The story I started in the last post about story catching goes on. I learned that Stephanie and I needed to go beyond that interview. My understanding was that it would be a great help if I’d just write down a few memories from my childhood. That seemed simple enough. Or so it seemed, at first glance.
In a post about six weeks ago I mentioned that having finished The Albuquerque Years, I was moving on to The Los Alamos Years. Many readers may relate to my report that I’ve been feeling a little stuck with that project. Aside from life getting in the way over Christmas time, I was getting bogged down in detail and doing battle with my Inner Censor.
Yesterday brought an amazing breakthrough that benefited both needs: Stephanie’s project, and my own “stuckness.” I was ready for a quick break from the intense concentration I’ve maintained for a couple of days as I worked to prepare my presentation on “Picture Perfect Pages” for a session at the 2008 Stories From the Heart conference sponsored by Story Circle Network in Austin on February 2. I sat down at the keyboard and began a brain dump of my childhood. I covered the first six years in a single paragraph, because she can read about that in The Albuquerque Years.
Moving quickly through the turbulent year I attended four different first grades, I settled into Los Alamos. My fingers flew. I wasn’t concerned with format — paragraphs ran together, and I double-spaced between major thought clumps. As Natalie Goldberg would put it, I was simply "writing down the bones," and that’s best done at a goodly clip, without pausing for serious thought.
At first I’d thought I could finish this dump in, oh, maybe a couple of hours, tops, hopefully less. The clock said it had been six hours when I saved the file for the last time, but I had taken advantage of the astonishing 70º weather to do some quick yard clean-up and tend to other chores. Altogether, I spent about four hours on this brain dump. In the end, its 6750 words filled eleven pages.
This account barely scratches the surface of what I remember, but it does a good job of skimming the surface. If I were to die tomorrow and leave only this, at least my descendants would know there is an iceberg in the sea, even if they see only the tip. I feel very good about getting this much done. It’s a huge relief. Now I can go back at my leisure and write flesh onto these bones.
I think it will be much easier to fill in blanks in this framework than to have done it the way I began — trying to remember everything from a single year before moving on to the next. I should have known to do it this way to begin with. That’s how I began The Albuquerque Years, with a fast and furious brain dump (though that one took many hours longer). Later I went back and found the holes, more than doubling the length.
So, if you are feeling stuck, try doing a brain dump. Use broad strokes, and write as fast as you can. I used the computer. I have more endurance at the keyboard than with a pen or pencil, and had to get the product to Stephanie right away. You may do better writing by hand.
Write now: do a brain dump of something you’ve been putting off writing about. It doesn’t have to take hours — even ten or twenty minutes will give you a powerful start.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal