My organisational skills are very variable. Sometimes I make long lists and when the list is done, I put it away and don’t look at it for a month. Hmmm.... I do love lists but sometimes it’s better to operate from a short list of 3-4 things. At least you feel you’ve achieved something in your day if you’ve knocked off half your list.
My organisational variability extends to book planning. I have sometimes planned a book chapter by chapter, from beginning to end but then put it on the back burner for years. Stephen King cheers me up by telling us in his book, On Writing, how he doesn’t plan. ... he lets the story unfold gradually, lets the character’s reveal themselves to him little by little. It’s almost like he has a personal relationship with his characters and is an observer, watching what happens to them, as if it’s unfolding in front of him. He describes feeling like an archaeologist with a trowel, scraping away the dust and debris little by little to reveal the hidden object.
I started my second memoir about 8+ months ago. I was also writing my first ‘How To’ non-fiction book which I completed in January, published last month.* This meant the new memoir was kind of on the back burner, but being in a writer’s group helped push me along. However I’ve now decided to drop out for a few months. This is so I can focus all my attention on writing for a bit. Plus there’s the marketing for the newly published ‘How to’ book.
The extra headspace made me focus on the book and I could see i was stalled, it was directionless, I needed some shape and organisation. Where is the story going, where will it end? There were several possible places to end the story. I bought a large piece of black board and found several wads of different coloured post it notes and started laying it all out. I’d already written 13 chapters, but the story had stalled. You have to keep up the drama and suspense even in memoir, well especially in memoir or your reader will lose interest.
The story involved me dropping everything and flying to Indonesia at very short notice to get my ex husband and father of my children out of a rat and cockroach infested police cell. I took ten thousand pounds in cash in the bottom of my suitcase.. I shan’t damp your enthusiasm for finding out what happened by telling you the possible endings. I remember my last book - working on the ending was very difficult. I think it’s the hardest part of writing a memoir. You have to have an ending that satisfies the reader somehow, but is not a happy ever after.... well not usually in real life, an ending that draws the story to some satisfactory conclusion.
Using the storyboard I could see immediately where the gaps were in the story, where I needed to write extra chapters. I looked at chapter length and these were wildly variable. Some of the long chapters needed to be split into 2 chapters. A couple of extra chapters need to be written to fill in gaps in the story, identified by my writers group.. Soon the 13 chapters that I’d started with now covered 20 (well they will once I’ve written the ‘extra’ chapters. How many chapters will I finish with? Around 25-30 I’d say. The shape and scope of the book has unfolded to me now due to the use of storyboarding. It may not be Stephen King's method, but it certainly worked for me.
I phoned my ex husband, the main character in this story, quite pleased with myself. He now lives abroad with his second wife and son. We talk on Skype every now and again and are good friends. He’s just finished writing a fantasy fiction novel. (It’s really good). I thought I’d give him the low down on my newly acquired ‘storyboarding’ skills. ‘Oh yes,’ he said sounding bored. ‘You should have seen my storyboard for my novel. It went across our bedroom wall and out into the corridor.’ Then he changed the subject.* Writing Memoir. How to Write A Story From Your Life