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The Art of Time in Writing Memoir

Saturday, September 19, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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I’ve done pretty well most of my life by being determined and disciplined. If a report needs writing the only way to get it done is to sit down and write it. So it’s taking me a while to get used to the art of time in writing. Yesterday I sat at my computer trying, unsuccessfully, to write a new entry point to the memoir. I had a vague idea of what I needed but couldn’t find it. I tried various ways into this new starting point but none had any legs. After several, excrutiating, hours I decided to call it a day and head into town to have dinner with a friend. As soon as I sat down at the train station it came to me. It was almost blindingly obvious once I had found it. By the time the train had pulled in I had four pages of notes. By the time we arrived in the city I had sketched out a new first chapter. For not the first time I realized that the process of writing isn’t linear. Sometimes the best thing I can do for my writing is to to walk away from it, stop trying so hard, stop thinking about it so hard. Just let it go for a while and see what comes. It’s a far cry from the kind of work ethic that has served me so well up to this point, but it works and, to be honest, I think it’s good for me. You know, that whole business of learning to let go a little more?


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10 Responses to "The Art of Time in Writing Memoir"

  1. Stefanie says:

    When I was learning how to write a few years ago, my tutor had all kinds of strategies. For example picture your writing journey and make an emotional bond with it (something I do 9-10 times now) and deal with the difficulty parts beforehand (e.g. moments I can’t write, the words aren’t what I want, the content is sloppy, etc). Find peace with it and then proceed.
    Or walk and talk your idea for a while until – when you sit down – something good has formuated in your head.
    But there are others … draw pictures, make mind maps, do lists, freewrite, etc.
    Most importantly for me at least – give myself ample – but not too much – time to get it wrong a bit before I get it write. That cannot happen if I want to be disciplined. I have to just prepare, proceed and hope for the best.

  2. cath says:

    yay!!! so, erm, when do we get to read it???

  3. I sort of needed to hear that today. I’m about to sketch out a book proposal, and I’m about to sit down and just do it, and I’m hoping it’ll come.
    But if it doesn’t, I’ll go for a run. 😉
    Thanks for the tip!

  4. Ha! I can totally relate.

  5. For me, it comes from the cushion or from some other conscious or subconscious surrender. Failing that, a long hot shower.

  6. Rachael King says:

    Yes! It’s pretty hard to explain to people that that is what the life of a novelist is all about!

  7. Rachael King says:

    Oh and re what Stephanie says, a friend once told me a very important piece of advice, for any creative endeavour. Once you embrace it, the creative process becomes that much clearer and easier. It’s this. Give yourself permission to fail. It frees you up no end.

  8. gypsy Alex says:

    Love seeing that everyone is realizing how much we need to deprogram ourselves from the ways of working by the “man'”s rules. Really happy to be living a fluid life among creative “peers” like you xo

  9. aj bush says:

    Thank you for your words (again). I feel the same way about art. Most of the time that plank paper or canvas is so intimidating that I can’t get a thing done. Then I find that after a bit of yoga or a brisk walk I can paint again. Thanks for the gentle reminder to just step away.

  10. susanna says:

    Well, this has me smiling this afternoon. Yes, sometimes letting go and walking away from a project for a while will allow our minds to wander down different creative paths and discover something new. I’m glad you had an inspiring train ride. Plus, you had lots to tell your friend over dinner that night!

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