Getting a book ready for press can turn into a family affair. My daughter Susan has been proof reading the manuscript for The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing. Like her father, she’s especially good at finding tiny inconsistencies, and I appreciate her sharp eye. As writers, we grow so accustomed to our own words that it’s quite difficult to them freshly. Our mind tends to replay the words we recall writing rather than read the specific contents of the page.
Susan is a talented and experienced writer in her own right, specializing in marketing and public relations pieces. When she got to the section of the manuscript on overcoming writer’s block, she commented on her own methods of dealing with this challenge:
I used to get terrible writer’s block when trying to do brochures or press releases. I found that the more frequently I wrote, the less often I’d have writer’s block.
But, when facing a deadline and facing writer’s block – one thing I did to get around my block is, literally, to write around the block. Instead of trying to write the first sentence or headline, I’d write my conclusions. I’d write my quotes. I’d write something that made fun of my topic. I’d write anything just in order to start the flow of words on paper. It’s close to your recommendation to write a letter, or write about why you’re having a hard time writing… but instead it was just another way of moving around the block. So, I’d start writing backwards, with the ending first.
Susan’s technique would work well for writing our kind of story. If you can’t figure out how to begin, where to begin, or what order to tell your story, start with the ending. For example, I’m thinking right now of writing the story of learning to drive. It’s a complex story, with memories of my mother telling how she learned to drive, my own early driving experiences, and surviving the ordeal of teaching our children to drive.
That’s a lot of story to weave together. I’m not sure exactly where to begin, but I know how I want it to end.
“I glanced over at Susan sitting in the passenger seat of her ancient Volvo station wagon as I ground the gears and stalled it out. She wanted me to have a chance to get used to the car’s quirks under her guidance before I set off on the drive from Seattle to Gig Harbor on my own. Her skin was ashen, her eyes wide. She braced her hands against the dashboard as she glanced wildly around at the approaching traffic. I chuckled inwardly, feeling ironically vindicated as I recalled the sheer terror of sitting in the passenger seat as she learned how to drive. It isn’t often that you have the chance to get even with your children, and I savored every second.”
From this ending I can build my beginning. The ending may change somewhat in wording as the story gels, but the form is set, and I've written around my block.
Will you join me in writing around a block of your own? I also hope you'll join me in making your editing projects a family affair.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal