Monday, May 26, 2014

Telling the Right Story

     I was probably seven years-old or so the afternoon I realized I needed to work on my communication skills. My friends and I were playing in someone’s backyard when I suddenly remembered an exciting event from my day before. Without context, I blurted it out to my friends. Despite the authenticity of what was said, my tale was deemed untrue by the ruling that cannot be appealed when one boy announces it. I was met with an incredulous “nuh-uh!” And that was the end of it.
     The day before, I’d been in the neighboring town with my family when we saw the local fire engine, red lights rolling down a side street. My dad steered the Volkswagen Bus down to investigate. There had been a minor residential structure fire. By the time we got there it was pretty much over. My dad overheard folks standing around talking about the couch getting badly burned up.
     I don’t know what sparked my memory the next day with my friends. But as soon as I thought of it I had to share with them the incredible thing that had happened to me the day before.
     “There was a fire!” I exclaimed. “We went to it! The couch was badly burned!”
     By then, my buddy Chuckie had narrowed his eyes and was shaking his head, pronouncing judgment. I was crushed. I fibbed now and then. But this time I wasn’t. Perhaps it was penance for the lies I did spin. But I walked away from that situation wondering how I could have told the story better. In retrospect, nearly any way could have been better.
     Sometimes I will have a story and try to get it out, figure out how to tell it in the best way and it just won’t work. Often times it ends up as a blog post anyway. But sometimes it will be a fiction story I’m working on. There will be false starts, long pauses, and days where I wrap up my writing thinking that at least I got a few hundred words out.
     Now I’m a firm believer in crummy first drafts. It’s not only okay, it’s expected to produce a first draft that is little better than a bucket of butt-loafs. I understand that. But I’m working on my memoir and not feeling even the hope that it’s working for me. I started on it last year and felt good about it. Then I promised myself that when I was done writing Sidewinder last November that I would get back into the first draft of the memoir. January came and what I really wanted to do was fix up Sidewinder. It needed just a few things to close up a few plot holes. I went ahead and wrote a complete second draft. I wrote off and on and then in March the mojo kicked in. By April I was writing just about every day. And I was having a ball.
I finished the second draft of Sidewinder and felt great. A few people read it and had positive comments. Then, feeling the burdensome obligation, I started back on the memoir. I began again at the beginning. Some days went well and others didn’t. Most of the time writing it felt like swimming against a current. But I kept it up.
Then Prajna read Sidewinder. She liked it, but had a lot to say about how it could be a lot better. I told her what I really wanted to do was write another draft of it. That’s when Prajna told me something I really needed to hear:
“You’re memoir’s not going anywhere.”
Right away, Prajna tried to clarify that she meant that I wouldn’t lose it. The story would always be there. But I knew that she nailed it. The memoir’s just not happening.
Prajna told me what she didn’t like about Sidewinder. And I loved hearing it. I started thinking about how I can increase the tension, up the stakes, and sharpen this novel so it’s more plot-driven.
So what does it mean if I go back on my promise to myself and set the memoir aside for now? Yes, it means I am breaking my word. But it also means I am going to tell the story I have to tell now. The memoir was coming out in confused utterances, and sometimes I could see readers shaking their heads, not saying “nuh-uh, but worse, closing the book.
So the memoir is going back on hold for awhile. I can’t force it. It’s time to join the current and get back to work on Sidewinder. My plan is to try to write every day. I think I’ll read over my draft once more and stick notes on the pages. There will be some plot changes and some more stuff taken out. With a major re-write like this, I’m convinced that it won’t be the last draft.
So that’s the plan. My focus will go to Sidewinder. I may or may not post blogs on Monday and they may or may not be much more than updates on how I’m doing.
But when this draft is done, I will most likely be even more excited than when the last one was done. It’ll be like a fire. Thanks for reading.


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