Yesterday, while trying to write well (or I should say rewrite well), it finally hit me.
I had been agonising over the written drafts for my book for months, to make sense of what I wrote. The various paragraphs and chapters needed a serious re-look. Somehow, despite having followed a carefully mapped-out process and structure, there still didn’t seem to be a clear flow from one theme to another.
It didn’t help that I found myself unable to rewrite and edit, so busy was I, trying to figure out if my original intent for this project had changed. If it did, then I definitely had mountains of text to move or, worse, obliterate!
Not the most enviable of tasks for any writer, though a necessary and unavoidable rite of passage for new and seasoned writers alike.
Yet something else was nagging at me, prickling me like an annoying label at the back of a new shirt collar. Or that little pebble in my shoe I just can’t ignore but have to, cos the rain’s about to fall and I need to quickly reach shelter first.
I knew it wasn’t just a question of overhauling the substance of my drafts, though to write well, one often has to cut swathes of text. I just wasn’t going “slow” enough nor “small” enough, even though there was a time in my life when I did.
Thanks for the memories, “Doc”!
Back in 2003 when I was in between jobs for nearly three months, I would spend afternoons at home watching a TV series called Doc, starring country singer Billy Ray Cyrus (his daughter’s Miley, aka Ms “Twerk”). He played an unconventional doctor who would always type a journal at the end of each episode.
Somehow I felt drawn to that more than the stories of Doc’s escapades. And so I too started typing away on my silver Dell laptop, chronicling my daily life for no one in particular except me.
And I enjoyed every minute of it!
It was one thing to have written diary entries by hand in my younger days (before the computer became ubiquitous); quite another to type away like there was no tomorrow the way Doc did.
Oh but it was so much fun! I could say whatever I wanted, since I had no plans to publish any of it. In the fun, I found myself talking about the smallest of things, the seemingly inconsequential. Like what I had for lunch that day, or some crazy idea for a weekend vacay.
Nothing earth-shattering or Pulitzer prize-winning mind you, but it’s okay. I had nothing to prove and no one to prove it to. And after all, what’s there to do on a lazy Tuesday afternoon?
Writing my book this past year, I had many deja vu moments like those back in 2003.
But while they were invaluable recollections for me, I now realise they may not be of value to my readers, going by the way they’re currently written.
Most of my lines lacked the details to show what’s in my heart and what I went through. So they appear as mere texts on a page that “tell, but don’t show”.
Kind of like the way my son would burst through the door as he returns from school, excitedly spilling out lickety-split about something that happened on his way home. And though I loathe spoiling his obvious reverie, I had no choice but to stop him mid-sentence to ask him to start again from the beginning. And to do it slowly, leaving no small details out.
Which is what’s currently missing in my drafts – the details!
To write well, go small…and go slow
“Make it small. Make it rare. Make it a first time for me as a reader, and I’ll remember it forever.”
Using this admonition as my filter, I went over some of what I wrote yesterday, and it hit me: I was writing to myself but not to my intended reader! How could they possibly understand my plight if I only tell them but not show them, slowly but clearly, leaving out no small but critical details?
Talk about being inhospitable!
Like when I wrote about my son’s ASD diagnosis, I failed to dive deeper into the emotional maelstrom that the diagnosis did to upend my family’s peace and plan for him to join his older brother’s mainstream school.
Or how my days spent writing at home when my boys were in school were filled with pockets of almost eerie silence and loneliness that I was prompted to start a writer’s group (which by the way has now gone silent too).
Or why my “career experiment” (two years ago) that failed miserably continues to haunt my waking thoughts even now.
If all I do is ‘tell’, (or worse ‘state’), all of these tales perfunctorily in my pages, then none of them have actually moved from my heart into the book. Which means no one (except me) will understand what I went through, nor grasp the bigger, more universal lessons they potentially hold.
Which also means I will have no readers.
So with this timely reminder, it’s time to bring out the microscope and start to mine the small moments to better bring out the larger implications.
Wish me luck as I try once again to write well ok?!