Procedural Knowledge of Book Writing

WP_20140724_006I have very vague and uncertain notions about writing a book.  There are so many things to learn in the process.  Procedural knowledge of how to go about the making of the thing that is a cohesive, complete product.  Not an ongoing collection of beginnings, not a stream of consciousness rambling.

But just today I happened on this series of questions during a free writing exercise.  I wrote:

Is writing a book like cleaning a house?  Or building a house?  Or excavating a house?

Perhaps we first need to build a house.  Especially if we are working with fiction, we need to gather our materials and ask lots of questions.  We need to survey the landscape and choose an ideal site.

We can begin by asking what kind of foundation will be necessary to support its weight.  What is the driving question or theme that propels the story?  What is the context?  Are you in mid life wondering if the road ahead will be a long journey of wisdom acquisition? A journey spent seeking increasingly valuable and all consuming experiences to support your enjoyment of life?  Or are you bitter?  Were you once bitter and needy and desperate but now free, open, shining with joy? Don’t you want to shine that new light everywhere?  Were you once lonely and now full of love?  Were your characters?

What kind of structure will support the walls?  What view will the windows provide?  What will warm it?  Cool it?  What colors will be found there?  What can be used to create an inviting atmosphere?  Will there be a garden?  A kitchen?  A study?  A front door?

Who would you like to invite into this house?  What intimacy will be revealed inside?  Who lives there?  Who are the neighbors?

Regarding memoir, let’s say your house is already built.  But it’s buried and you need to excavate.  What tools will you need?  A back hoe or a paintbrush?  A shovel or a pick axe?  A sledge hammer and a pry bar?  What if you dig up something full of pungent, rotting decay?  Or dormant seeds?  Or shards of brokenness?

What if your house is already built and excavated? Maybe you now just need to clean it.  Maintain it.  Add a new coat of paint.  Throw out everything from the closets and go shopping for all new wardrobes and appliances. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?  Spare words can imply vast meaning.

Here’s a sample of a house I’m in the process of building:

I struggle.  I wonder when life will ever feel easy.  Facing things like personal failure, money, frustrating relationships, aging and responsibility deflate my energy and eagerness for living.  We all struggle.  We are all trying.  And the more complex living in our culture becomes, the more we suffer.

I long to go backwards in time to a pastoral, technology spare existence.  This tendency to sink into my memories has be come a fantasy diversion, an alluring daydream to fall into while doing laundry.  Perhaps this is why I return to writing memoir–the landscape in my memory involves scenes of nature and people playing cards around the kitchen table, eating potato chips and drinking coke.

Leaving that cozy family scene, I travel through my young adult life, learning the hard way how to keep food on the table and the lights on.  The prayers in me said “please, please, please, please, God.”

Should I become a panhandler of spirit?  My hands open to the unseen river of gifts?

I don’t ask that question until I reach midlife.


Breathing and Writing: An Exercise for Opening Lines

Here’s a short exercise in getting started.  I plan to practice this each time I’m facing a blank page.  For the first few minutes, simply inhale and exhale.  Find a rhythm, and say something in your head to match the intake and exhale.  I find that for me, I can breathe in two syllables and exhale two syllables.  This makes for short opening sentences, the kind that don’t say enough.


And that is the point.  The opening sentence should never say it all.  That is for the rest of the story.

Today when I did this, I came up with this simple statement:

I moved away.

(And would you believe a whole story is waiting under the surface of that opening line?)

I moved away.  And soon afterwards, I began to see the people and the places I left behind with sharp clarity, with tender appreciation.  I moved away, and when I did, I became open enough to invite love in.  So now there are three of us to walk together in this new place, which contains echoes and images from my past.  Like the willow tree at the edge of the lake on Trosper road and the boat dock across the water that could have been the same boat dock I floated past in my youth, sprawled out on a black rubber inner tube.


Time For Nothing


Writing takes time.  What I really mean to say is that writing takes an ample amount of time spent doing nothing. For being accountable to no one.  For long walks or sitting quietly on the back porch with a cat on your lap.  Time for ambling around the house in your pajamas early in the morning, looking at that basket of laundry and thinking (hello, colorful mountain!)  And letting it stand there as a someday adventure.  A bucket list for chores.  (Before I die, I will conquer you!!!)  So far, it looms like K2.

Most of all, writing takes time to listen.  To listen to the internal bubbles, the little prompts that go unnoticed in a busy day.

I know that writing takes time for nothing-ness because I’m currently taking a writing class in the middle of my busy work season and the busiest activity season for my son.  This year we’re doing three sports and two handmade shops.  We’re also making breakfast lunch and dinner every day.  We also are busy socially, attending fun things with friends like Renaissance Faires and hosting big play dates with seven kids.

I need time for nothing, to do nothing, and lots of it.  My writing needs it, and I need it.

Two books arrived just for me at the library.  I’m discovering Mark Nepo.

Last night, exhausted from a marathon day of entertaining, I filled a hot bath and sank into that bliss.  Then I realized I was so fried that I could not decide which book to start.  I couldn’t even read without distracting myself with brain chatter.  My dual core processor kept sending me pop-ups, clips of the busy day that wore me out.

Overwhelmed, I couldn’t take anything in.  Not even gentle, encouraging words on a page.

I know I’m over my limit of tolerance when I can no longer enjoy the simple pleasure of a good book  (Let’s not talk about ebola, okay?  It scares and overwhelms me and makes me never want to leave the house again.)

The rest of the week isn’t getting easier:  today is Tae Kwon Do and First Lego League and a soccer game.  Tomorrow is a soccer game and a Lego League event.  Saturday is a birthday party.  Sunday looks free. An island of nothing and no plans and maybe some leaves for raking.  I love that kind of nothing.

I’m not complaining really…this full life is absolutely the best life.  Elliot is having an outstanding experience with all of his new and old friends.  I’m so happy to see him growing up and participating fully with life, with people.  Engaging wholeheartedly in learning.

I know what blocks my writing.  It’s wrapped up in this complicated situation of being an introvert who is learning how to be an extrovert, but not knowing how to deal with the draining of energy part of socialization.

So, how do I expect myself to write with clarity and purpose?  With perception and truth?

I need time for nothingness.  For a walk in misty rain that kisses my face all over.