I’ve started writing my experiences as a voiceover artist in London. I’ve never written anything like this before and so I’m finding the process very interesting (and a little bit difficult, to tell you the truth).
It’s not the memories that are making it difficult – they’re great fun and actually, they’re the aspect I’m enjoying the most, seeing vividly all these things that happened so long ago and re-living them. It’s structuring the damn thing that’s causing me trouble – as well as deciding what to keep and what to ditch.
I’ve had a look around for books and posts on Writing a Memoir and even though there is a bit out there on the subject, it took me a while to find something that kicked me into action. It was Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
As well as absorbing all his advice (which made sense to me of course, I rarely take advice just because it’s Advice), his book was a great example of a well-written memoir which focuses on a job. Bingo. (More on this particular book later, as I have written some words on it but they’re still in my scrap book.)
After that book, I tried to pick up others but was really disappointed, as none of them were as well written. In the end, I decided to stop searching for advice, get on with it and if anything, pick up some actual memoirs for inspiration.
I’ve written non-fiction books before and have got to grips with my process (What I still haven’t cracked is how to get over a block I have with Virtual, not Distant, but I think the project just needs focus.) I also have an idea of how I would go about writing a novel (mainly thanks to S King and my past fiction writing experience, of which I used to do quite a bit when I was little.) But writing a memoir fits in somewhere in between.
The way I see it, instead of drawing on your imagination, you need to draw on your research, which are your own stories. But after that, the book has to read like a good work of fiction to carry the reader through. Needless to say that tackling this has woken up the fiction-writing bug and I have three stories beginning to form somewhere in my subconscious.
I’m now half way through writing these memoirs, so I thought I’d share my process in case it’s of help to you, if you’re thinking of putting down your life on paper at some point.
1) Verbal diarrhea.
Sorry, I can’t really find a better phrase for it. Following the advice in all good books about writing, (“if you want to write, you just have to write”) I started to write without paying much attention to whether what I was telling was interesting, relevant or good.
By starting to write about jobs I’d done in the past as a voiceover, I started to dig out memories that I hadn’t accessed in a really long while. So I began to generate more and more material. Then some of the stories took me to Edinburgh – I had plenty to say about that; they took me to the day before the London bombs went off, how interesting… they even took me to the prison my grandparents used to live in…
This is the equivalent of researching a book, as all the material is in your head and you need to get it out so that you can file it later. Planning the stories you’re going to tell will prevent you from really digging into those stories you haven’t told for a while. It’s much better just to write randomly first.
So, just start. Start with the story you most want to tell, or the pictures you remember more vividly and see where it takes you.
2) First draft.
I made the mistake of thinking that what I wrote during phase 1, (some of which was quite good and seemed to fit quite neatly under some headings) was my “first draft”, so I sent if off to a handful of friends to read.
While reading Stephen King I realised, that this material wasn’t my first draft, it was just me dumping stuff on paper. Luckily only two people were able to read what I sent them and they were quite intrigued by it. Both of them also had trouble with one of the stories, which I had also found difficult to write. Out it went.
Now I’m writing my real first draft. I’m going over my mind dump. Seeing what’s missing, elaborating on some of the anecdotes, adding character to the people I introduce and using dialogue to change the voice of the piece.
Even as I’m doing this, I’m accessing new stuff, I’m including new details and of course, I’m ditching loads.
I first read over my mind dump on the Kindle, straight through and just made a few notes, like elaborate more on this, this is crap, etc. It’s important to do this to get an idea of the overall piece. However, the bulk of the corrections, additions etc are being done on paper, using an ol’ fashioned pen.
3) Once I finish my first draft, it will be time to send it out to a few trusted BETA readers. I will ask them if any parts drag, if anything’s missing, if the structure works etc. I hope this process will take a month, during which I will put the draft away and try to read a couple of memoirs, to get sucked into the style and see what I can steal, I mean, where I can draw inspiration from.
You can probably imagine the next steps: send that second draft out to more people, create a third draft, send out to proof read etc etc until I’m sure that I have something that people will enjoy. Hopefully by mid-March.
For now, I’ll continue marveling at how varied my life has been over the past twenty years and enjoying re-visiting some wonderful stuff. Seeing as you’ve got to the end of the post, let me know if you want to be a BETA reader and I will send you my first draft soon!