Work in Progress #3: Writing and Then Really Writing

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Confession: I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Translation to my nonfiction writing life: I have trouble keeping piles of research straight while trying to write a decent story.

Writing is often about solving problems of this sort and here’s an idea I’m trying that seems to be helping with this particular dilemma.

Instead of jumping straight from a veritable mountain of research notes to actual writing, I’ve inserted a step I’ll call a “narrative outline.” It looks sort of like this:

Chapter 4: Open with description of engaged couple [Bio 44]. Focus on what they see in one another, what their expectations are (which will later be dashed) [Bio 57, Auto 62, Et. 324]. Then move to the engagement dinner. Spend some time here using anecdotes from autobiography [Auto 76]. The anecdotes should give the reader a rest from the more factual parts of the chapter. Establish differences between the future in-laws that will create problems. Move straight to wedding [NYT] and keep it short…get the couple into their first home as quickly as possible…..

When I’m doing this narrative outline I’m digging through all the background notes I mentioned in a previous blog (“Drowning”) and trying to make sure I’m not missing any wonderful details I might have unearthed in my research and then forgotten about. I’m thinking about things I need to lay the groundwork for (like the animosity between the in-laws) so that the reader will be prepared for what’s coming later. I’m also thinking about pace, how much time I want to devote to a particular scene. In the example above, I had uncovered some great details on the engagement dinner and the couple’s first home but very few on the wedding so I decided not to linger on the wedding itself.

The brackets contain my references, which will enable me to fact check if I need to.

For now, this extra step before getting to the actual writing is working like a charm!

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