Last August I finished the latest iteration of what I refer to as my “never-ending memoir” (the never ending refers to the process, not the manuscript). For each iteration I had used the write-your-way-in method, deriving clarity about characters and ideas as I “grew” my book.
In the last version, I had reduced my 450 page autobiographical memoir to 250 pages and thanks my dedicated writing group, my manuscript got read from start to finish for the first time.
Their feedback was both kind and thoughtful. They praised my word play and scenes, but it became clear to me that my structure wasn’t working. Was it just my unenviable position that made me think that’s the worst thing can happen to a writer? At any rate, it was clear that I was not, as I imagined at the polishing phase of trimming and tweaking, I was at the starting over phase!
I had a lot of confusion about how to proceed, but I knew I wasn’t going take another shot in the dark by writing my way in for a year and then discovering things still didn’t work. I had options, though, and one of those strong options was to give up “You can’t do that, it’s bad role modeling!” said my 27 year-old daughter.
“You’re old enough to find new role models, “I snapped.
I knew I needed a new plan, an approach that would provide freshness and a structure that would support me in starting again. I know myself well-enough, I can commit to a project as long as I see potential for learning and growth.
I began taking classes with John Yewell, of Writeaways fame, (http://www.johnyewell.com/) who had structured a memoir class. Now in the 2nd session, I’m pretty amazing at how he keeps you visioning the whole book while it develops. He has peppered me with questions that have helped find the depth and authenticity of my story. He challenged me to write only new material which was total torture, but allowed me to discovered a key element missing from my manuscript. I was writing without benefit of an important memoirist’s perk— that “look back” narrator who give readers (and in my case, the writer) a more meaningful perspective.
Okay, but what about a structure? In Charlotte, Kimberly Wohlford, who had just received a masters in memoir writing, turned me onto Stuart Horwitz’s Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method(Perigree).
I’m not wild about the title, it sounds so market-driven. In actuality Horwitz’s emphasis is on the process to get a structure that works . This process may sound wacky at points (what??? Brainstorm 99 scenes??), but I had become desperate enough to slip into blind faith mode.
I decided to save diving into the book until I went on retreat at the wonderful Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, a place that provides peace and plenty of uninterrupted time to think. Since last Saturday, I’ve followed Horwitz’s step by step advice, using his as my structure bible. Even though I wasn’t always sure where he was leading, was sometimes taken aback by his terminology, and thought some of the ideas were downright wacky!
I will say that I now have come up with a structure that gives me comfort and allows me to move ahead. FINALLY!
I was thrilled to discover that Stuart Horwitz is coming to Durham. I’ve already signed up for the workshop and recommend it for anyone who’s struggling, at any phase of bring a book into being. His workshop, THE FIRST DRAFT IS THE EASY PART,comes with his book and will be on June 28, 2014, Saturday, 2:00-4:30pm. Find more information below.
The First Draft is the Easy Part will introduce writers to the Book Architecture Method, a process for organization and revision of fiction and narrative non-fiction that has helped bestselling writers transform their messy manuscripts into polished books. An engaging presentation will provide examples of the Book Architecture Method in action, alternating with in-depth workshop exercises. The First Draft is the Easy Part assumes nothing of a writer’s previous knowledge of technique, nor how much of their manuscript is complete. Accomplished and aspiring writers alike will leave with the confidence that they too can create a compelling narrative.
Leader: Stuart Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence and Boston, and the author of Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise any Manuscript with The Book Architecture Method(Penguin/Perigee).
Cost: $35 (Participants receive a copy of Blueprint Your Bestseller.)
Contact: RCWMS, 919-683-1236, firstname.lastname@example.org.