I envy those writers who say they can just start writing a novel or short story and the story reveals itself as they write. There are writers who claim that they don’t know the ending until they write.
Then there are writers like John Irving who apparently don’t start writing until they know the ending. They then write to discover how to get to that ending.
I’ve been struggling to write a memoir for years. A few months ago I even quit my job to devote my time to writing. You’d think a memoir wouldn’t be so difficult. After all, it is about events that happened. I know how things began and how things ended. But a story, even a non-fiction one, is about so much more than just how things happened. I have a first draft of my memoir—over 50,000 words of what happened during the year and a half that I lived on a sailboat with my family as a teenager. I recently read over everything I’d written to date and frankly it is just a list of events with a little bit of description and a little dialogue thrown in. I find it boring as hell and I was there!
So, I’ve been seeking ways to find a way into the real story behind the events of our sailing trip. I dug out a book I bought a few years ago, Your Life As Story by Tristine Rainer. I’d read this book before, but I guess I wasn’t ready for it at the time. Chapter 3, “What Is Story?” has been helpful. I’ve been thinking about “character arc” —how did the sailing trip change me as a person? How did it change my family members? At the beginning of our voyage I was a child from rural Canada and I returned as a woman who’d seen and experienced many things (good and bad) that most people need a lifetime to achieve.
I’m going to continue working my way through the exercises in the book before I attempt my second draft. I’m one of those writers who needs to have at least a rough map in order to proceed. I don’t need to know what is around every corner in the road, but I have more faith in the process if I at least have a rough road to follow.