Thoughts on the Writing Process

bunny-hopToday’s post is part of a group effort. Last week in a guest post on Linda Austin's blog,, I was invited by Mary Gottschalk, author of the memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam and a forthcoming novel to join a collective discussion on personal aspects of the writing processes. I found the questions useful in clarifying my thoughts on this matter and urge all writers to do likewise.

1) What am I working on?

I’m dabbling in flash memoir. I’ve spent the last few months intensively studying techniques for evoking emotion in readers, and one key concept that snapped sharply into focus is the need for laser precision in determining what details to include in any story. Flash memoir is a perfect vehicle for practicing focus. Soon I plan to write more about my experience as a square peg in a round hole world.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My most recent published project, Adventures of a Chilehead, differs in one significant way: it’s a mini-memoir, far shorter than most published memoirs, and it includes a slew of recipes that explain process rather than relying on set formulas. I kept the memoir part purposely short because I wanted to focus exclusively on my life-long love affair with hot chile, showing its origins and the evolution of this evolving relationship. I did not want to dilute that focus by including “padding” material. I said what there was to say and called it a book.

I write more instructional material than memoir, distinguished by combining a bit of humor and conversational tone with clearly defined, step-by-step instructions with more information on technology than others include.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write memoir primarily for family and friends. I write these stories as a legacy of personal history, to entertain my  readers, and to clarify my thoughts about the past and what it means.

I write instructional material because learning is more rewarding when shared with others. My main metaphor for  life is that of a wilderness explorer who later leads others on a tour. Few things are as rewarding to me as helping others become stronger writers.

4) How does my wiring process work?

Different ways on different days! In the first chapter of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing I emphasize the importance of finding your own best work style for writing. In her fantastically helpful book, The Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson uses the terms "plotters and pantsers." Plotters plan everything out before writing. Pantsers write intuitively, "by the seat of their pants."

I'm primarily a pantser, forming a rough idea what I have to say, dumping my thoughts onto paper and organizing them later. Sometimes I'll begin jotting key concepts on paper, but always turn to the keyboard before finishing half my list. Writing by hand works well to unjam my thoughts, but need keyboard speed to let them run free.

Once I get that draft on the page, I edit like a fiend, questioning every word. Typical questions I ask myself include:

  • How can I streamline this?
  • How else can I describe or say this?
  • Does this detail add to the story or do I just love it?
  • What else does the reader need to know?
  • Is this the best place to say that/

If I plan to publish it, the story (or book) goes out to beta readers. After I get their input, I start editing again. Usually life intervenes and two or three months pass before I get to final publication. By then the material is cold enough it seems new again, and I do another round of tough edits. Last week I shared a flash memoir with an online writing group. I kept track of the number of times I resaved the pdf version: 43 at last count. The story has 482 words. That's pretty typical

Write now: take some time and answer these four questions for yourself. You may be surprised what you learn. If you have a blog and decide to post your responses on it, please link back.


Leonie van de Vorle said...

Wow, 482 words! I love that :) and I love memoir writing. I'm finishing off my first of roughly 10,000, but it keeps being put off after having written several short creative nonfiction of several thousand. I have many more memoirs planned but they will be lovely and short. And funny. You have inspired me to get moving again. Thank you.

Sharon said...

I'm glad you are inspired Leonie. BYW, congratulations on finishing 10,000 words, which qualifies as a mini-memoir. Your comment is about two posts ahead of what I've posted here. Next time I'll post the flash story you are referring to as an example, and then write about the concept of mini-memoir -- a form that needs to come of age.

Leonie van de Vorle said...

Thanks Sharon, that would be lovely.