How some stories keep on keeping on

idea cartoon

In an earlier post I talked about how some stories start; namely the ‘fictional memoir’ as I called it then, a novel-length story about my much-loved father. I so wished to keep going with this project, but I was stuck – call it procrastination, writer’s block, or what you want – but I was desperate to keep the promise to my daughter to write about the grandfather she never knew. So how did I break this writing drought?

 

viv & computerInitially I set up my blogsite Artistry to ease myself back into regular writing. I very much enjoyed putting together articles about my favourite interests: books, writing and art. My ruse worked – I’d tricked myself into writing – by writing! It was only a matter of weeks before my mind began drifting towards the ‘fictionalised memoir’. I found I wasn’t comfortable using the moniker, as I thought it pigeonholed me into a genre which wasn’t quite the right fit, and the term ‘life-writing’ didn’t do it for me either.  ‘Memoir’ suggests a telling of one’s own life-story. The story I wished to tell, although based on my family (and our few years with Dad), I thought of as a novel-length work, and to be read as fiction; a book that might appeal to a wider audience than just my family.

Finally I re-started the project after telling friends I was working on a piece of creative non-fiction. It had freed me from thinking ‘memoir’. Okay. Easy. I was off. Although not at the speed I’d hoped.

It wasn’t until I suggested a timeline, plus a Mind Map, while helping a writer friend indicate what scenes might go where in her story, did I realise that I should be following my own advice! OMG. I thought my memory would suffice. Ha. When I actually drew the outline in pencil and put in the dates, I realized that I’d already made mistakes in my draft.

timeline

Personal timeline for The Run of Jack McPhee

My timeline now has each year of ‘my’ life from the age of five – to eighteen, (when my father died). I have circled each date and drawn lines out from each, noting the most salient events of that year, for New Zealand as well as our family. It was a matter of minutes before needed to snake the line underneath the first and add many more circles as I had run out of space (my notes are far from uniform). Something that worked well for me and may help another writers setting off on a similar project, is to keep a list of all the ‘real’ characters’ names, with their fictional names alongside, plus the occupations and specific connections they have with each family member; this I have written down in a notebook, although many might choose to use a word file.

books open

I didn’t become overwhelmed with shifting the episodes around that should have occurred later than I had initially set them. It was interesting in fact, tweaking lines from here and popping them there; nothing like a bit of ‘cutting and pasting’ and completing those much-needed transitions (which I describe in detail in an earlier blog). Now, I’m flying ahead with the narrative. I keep the time-line sketch beside me for ready reference and add extra events and scenes if a bright idea occurs to me.

Queen 1953

Queen’s visit 1953

Alongside this attention to detail I have researched the era (1953-1966 New Zealand), ensuring the colloquial expressions are apt for the times, and, for example, to confirm that the song lyrics I remember are right; the kind of information required for either fiction or non-fiction writing. (NB: photo on right taken by my father on a Box Brownie camera.)

The writing has become fun as opposed to a chore. And the breaks I take from my work are for exercise, and not procrastination.  I think of the arc of each section, and hope that when I’m ready to read the completed draft right through, I shall have captured the passion, turmoil and eccentricity of the McPhee family on every page and have done proper justice to the man named Jack.

 

 

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