Do as I say, not as I do
Phil Gerard, one of the mentors in my MFA program, once said, “writing an essay or story is like designing a church, whereas crafting a book is akin to building a cathedral. “ His message is as writers we need to be good at building smaller stories before we can expand our horizons.
Some days I’m a total failure.
Like today. I am stuck in a scene in a library where I know I crafted some great interior monologue about my protagonist’ relationship and history with libraries, but I can’t find it. My organization system is an ADD mix of stuff I write on the computer, late night scenes or passages scrawled on one of the many notebooks next to my bed, notes created in a mini notebook in my purse, passages tapped out on my ipad in Pages, and things scribbled on random post-it notes.
I have tried organizing by outline, forming a skeletal structure on which to build my tale, but I deviate to the point my frame collapses. I try to be systematic ad organized, and envy friends and family who have a place for everything . I’ve tried to be neat, but I get very nervous and feel an ureg to mess things up. I can’t write when things are too neat. It suffocates me. A coworker once described my methods as anal explosive. Yet I know where everything is, (except my library scene) and miraculously, I have written several novel, a memoir, and countless stories and poems. I do not recommend my methods. . 1. Find an organization system that works for you, and helps you get the job done..
2. Make backups. One of my classmates had to add a semester to her program when her computer crashed, thus eating up her thesis. She had no back up. This was in the days before the web, where you couldn't send ginormous files over the internet. And she had not printed up or backed up her manuscript. At the time, (remember this was the Dark Ages of the 90’s) I saved mine on floppies and kept a set at work, another at my father’s house, and set in my briefcase. Now I email updates of files myself and save on flash drives.
3. Don’t lose your credit card. You will waste time looking for it, fretting, and eventually calling the bank, just to find it later in the seat cushions of your couch. Don't even get a credit card if you can help it. Writers don't make enough to pay the balance anyway
(One good thing was when looking for my credit card I found a flash drive I had earlier misplaced.)
4. Check for typos. There is no I in potatioes. My friend Elizabeth loves my typos. Just today I said I may have lost the credit card in the sofa cushions, but I typed spa cushions.
5. Don’t shovel snow for an hour, then spend five hours at the keyboard. It’s really hard on your neck and back. Luckily I have a terrific shiatsu massager which I have used gratuitously these last couple of days, yet I can’t write while my back is pummeled to and from from the shiatsu thingie.
Here is a piece of advice of something I did right:
Change point of view My MFA thesis was a memoir, a terrible piece not fit for your eyes not fit for publication. There were scenes in there concerning my mother’s death I found difficult to write. One of my thesis advisors, Lisa Knopp, suggested I write the scene in third person, stand outside and narrate. I did, and it worked. I still but the altering viewpoint lifted the gate and let me take note of what went on.
Overall, find out what distracts and derails you, manage it, and write.