Working with My Writing Style
As much as I want to write creatively, my brain isn’t wired like that. Writing business books and blogs was easy for me because I like facts, and I’m good at breaking that type of information down for people to easily implement. Or, as my husband would say, I’m good at telling people what to do :).
My current works in progress (WIPs) are about friends and family histories, so my previous writing style is the exact opposite of what I need now. Unfortunately, it’s the only one I have.
I’ve been reading quite a few memoirs to see how others tell stories of real people in their lives. One thing I’ve found that many of the writers are good at is not necessarily remembering all of the details, but evoking a feeling of the person through their words.
I’m not good at that – at all. I need to be ok writing a feeling rather than focusing on facts. That compiling events to convey an emotion, instead of listing each and every detail, is not only fine, but preferable! People want to be drawn into a story, and I have to learn how to do that.
So where does this leave me? Does it mean I can’t write creative non-fiction? Or that my stories are doomed to be boring, and overloaded with facts, devoid of emotion?
Of course not! But I will have to approach writing differently than someone who is naturally more creative than me, whose words flow out of them effortlessly and with perfect phrasing.
Every time I read something like,”…having married my father and left the bosom of her titled family, she was removed to the great mass of ordinary people of whom history takes no account,” from The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton, I think how did you do that?
I’m seriously in awe of people who think like that, because it never would occur to me. But that’s ok. I know my writing will improve, I just may have to work harder at it than others.
Less fighting, more writing
Since I started focusing on writing several months ago, I’ve seen a pattern to my writing process. I can’t write what’s in my head, and write creatively at the same time. I’ve tried many times, and failed.
As much as I want the perfect words and turns of phrases to flow from me, that just isn’t going to happen (at least not at first). Fighting my natural inclinations as a systems and process person was making everything harder. If I wanted to move forward, I needed to make changes.
Harnessing my strengths, and focusing on my gaps, I finally hit upon my process:
- I have to get all of the facts out first, so I just write as much as I can, including back stories and events that may be reduced to only one line later.
- I go back and overlay emotion, finer details, and more “showing” type writing to the extent that my brain is capable.
- I re-read and cut anything that doesn’t move the story along, pasting the cut pieces in a “supporting” doc to reference later. This is where I may combine events or ideas from the cut pieces to form an overall theme or emotion.
- I share the draft with trusted friends and post it to the Writers Workshop area on The Write Practice, a site I found that’s been invaluable for getting peer critiques.
- While waiting for feedback, I read through writing craft blogs and books to hopefully breathe some life into the creative embers lying dormant in my brain.
- I take all of my feedback and go back through the story, editing and revising.
- Repeat any steps as needed.
Practice, learning, and feedback
When I was in the workforce, I was a super Type A person. I was proud of the depth and breadth of knowledge I had accumulated over 30 years in my profession and industry. And I loved being in charge of large projects; solving complex problems; and getting shit done NOW!
Since I’ve left that environment, though, I’ve adjusted my thinking. I don’t feel like I have to know everything, or that I need to adhere to a rigid timetable.
I want to learn to be a better writer and story teller, so have committed to three things: writing every day; learning more about how to write, and what makes a good story; getting feedback from other writers and willing friends.
After a few months of sticking to those, I feel like I’m a little bit better than when I started. I know I still have a long way to go, though.
The slow going is a little frustrating for me at times, but I have stories to tell about people worth remembering. Figuring out how to write so others will read the stories of those no longer with us, is the only way I can do them, and their lives, justice.