Experience, Write, Publish: Thoughts on a Memoir

 

I’ve never been drawn to reading memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, or creative non-fiction. It feels to me that people can say almost anything in those literary forms. Selectively choosing moments that fit into the conventional craft of writing fiction. It’s like those movies based on true events. The screenwriters dramatize the story and your left wondering what exactly happened and what was changed for dramatic effect. The truth is always elusive and that genre really makes it too apparent for my comfort. And anyway, my life is far from typical, muscular dystrophy, mediation, immigration, and intense emotion. Maybe that’s just a little too much ego there, but that’s the starting point.

 

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A writer I’m following that writes great satire. I’m totally new to reading satire.

 

Around a year or two ago, things started to change. I discovered Medium for the first time. Medium is this micro-blogging site taking off right at the moment. It was a hidden writing community when I first joined. A lot of things changed from that time. Getting sold to Facebook and the introduction of membership. Medium specializes in creative non-fiction, point of view pieces, and lastly, fiction. Now it’s shifting to listicles like the rest of the web, sadly. Throughout this post, I’ll link out to the best articles I’ve read on Medium.

 

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A listicle I actually liked reading.

 

I went there from a link on Facebook, originally. I don’t read news frequently, and Facebook mentions are what I go by. Reading the news feels too real for me. I logged in and found a few stories, not in the news like the refugee crisis in the Middle East. A POV piece by Piper Perabo visiting a midway point in the refugee’s path. That happened a few times.

 

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That POV piece by Piper Perabo as mentioned in the paragraph above.

 

Then I dived into the creative non-fiction and POV. It was a window into the life of women. Medium has a surprising number of things I had never been exposed to in my entire life. Pieces about the bad experiences that a ridiculous number of women have gone through, sexual violence. Things like rape, unwanted sexual attention, harassment, inappropriate gestures, and trouble with mostly men.

 

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One such piece.

 

 

 

My thoughts were astonishment. For a really long time, I couldn’t figure out how women even functioned in society. How could people get out of bed with the looming threat around every corner? Knowing it was virtually impossible not to run into someone that had done something like that in the past. It was unfathomable that was the case in 21st century America. This is America. How is it possible?

 

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The possible future state of America.

 

Sure we could blame so many things. The over-sexualization of American culture, women, and body image. But the cause isn’t the big issue. What can we do now? How do people still function?

 

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This is an article about Pick-up Artists and Ovid. I used it to help research a character I was writing for The Trouble With Dreams.

 

Simple. By accepting the condition as it is now. Continue with life as it is. And wait for change. Is that really what’s going to happen? So far it has.

 

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A story of finding yourself.

 

I’ve basically gone on a rant of incredulity for the last handful of paragraphs. Let’s return to the topic. What changed after discovering Medium? Not much. I subscribed and tried writing a few things. After that nothing really changed.

 

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A story of not belonging.

 

Then I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d watched the movie ten years ago when it came out. I didn’t think it was a memoir. The movie seemed too neat to be real life. Everything fit perfectly together and smoothly transitioned like fiction. I’ve seen a ton of biopics, but it was never so neat. I happily went on for years, bought the book, and eventually read it. It had always been a memoir. The book wasn’t as neat as the movie, but the events were rearranged a little, to fit conventional storytelling craft. I kept merging the images from the movie with images I constructed in my head. Reading to me isn’t a series of phrase but a series of pictures based on the written text.

Eat Pray Love

Liz started in New York and her messy divorce. The book spent way more time before the travel started. The mess with her rebound relationship. Then the happenstance of finding her guru and the Balinese Medicine man. With that, her travels began.

 

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Got to love satire. For the longest time, I didn’t.

 

In Italy, there was so much more than food. Learning the language and living in a city for months. I never knew so much research went into a memoir. Liz explained why Italian is such a pretty language. I fell in love with Italian through reading it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very enthused to read my first memoir. If Liz wasn’t so funny, I wouldn’t have finished it. I found the description of tastes wanting. I haven’t eaten solid food in years and wanted to imagine the tastes of Italy. The taste should run a few paragraphs in my mind. I was glad to see she asked the locals what was good. That’s the only way.

 

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Ella Dawson. Written really well.

 

The Thanksgiving was a big difference between the book and movie. In the movie, they fell asleep in the dining room. But in the book, the turkey took way longer to cook than they expected. Turkey was for breakfast.

 

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Another article I liked.

 

Then it was off to India and the ashram of her guru. India is a very spiritual place. The saying goes, you walk a few paces and run into a guru of some kind or the other. Gurus are that plentiful in bigger cities. Liz went to a remote ashram filled with foreigners and local devotees. I don’t agree with a few things. I have never learned from a guru and figured out meditation mostly in isolation. I don’t think a guru has to bless you to have a chance at enlightenment. Learning in isolation leads to a longer, meandering, and wandering journey to the same goal. Three months isn’t enough to learn a self-guided meditation practice. I have a lot to learn about describing meditation practices. When I try to explain meditation or my deep experiences, the person listening doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve spent too much time in self-monolog and isolation, that explaining things in an understandable way is really difficult at times. Before writing a memoir on me, I need to learn how of write deep things in a way that other people get.

 

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A deep discussion well written by another writer I like, Emma Lindsey.

 

I don’t believe a set of holy words must be used as a mantra. A mantra should have the required associations in the mind. The final description of Liz’s experience with the divinity inside her wasn’t that clear to me. Some experiences can’t be put into words even by the best. I was nice to see the ashram through the author’s eyes.

 

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A perspective on defining something that shouldn’t need defining in a perfect world. 

 

The Bali part was about balance. I would state it as filling your life based on your loves. Whether it’s meditation, writing, and thought or meditation, love, and writing. Ketut and Balinese culture were strangely familiar to Indian culture and weirdly different. Liz had so many facts and peculiarities that I enjoyed reading. Meeting Filipe was interesting. Ex-pats are a microcosm of the world writ large if everyone wanted chill above all else.

 

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Emma Lindsey figuring things out for us.

 

Her dealings with Wayan, another healer, and Ketut, the medicine man were interesting. Sometimes Ketut didn’t remember some things. And Wayan was a rarity there. She was divorced. The family is really important in Bali and acts like a compass to help navigate the world. Wayan and Liz were both divorced. Then Liz finds a way to help Wayan and works through the hiccup associated with it. Ketut teaches Liz a few mediations and many life lessons.

 

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A possible answer.

 

The third to last chapter felt odd to me. It was a flashback to her first trip to Bali. Liz was silent for a few weeks on a remote island. She eventually discovered that her current life wasn’t working and she needed a change. It felt like an epiphany and it came in the right place. It was placed out of time, towards the end of the novel. The sequence of events in time doesn’t matter to the sequence of the memoir. The majority of the events should be in chronological order but a scene here or there is fine.

 

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Another article for book research.

 

The memoir worked like it was supposed to. Reading a genre before writing in it is essential to the craft. Not sure which ones I’m going to read. I have no idea when I’ll even write a memoir. Everything is up in the air. I’ll work towards getting my deep experiences across on the page. Sometime down the line, I’ll try writing a memoir, maybe. Experience, Write, you know the rest.

 

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A woman working through illness.

 

 

GK

Story Engineering: Getting Down to the Story Mechanics

 

Larry Brooks is a published author that has writing classes/workshops. In Story Engineering, he shows us what he teaches his students about writing fiction. Apparently, writing a screenplay is very easy in comparison. Books out there detail the rules required in an acceptable screenplay. Larry Brooks has brought that over to fiction writing. If you ignore the condescension of organic writes, the book brings a needed insight to novel writing.

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Story Engineering starts with an argument against the formulaic nature of planning out a story using his components. The difference between art and putting matching things into a formula is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant while reading it. That’s one of the few things not explained in Story Engineering. I figured out a possible explanation. The various story elements, concept, story structure, character, theme, writer’s voice, and scene construction have a synergy between them. Each element builds on another. For example, first person, solitary confinement, weak mental state, and being alone is inhumane. With first person, we are with the inmate at all times. There’s minimal interaction with other people. Add the weak mental state and there’s a compelling story. Add examples of what other inmates in solitary confinement come out as. That makes a pretty good story right?

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Concept is the central question of the story. Story structure is the pacing of the story. The author does a really good job of getting this point across through the book. What plot event should happen at certain points throughout the story? Several movies and books are discussed as examples. Every book and movie I remember follows the plot events. I’m not sure about the timing yet.

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Character is presented as a personality selector you would use in The Sims. Different characteristics that can be tweaked to show the universality of humanity. Figuring out how each characteristic affects the others is where the art part comes in. Then the character arc. That was completely new to me.

 

I use a few lines of research to understand how characters operate. First, observing people and imagining what goes through their heads. Talking to people and looking for the motivations. Deeply analyzing my psyche through meditative practice. And method acting in my head. What would this character do if that happened?

 

Theme is the meaning behind the story. The story can give an opinion or explore a question. Figuring out what to say helps put it into the novel.

 

Writer’s voice is something that needs to be discovered through writing and trying different things. Scene construction states each scene has a mission. The scene needs to be short enough to accomplish its mission.

 

Reading Story Engineering will forever change my novel writing. I was already close, and now I get it for the first time. Larry Brooks knows his stuff. Great book Mr. Brooks.

 

GK

Instant Feedback

This is a guest post from my friend, Cori Nelson. She’s a writer of children’s books and middle-grade novels. Right now, Cori is writing her thesis. She traveled halfway around the globe to continue her writing career. Check out her WordPress blog and scroll through her tweets if you’re so inclined.

 


 

Writing is a lonely business. That seems like a pretty generic statement, but it’s true! As a writer, you sit alone with your computer or notebook and argue with yourself over and over and over about plot and grammar and spelling. Being trapped in your own head all the time is not only lonely, but it can hinder your ability to make good decisions (not to mention drive you completely crazy). This is why I think every writer should join a writing group.

 

This year, I’ve been studying Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. Through the course, I’ve had to share my work in progress with others and then receive instant critiques on my writing. As an introverted, I’m-fine-sitting-in-the-corner-by-myself kind of person, I was very nervous about this concept. I remember reading my first piece out, my voice and hands shaky, my brain forcing me to read at top speed to get it over with. But afterwards! After my voice faded away from the room, after the short awkward silence that follows any reading, after everyone stopped writing down their thoughts on the excerpt in front of them and looked at me, was amazing. My classmates, people I had just met for the first time a week ago, went around the room and told me all of their thoughts, good and bad.

 

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It was incredible. And it felt so good to share my writing with others and have them not only like and understand it, but give me feedback that was helpful, too.

 

Receiving the feedback immediately after reading my writing out was great, too, and something that I think makes in-person writing groups better than remote. It’s nerve-racking enough to read your work in progress out in person and getting feedback right away. I can’t imagine the agony you would feel sending your work in progress to someone and having to wait weeks for their thoughts. Plus, as a children’s writer, I like to write funny. There is simply nothing better than reading something you wrote out loud and listening to your group members laugh at the moments you were hoping were actually funny. That’s something you cannot get with a remote writing group.

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It can definitely be very scary to share your writing with others, as writing is a very personal thing, but there are so many things you just do not catch when reading through your own work. Your eyes glaze over a missing ‘the’ just assuming it’s there, your brain tells you that a sentence makes complete sense, when really it’s just a jumble of nonsense. Someone unfamiliar with your work, though, will catch all of those things. She’ll notice when you’ve used the same word twice within two sentences and when one character sounds the exact same as another and will ask the all-important “but why?” to a scene that actually, now that you’re thinking about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having someone else read your work is so helpful, I can’t say it enough!

 

All of my classes here in Winchester were designed to have a lecture for the first half and a workshop for the second half. Eventually, I began to yearn for the workshop half of class, especially when it was my turn to read and there was something I was stuck on with my piece and needed to discuss.

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Along with helping you find grammar and spelling errors, and helping you to better understand your own story by asking questions and giving suggestions, a writing group is a great support system. The group I’m in now (that I sadly have to leave in less than a month!) is amazing, to say the very least. It is made up of some of the most talented children’s writers I have ever met. Each and every one of us is devoted to each other’s writing as if it’s our own. When one member of the group has a victory (like hitting a word count goal), the entire group celebrates. When a member has a setback or is doubting themselves and their work, the entire group comes together to reassure them that they’re not a terrible writer, to offer suggestions to help stimulate new ideas, to offer the sympathetic and always appreciated “it’s going to be okay”. And when a member is having irrational thoughts about their work in progress, the entire group is there to help talk them off the ledge, to remind them that an idea had mid-dream is not always the best idea, and that “no, rewriting your entire dissertation two weeks before hand-in probably isn’t the best idea.” talking from experience, here. I honestly had a thought about rewriting my entire book even though it’s due at the end of the month. Thankfully, my writing group members stepped in with some rational thinking to save the day.

 

It’s important for everyone to have people like this in your life, true. But as a writer, I think it’s even more important because they’ll help you to keep going. As I said earlier, writing is a very lonely business. It is so easy to get lost in your own thoughts, especially the bad thoughts that tell you you’re not good, that your writing is awful, that you should just give up.

 

JK Rowling got hundreds of rejection letters when she started querying Harry Potter. As did Stephen King before he made it. As did Kate DiCamillo. As did every single author who’s ever been published. And I can guarantee you that all of them had a support system of some kind to help them get through the many rejections. If not an entire writing group, then at least someone who believed in them and their writing. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for?

The Forest for the Trees: A Way through the Mess of Being a Fiction Writer

 

Betsy Learner is a writer, editor, and agent. In The Forest for the Trees, she offers a collection of sage advice for any writer, especially when you’re questioning your ability as a writer. Reading this book helped a lot. I’m on the right path and need to wo4k more before I get there.

 

The first half of the book identifies several different types of writers. There’s something in there for everyone. I identified with several things that matched. When I’m the most truthful and unafraid, my writing is at its best. Very few writers are naturally successful. The vast majority need to work really hard to get in and become something. The process of writing and getting good is a long process. Write, get feedback, make improvements, write, and repeat until you arrive. Throughout there are many examples from a ton of successful writers and how they got started.

 

The second half of the book is about the publishing side of things. Betsy tells us how she started and moved through the publishing world. These are my biggest takeaways. Sometimes you find a person that can voice your inklings about something you wrote. A good editor should also alight on those things. Query letters are replied in several ways. The first stage is a form rejection letter. Then a form letter with a little personalization. Third a personalized response and finally an acceptance letter. Seeing the process of traditional publication was like witnessing someone else living your dream. One day, that’ll be me. I’ll get there.

 

Later guys.

 

GK

Editing as a Necessary Evil

 

Recently, I’ve been editing Remember. I don’t really like the editing process, but it’s a basic requirement of writing anything. It’s the antithesis of the writing. Editing is a nearly brainless activity in comparison. Editing something over and over still missing some errors is frustrating and motivation crushing. Typo blindness is troublesome. The writer knows the words they intended for the page. Not seeing a few typos each page isn’t really a hindrance for the person that wrote it. This WIRED article does a really good job explaining it. A novel is much more susceptible to typo blindness than say a 10-page research paper. A novel requires a lot of investment. Investment leads to seeing what you want to see, instead of what’s actually on the page.

 wired typos

That’s exactly what happened with Remember. A beta-reader pointed out several typos throughout the book. Unfortunately, I’d already put the ebook and paperback on Amazon. Exactly how that worked out is in an upcoming blog post. I quickly took off those listing. It wasn’t until a few months ago, but I reposted the unedited versions. I’m working on the edits as you’re reading this.

amazon listing 1

After the discovery of numerous typos, I worked out an editing plan. I’d already edited through four drafts at that point. I read slowly through each page twice. Once through a page and then again. Finding typos was easy. The work was time-consuming. I hadn’t yet found a method to stay motivated through more than an hour or so. Two or four pages a day. In a month of doing this, I lost all the motivation I could muster.

 

The blog has already featured the fruits of my procrastination. I feel too much guilt procrastinating on something completely useless. I have to justify it somehow. That’s how procrastination always starts, as a tangent that can somehow be connected back to the goal. I thought learning Photoshop would help me create book covers that I needed. Then After Effects to make a book trailer. Then 3D modeling for the book trailer. Then game development to practice 3D modeling. This happened in phases between more flawed editing.

wasting time

Through all this, my unconscious was entering the second epoch of my writing style. For some reason I can’t remember, I start thinking along the lines of clarity (an old blog post talked about a writer that showed me the way, Ella Dawson.) I recently read, the biggest mistake of a novice writer is trying to overcompensate for a perceived lack. Usually in the form of over-involved writing. That’s the symptom of Remember. Over complicated prose for confusing and difficult to understand writing. I reasoned if no one can understand what I’m writing, what’s the point. If it isn’t clear, there is no point.

 

I needed to simplify Remember. I decided to linearize it. Remember started out as two parallel story lines. One was six months ahead of the other. I jumped back and forth. The reader was getting lost. I cut out the boring stuff. Conor court trial and hospital stay were gutted (I’ll post them sometime). I moved the hook later in the novel. I needed a new hook, Conor’s life before the memory loss. What was Conor trying to remember? That should be up on here when I’m putting up the new version of Remember on Amazon.

 

I wanted the story to be more approachable and familiar. I started switching verb tenses to the past. Earlier in the editing process, I’d already switched out all the verbs for active ones. Tense switching would be much easier. I tried Find and Replace in Word. It was too finicky and took about as much time as the manual way. This verb switching actually helped in the long run. It sufficiently motivated me to cut more of Remember. Cutting from a novel has always been very difficult for me. This extra work of verb switching got me there.

 

remember cuts
Everything I cut from Remember.

 

Remember is almost finished. I’ve cut 14,000 words plus, and the novel is better because of it. Listening to music is the motivation I need for editing and typing at times.

 

Later, guys.

 

GK

The Art of Query

 

After finishing and editing a book, the next step is publication. I’ve had a backup plan in case traditional publications doesn’t work out, self-publishing. There’re a lot of reasons to try traditional publishing. The reach of the work and the focus on writing versus marketing, among others.

 

Most publishers don’t consider work that isn’t agented. You can find a few smaller publishing houses that consider work directly from writers. So I needed an agent. The whole publishing business is completely foreign to me. Jane Friedman’s site helped a ton. Everything in this post is from there in some form. A great resource for anyone trying to get into the novel writing business.

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Getting an agent requires a finished manuscript. Then you write a query letter to agents. A query is a cover letter brought to its pinnacle. Basically, this query asks if an agent wants to receive your full manuscript. The easiest way through this process is with someone vouching for you. Very similar to job hunting. If someone can speak for you within the company, getting the job becomes much easier. Writing conferences are the best place as I’ve read. Still, need a query but much easier.

 

I don’t have any contacts in the publishing business. I need something that works as a great query. Getting traditionally published is very difficult.

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This article I found on Jane Friedmann’s website explains how to write one. First, find an agent that’ll like your book based on what they’ve represented before. Then research the agent and personalize the first paragraph as to how you book is a good fit for them. “I’m querying you because you represented X. I think [My book] would interest you.” Something like that.

 

Then you list the title and word count. The following paragraph is a short paragraph that sounds like the book. It should extol what the book’s about, it’s virtues, and hook the reader. This is basically like a summary with a hook.

 

The final paragraph is about your writing related biographical information. Finally, end with asking them to request the full manuscript. And “Thank you for the consideration” or something like that.

 

Include everything else as directed by the Agent’s submission guidelines. Take this very seriously and double check everything. Agent’s name included.

 

This is the first query I sent out to agents the first time around. As you can see I didn’t exactly follow those guidelines.

 

I’m writing you because you helped [X] by [Y] get published.

Please follow Connor Abby in Remember, a science fiction novel with more than a hint of science that runs in a space of 120.000+ words.

Connor Abby — a normal, everyday research scientist — ends up in the middle of an age-old conflict between altruistic science and a science-obsessed government, culminating in the murder of Irena Mekova. Connor undoubtedly gets embroiled in the situation partly due to factors beyond his control. Join him on a journey through a world of tech, dreams, and shifting alliances. Discover what he’s really capable of. Is Connor ultimately responsible? Is he guilty of murder? You decide!

Please request the full manuscript.

Thank you for the consideration,

 

I didn’t get positive replies. I thought the query didn’t really match the writing style of Remember. I tried a different query. This one below. I should’ve cut the biographical information. Nothing related to writing.

 

I am writing to you because, you helped [X] by [Y] get published. Please consider Remember, a science fiction novel that runs in the space of 107,077 words.

Conor passes through life streamlined against major shifts in the wind, until an engineered car accident sends his world off-kilter and onto a tangential trajectory. Conor Abby, scientist (neuroscience research), doctor, thinker, realist, friend, employee, lover, recovering from memory loss, everything feels new, but still familiar, living life, moving on, surviving with who he is, a person under pressure, someone’s thumb, forced into things beyond his control, espionage, murder, arson, thievery, subterfuge, almost anything, without losing the person he is, which is what exactly at this point? Who in the year 2417 takes interest in such a fellow? Whom? Well… everyone… from the government, terrorist groups, and possibly others but why? His ability to lie beyond methods of detection? Maybe his recollection of dreams, vivid and dense with detail, or maybe the actions he wills into being. There is just something about him that reconciles these roles, attributes even. Who is Conor Abby? Find out in Remember.

I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative disorder. This gives me a vast amount of medical experience that I’m more than willing to talk about. My life story begins with emigration from India under the auspices of the H1-B visa at age five. Most people think of me as smart, remembering information well, motivated, happy, and without any college degrees. What just a few people know is I have been meditating for various amounts of time, starting around ten years ago.

Please request the full manuscript of Remember.

Thank you for the consideration,

 

That didn’t change the results.

 

I had a lot to think about. Either my query, my writing, or something I sent wasn’t working. I did an internet search for first book length. It turned out, getting something over 50,000 words published as a new writer is very hard. That agreed with everything I’d seen. I knew getting Remember down to 50,000 words would be really hard.

 

I decided to self-publish Remember as an e-book and physical form. A post about that is coming up shortly. I delved into another writing project to reach a few goals. Under 50,000 words, the law of averages when it came to characters, four perspectives, relatable characters, real locations, New York, and 6 months for the first draft. It basically takes me 6 months to simply type 50,000 words. That’ll come soon. During this whole query process, I was writing the sequel to Remember. That’s on hold. Wrote up an entire plan. And wrote about 1/16 of the first draft in 2 months. That’s going up soon.

 

GK