And so it begins…

I’m frustrated. Much of my writing is going well, but one big project continues to elude me: the book based on my great aunt’s diaries. I write snatches and scenes, try out points of view, past and present tense, different voices. I ping pong between thinking the work should be historical fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, fictional real-life memoir (!). Nothing fits. Nothing works. And it’s hard to explain why this matters so much.

I’m beginning to realize that I just have to make a choice and begin, and trust that I can fix and revise what doesn’t work later.

Book Jacket for The Making of a StoryTo this end, I bought myself a treat today —The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, by Alice LaPlante—and I plan to use it. I went straight to the section on “openings” and dove into her exercises:

1. Give It Your Best Shot (begin with “the best, most exciting material”)

2. Start in the Middle (begin with “an event that occurs in the middle of the piece”)

3. Make Them Squirm (“wielding the weapon of suspense”)

Okay, Hattie, you needn’t wait any longer. Let’s do this. Past tense. Third person. See it through. And so it begins…

As soon as her shoe slipped on the muddy dirt the men had thrown onto the path, she knew she would not be able to stop herself from falling. No one expects to fall into a partially dug toilet hole, not on the eve of Memorial Day, not with two pans of meat still to cook and Will and Narvin still not home from Bad Nation and only her brother at home, probably asleep in his reading chair on the other side of the house. The moon lit her descent of four feet into several inches of rain water…

PS. I gladly welcome any and all encouragement and BTDTs. 🙂

PPS. The promised second part of The Personal Art of Submissions is in progress and will appear in a few days.

7 thoughts on “And so it begins…

  1. Lisa,

    I’ll be thinking of this post when I go back to my first chapter, since I know there’s still work to be done on finding that right moment of where to start.

    And, I love your beginning.

    • Christi, I’m am thoroughly enjoying LaPlante’s book so far. Thank you so much for the encouragement. 🙂 I think I’m being either perfectionistic or just lazy, but I know I need to dive in and stop dabbling (if for no other reason than my uncles and aunts would love to see this book completed!).

    • Victoria, thank you!! Here’s my plan: A book that tells Hattie’s story partly through creative non-fiction (like the short piece I posted) and part through diary snippets and that tells my story of reading her diaries. It might not fit in a neat genre, but I think it will work.

  2. Lisa,
    I totally understand why this matters so much, but also have trouble articulating it. I have diaries from my grandparents, my father, my mother, and 240 + WWII letters — back and forth between Navigator uncle & his family & friends — 1943-1945.
    I’ve been poring over this stuff for several years now, writing and re-writing, trying to find the right angle — whether to break it up into several memoirs — or do a family saga. The early letters from Romania between my gpa& gma had to first be DECIPHERED from unreadable script into German, then translated into English. What wonderful discoveries I’ve made. I decided to start a blog to explore the common humanity I find in these missives and journals. Thanks for the book recommendation.

    • Linda, what a treasure trove! Please share the blog URL when you have it. I’d be interested in learning more.

      I wonder if part of the struggle is feeling a loyalty to the diary authors, wanting to “get it right” not just for us, but for them?

      ~ Lisa

  3. Wonderful! I’m sure your great aunt Hattie will be as thrilled with this beginning, as she will be with the rest of the story, looking down from above. Have fun writing Lisa, go go go 😀 And keep us posted on the progress please!

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