal announced the three winners. Third place went to a boy in another grade. Second place to my friend, Linda, in my classroom. It couldn’t be possible that I’d win first place. So I sat back and waited to hear who had won the big prize.

And then I heard my name called, and the principal invited me to the stage. I experienced my first stage fright then and there.

The three of us attended the ceremony at The Hermitage on the coldest winter day that January, January 8th, the actual day the war ended in New Orléans. We received monetary prizes as well as certificates of accomplishment, not to mention the cookies and cider waiting inside out of the cold.

It was then I knew with certainty that some day I would write. I had no way of knowing what I would write or when but write I would. Here the dreams of my journey to writing began.

UP NEXT: The third installment will bring the high points in my writing throughout high school and college.

*Somewhere, but I don’t know which somewhere, are copies of newspaper photos and my original certificate, perhaps misplaced during my mother’s move several years ago.

A Day in the Life | Marriage Proposals and Engagements (Episode #5)

On Saturday, August 15th, Bob and I celebrated 34 years of happiness together. Not to detract from that happiness but to share with you what a tough start we had, today’s “A Day in the Life” post includes an excerpt from my memoir work-in-progress. Detailing the tension and strife filling the days following Bob’s marriage proposal and our announcement of our intentions, the excerpt shares a window into the world with Mama. Even after her children reached adulthood.

Remarried, but with a Struggle

Living with Mama following my divorce and dad’s death went on far too long. Yet I struggled with finding a way out. If I moved out, the cost of housing, food, gas, clothing me for work and a growing child would lead to insolvency on my part. And worse yet, mere thoughts of Mama’s reaction to such suggestion was unbearable. She had grown attached to Craig and his presence had avoided her grieving for Daddy. I stood between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

For the next 7 1/2 years, we lived like this. With each passing year, I dreaded what our environment was doing to Craig knowing what my experience under Mama’s parenting did to me. I dreamed and prayed for any chance to get my child out of this. But would it be too late by then?

In the winter of 1981, I met someone. Someone with the capacity to love me for me, with similar interests, and as alone as I was. Plus someone familiar with emotional and verbal abuses.

Our new-found relationship grew like a flash. Within a period of a few months, we set a wedding date in December of the same year. With little consideration for our three children, we focused on our dreams and hopes. We moved ahead full blast with our plans.

That is until we told Mama. And from her tool belt of antics, she pulled the “I’ll kill myself routine,” as mentioned earlier. But not in front of my fiancé or his children. She waited until Bob and his two left.

This was likely one of the worst of these episodes I had experienced. So eerily different, I turned to my older brother for help. I asked him to come and try to reason with Mama. That added to her battle cries. When he arrived, her venom turned on him.

Once she calmed down on this otherwise tranquil and beautiful Sunday afternoon, my brother left. We three who remained behind walked on eggshells afterwards. For days, this mood continued. I was so glad that for part of the day Craig was in school. However, there was the time when Mama picked him up from school. What poison was she filling his head with, and how was she treating him?

Things became more even on a day-to-day basis, and I believed it was all behind us. What made me fall for the idea she had accepted my engagement and impending marriage in the next few months?

Summer came and Bob and I enjoyed getting out with the three kids, doing things like a “family.” But excluding Mama always brought on heated discussions. So we avoided those activities and held picnics and played games in the backyard. Anything to prevent clashes in front of our kids.

In early August, all hell broke loose with Mama. I struggle to recall the catalyst behind this explosion, but it may have been the weekend Bob and I announced a shopping trip for our wedding rings. Our plan included making Craig a part of our shopping as he would live with us. Before we could get the words out of our collective mouths, Mama stood at the door, handbag at the ready, joining us on our trip. Perhaps the silence surrounding our excursion or the quiet tears rolling down my cheeks lit the spark.

With our shopping finished and the trip home no more jovial than our trip out, we arrived back at the house just in time for our evening meal. Bob excused himself to go home, and I followed him out. I had hoped he would stay, and I suppose in my heart I wondered why he wouldn’t stand up to Mama for me. That’s when I learned he had experienced similar treatment before and never wanted to face it again. I wasn’t angry as much as hurt, so I let it pass.

When I re-entered the house, the fireworks began. One look at Mama and I knew at once what was coming. The fire in her eyes blazed with heat, and I tried to steel myself for whatever manipulative schemes she had ready.

“I suppose I made a mistake in thinking I would be included as family by you and Bob. A nice little nest you’re building for yourself. He sees you as the perfect wife and a great little homemaker and mama. Huh! Wait until he lives with you!”

As always, trying to ignore her didn’t work. When I made no response, Mama’s thermostat rose. When I noticed Craig’s eyes enlarging by the minute, I asked her to stop it once and for all. Mistake!

“Stop what? Not believing in you the way everybody else does? Nobody else knows you the way I do! Oh, how I wish they did. Your daddy always deemed you as perfect too. That’s where you get that high and mighty attitude of yours. But I know all too well.”

The fight in me crumbles. Tears burn the backs of my eyes, and I sense Craig’s fear. The tension between Mama and me is so great I clench my teeth together to hold words back. And my teeth grind against each other.

“Well, say something. Or has the cat got your tongue? He’s changing you already–I can see that. I suppose he’s told you not to talk to me.”

“Oh, Mama! He’s done nothing of the sort. It just amazes me you don’t want me to be happy. Why would you have me sacrifice everything Bob and I can do together for a lifetime of manipulation and domination?” By now I should have realized these were fighting words but somehow on this day I didn’t care.

“I want you to be happy. I just want you to make the right choices and you’re not doing that. He was married before and he has children, two of them. What will happen to Craig having to live a life like that?”

“Well, if you haven’t noticed, I’m divorced and I have a son by my first marriage. I see no difference. What about you and Daddy? You both were married before and had three children between you when you married. Was that OK, and my promise of marriage isn’t?”

Mama sensed this wasn’t going well for her. As usual, she clammed up and used the cold shoulder treatment, which was fine by me. I told Craig to come with me–I had shopping to do. We left but only to go for a drive and an ice cream cone. Plus a stop at a payphone. It was time to move our wedding date to an earlier time.

When I called Bob and told him what had transpired, he agreed we should get married as soon as possible. He said he would call the pastor who was marrying us and see if the next Saturday, one week away, would work. It was a good thing we were planning a small and simple family wedding. Each year we celebrate our marriage on August 15th, not in December as first planned.

Taken in 1983 at Meyer FamilyGathering in Bickleton, WA

Copyright 2015 Sherrey Meyer

This was perhaps one of the most difficult encounters with Mama. Her manipulative skills and ability to belittle and demean did not let up when we reached adulthood. As the song says, “the beat goes on,” and with Mama it went on and on. It is my plan to share other excerpts from time to time. Likely, they will change somewhat before publication, but I’d like to share some of my story with you along the way.