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Jeruba's avatar

I'm about to undertake a new venture. Any words of advice for me?

Asked by Jeruba (50626points) February 4th, 2009

For years I have been working away at the craft of fiction, producing hundreds of thousands of words and not selling anything (although I’ve given plenty away and also won some awards). What I have not attempted to do is tell my own story. I’ve used parts of it fictitiously, of course, but I have never tried to set down in narrative form the chain of experiences that shaped my adult life.

Since last March I have been processing my mother’s death. Some of the questions here on fluther have contributed to my reflections. It occurred to me only yesterday that now I feel free to tell the story that belongs to me.

Here are words my mother said to me when I was about fourteen: “If you want to write, you can’t spare anybody—not yourself and not the people you love.”

I’m on vacation for a few days, in a mountain cottage hideaway. I have my laptop and all my writing tools. I have just come fresh from the shower and am ready to begin.

What advice do you have for me?

I am going to close my browser now and open a new Word file. I won’t come back here and look until I’ve written a thousand words. Even that is only a scant beginning.

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38 Answers

marinelife's avatar

My best, hard-won advice is write every day and go until you finish. Turn off your inner editor. You can go back later.

Grisson's avatar

Go for it!

That way, when you are rich and famous, we can say “We knew her back on fluther. And we all told her she should follow her dream”.

Of course, then everyone will say “Sure!Sure!”. But that’s just life.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Let your characters introduce themselves to you as you write and you will get to know them and their story. You’re working for them now!

DrBill's avatar

When I write I set a minimum for myself, I do at least 500 words every time I sit to write.

Loubylou44's avatar

Let if flow…you can always trim it later.

fireside's avatar

This is something I haven’t done yet, but here’s my advice.

First off, figure out why you are writing this story. It’s not as though you are going to write about everything that ever happened in your life, so you have to narrow the focus.

Are you telling a story about your relationship with your mother?
Are you telling about the ups and downs of your career path?
Is this story one that has a happy ending, or a sad ending or no ending?
What is the journey that you want to recreate and who are main characters?
Who are you writing the story for; yourself, your kids or a much larger audience?

All of these things will matter in your writing style and pacing.
From there, I would take that main idea and go stare out the window at the mountains (unless it is warm where you are, in which case, remove the window from the equation) and think about that main focus.

What are three major thoughts or ideas that you would want to take away (or have taken away) from that experience?
What are three events or conditions that led up to those major thoughts or ideas?

Now sit down and start writing about each of those nine events that lead up to the formation of your main thesis, be it journey or insight or heartbreak.

From there, things should start to flow and your real problem will be editing and re-narrowing the focus.

augustlan's avatar

I have nothing to add but my best wishes for you Jeruba. It will be hard, but I have a feeling it will be worth it…even if the only person to ever read it is you.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

Good job taking a risk!

Dog's avatar

GO FOR IT! We are backing you all the way!

nikipedia's avatar

I also have no advice but wanted to offer my encouragement! This is really brave of you. Good luck!

lifeflame's avatar

Schedule disconnect time from the internet, otherwise you’ll be checking fluther and “doing research” all the time. Meanwhile, we’ll be here cheering you on!

Nimis's avatar

You’ve set afoot on quite a journey!
Good luck and best wishes, Jeruba.
Many little jellies swimming about excitedly for you!

Introverted_Leo's avatar

I wish I had advice (I’m too young to do an autobiography) other than to give it all you’ve got and don’t stop ‘til it’s done! but I wish you the best of luck. ^_^ And you’re already setting writting goals, so that’s a really good thing.

On a tangent, this may seem really random but for an interior design project I just started we had to make up a client and design a home for them; I chose to make my client a young writer who lives in a cottage-like home in the mountains by Lake Tahoe. I thought of this when I read your question, about you’re in a cottage hideaway. How strange is that?

But yeah, don’t mind me. Good luck with your writing!

Jeruba's avatar

Taking a pause at 1023 words to thank everyone (with showers of lurve) who has responded so far. I am interested in every bit of advice and welcome every word of encouragement.

For more than three years I sustained a habit of writing every single day no matter what, and that “what” included both hell and high water. Only when I took on a project so big (after my day job) that I literally had time for nothing else but basic personal maintenance did the habit break. Now I am coming back to it, already knowing I can handle the discipline.

I know the focus of my story and the arc of my story, and I know where I think I am going with it. I don’t know why it took me so long to see this history as a narrative. Maybe the final push came from a line in the movie I watched last night—Evening, with Vanessa Redgrave—where her daughter says that now as a mother herself she knows what it’s like to wonder which of your mistakes your children will forget and which they will still be talking about years after you’re gone.

Two weeks ago I attended a writers’ workshop at which the speaker said, “If there’s any part of your story that you’re afraid to go into, that’s where you have to go.” That’s where the fear of the dark comes in.

My mother never knew what irony I would one day see in her advice.

Dog's avatar

@Jeruba Shall we all meet here again tomorrow night after you have completed another 1000?

Nimis's avatar

Awwww….a little literary and lurve rendezvous. I likes!

aprilsimnel's avatar

You’re an encouragement to us all, @Jeruba! Congratulations for getting back on the saddle!

cyndyh's avatar

Sometimes when I don’t know where to start, I start by filling in a time-line of events. Then something will strike me as more important than I previously thought. I start wondering why that thing came to mind and start seeing patterns in what my focus is. Then I just have to write about a certain event or something that’s a common thread through several events.

Also, listen to the encouragement and not the negative at all while you’re in the writing mode. Edit later when you’re in the editing mode. I sometimes still have to remind myself that those are two completely separate processes.


nephrons's avatar

Be very sure your interest is 100% there..

Bri_L's avatar

Nothing but lurve and support for you!

My advice is to do what your doing. I once moved to ca with $300, no where to live, no job and knowing no one to see about getting into the disney internship program. I have never looked back with anything but fondness on that and I know I would have regretted it for the rest of my life had I not.

Dog's avatar

@Jeruba— It is now Thursday night. Are the words still flowing? Update Plz.

Jeruba's avatar

Hey, @Dog—just got back from dinner and a movie (Taken: quite a breathless ride!). Yes, 3298 since I began yesterday.

At each turn, every time I feel myself wanting to bend away from truth, I am making myself say it.

Last week I finished reading Deborah Layton’s book Seductive Poison. Some of you are too young to remember, but I recall vividly when the news broke of the catastrophes in Jonestown, one after another, and even before that, the strange local (Bay Area) news stories about members of the Peoples Temple dispappearing overnight. I followed the events closely in the newspaper as they unfolded and have since read three or four books on the subject, but this is the first one that really rang true as an insider’s story. What was so striking about it was what it cost the author to tell the truth unsparingly and how it was her unwillingness to hide things any longer from her daughter that made her write it. That commitment to tell the story faithfully as she knew it was an inspiration.

My story is not as dramatic as that, but it is not an everyday mother/daughter saga either. I never wanted it to be important in my life, but it has been, and if I don’t deal with it now that I am free to, I never will.

Dog's avatar

@Jeruba – This is really incredible. You are making fantastic progress and are keeping to your plan. BRAVO!

Will you work tomorrow? Shall we all meet up here again to see what the word count is up to?

Jeruba's avatar

How kind of you to take such an interest, @Dog. Thank you! I am still pounding away tonight, and I will stay with it tomorrow as well. Then we head home. Next week it’s back to work (sigh). But I will keep it up in the evenings. How about if I report in weekly? The discipline will be good for me.

Anybody else working on something? Want to post a weekly word count? If two or three say yes, I’ll open a new question so we can cheer each other on—and maybe even enjoy the encouragement of a rooting section.

Dog's avatar

@Jeruba- Sounds good. It is inspiring to hear your progress and see your determination.

What day of the week works for everyone? Though I do not write I do paint and will dutifully log if I have finished work. Perhaps we could put a keyword in so the thread is not missed?

Jeruba's avatar

@Dog, I’ll post something on Sunday (three days from now, Feb. 8th) and see what happens. And I’ll link it from here.

Dog's avatar

Sounds great. In the meantime happy writing.

Nimis's avatar

I’d love to pop in to see how everyone is doing.
But I’d hate to leave this thread.
It’s starting to feel cozy!

Let’s create an imaginary fireplace
and curl up next to the fire. =)

augustlan's avatar

Way to go, Jeruba!

Bri_L's avatar

Keep it going keeping it real!!!

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Nice. Sounds like you’re off to a great start. : )

I, too, am working on a story. I suppose I could post my progress. I probably write more in my seperate journal for my story than I do in the actual story, lol, because I like to talk myself through possible scenarios a lot. Though my progress has been admittedtly a bit drawn out, I’d like to participate, as well. ^_^

cyndyh's avatar

@Jeruba: I’ll be one of the folks to say “yes”. I’ll show up and look for that thread. Right now, I’m just trying to get myself to write every day. So, it’s not one specific project. I have a couple of things I’ve been working on in an on-and-off fashion for a long time. I’m just working on being consistent with it.

Jeruba's avatar

Look for a new question on Sunday that says ‘Some progress is better than no progress’ and invites a dated weekly posting of whatever milestone is meaningful to you. For me, it will be number of words and daily average. I’ll link it in both directions. @Nimis, bring your matches and we’ll light a fire, pull up our chairs. Maybe coax the dog to come doze on the hearth.

What keywords shall I be sure to include? milestone, progress, weekly report, and—?

fireside's avatar

book club?
Fluther club?

cyndyh's avatar

That’s such a great idea. Thanks for that. I look forward to it.

Bri_L's avatar

@Jeruba – “writing” would be good. I will add that to my list

Dog's avatar

Great keywords.

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