Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writing a Chapter

I'm starting to write chapters for my book.
I have finally gotten around to reading "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver. Since Peter and I have discussed writing the book together - from his perspective and mine - I like the way this book is laid out. (Of course, it's fiction and ours is not).
I love the different voices giving a chronological view of their life in Africa. Only when the mother "speaks" do you get a sense of the future since she is telling the story looking back.
That's what I have to figure out. Whether or not to tell the story as it unfolds or knowing what I know now, how the story came together in the past.
For a book proposal, you need to have an outline. A list of chapters and a synapses of the chapters. How-to's explain that this is not concrete - the book can change, but it's good to show the progression of the story to the agent, to the publisher.
The story is not always so clear to me. I can't always remember the progression, but rather major happenings that changed my mind, my views, my life.
Writing it down loses something for me. It makes me define some things that I don't know if I feel comfortable making black and white. Putting words to a memory also gives meaning to something that once only had feeling. What if I don't always feel this way? Will the memory now be altered and forced to conform to my latest version on paper (or in this case, digital memory)?
My cousin had an interesting take on Julie and Julia, a memoir made into a movie. He didn't like Julie - thought she was self indulgent. Was not surprised to find that she is now divorced from her husband, the patient saint in the movie. She didn't deserve him, my cousin said. But a memoir, no matter how honest and candid, is only a snapshot of what's really going on. Like all forms of expression, it conveys a message. A book cannot be a rambling mass of words, images, and occurrences. It needs to focus on a one sentence catch phrase. It needs to sum up for the reader one clear concise selling point. Sure, a good book appeals to many different people, who all walk away with a different emotion/idea. But a well crafted book has one central, one main, one distinct voice that gives the reader one finely tuned note.
When you write about yourself, about a time in your life, about something that matters greatly to you, you are at your most exposed. Like a painter's self portrait, a memoir is that glimpse at the true you as you see you.
What if you tell the story, but your reader walks away with a different plot? What if you tell the story and your readers sum you up based on that snippet in your life? What if it's self indulgent, as my cousin summarized Julie of Julie and Julia. What if...
A memoir is just that. It's how you remember your life. In my case, I want to share it not because I am a special person, not because I had extraordinary experiences, not because I want recognition. In my case, I want to share it because it COULD be anyone's story. Anyone/everyone can fulfill their heart's desire. They can take that leap of faith, not falter when an opportunity comes upon them, and trust in their own instincts to follow their heart, fulfill their dreams.
I'm struggling now. I'm stalling actually writing this book. A little bit afraid of all of the usual stuff people are afraid of, plus some things that only I could concoct. . . But as I write things down - sometimes they are just lists of what I'm grateful for, sometimes they are monologues to my brother who has passed on telling him my greatest fear and biggest wish, and sometimes they are the messages great and small that come my way - I see that writing it down helps me to make things clearer.
Writing down chapters I hope will someday be included in this book or perhaps another, I gain a new perspective on myself. Self indulgent as that may sound, it is something everyone should do - record chapters to document moments great and small for themselves, maybe for their children to read one day and maybe, just maybe, for a greater audience of readers who will find a sliver of understanding, a kindred soul, a stroke of inspiration.

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