This week I've learned a lot about how I write. I've also been reminded that what helps me at one point in the process won't necessarily help me at another, nor will it necessarily help another writer. Some people advise to just write, without editing or stopping to read back. This works for many writers, and it was certainly the right advice for me for the first six months of my efforts to write this book
This week, however, stopping to read Judith Barrington's book was the right thing for me to do. I've been writing like a fiend for the past few months. But since my "structure" was basically a chronological outline of the two years I spent in Afghanistan, I've been writing everything. At that rate it was going to take me ten years and 5000 pages to write this book.
Judith Barrington stopped me in my tracks by eloquently and concisely summarising my key questions about writing memoir, including "how do I decide what to leave out?". She was unequivocal in some of her advice, which freaked me out for a minute, but in the end helped me to sharpen (and cut drastically) the outline of my story.
Now I'm back to writing like a fiend but with a much tighter framework to write my way through.
In the coming days and weeks I will also go back and read over all that I've already written to see whether it fits into the new, streamlined, story-line. If not I'll be quite happy to drop it. I might have to rewrite some sections to add in key details that will be lost when whole draft chapters are cut. For me, at this particular point in my writing process, this was helpful.
Two months ago it may not have been. Writing those chapters, even if they are not going to make it into the final shape of this book, has certainly been improving my writing. So now that I launch into chapters that have a much better chance of surviving into the first draft, they also have a much better chance of being well-written.
I'm learning to write as I go. I've been honing my "voice" as a writer of legal opinions, policy analysis and case reports for more than a decade. It is going to take more than a few months to let go of that voice and grow into an "authentic" and eloquent voice as a writer of creative non-fiction. I needed to write all those "practice" chapters. Maybe there will be many more, I suspect there probably will be. But for now I am enjoying the process of learning to write.