Write On: The Hazards of Scotch Tape
By Corbin Lewars
“So, I’ve been blogging for over a year now,” a new client told me.
“Great!” I said.
“And I’m going to cut and paste them all together to make a book. A memoir of sorts.”
“Oh no,” I groaned.
“It will be great. I already have over one hundred pages and….”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“But I’ve been writing for over a year,” the client wailed. “I want to do something with all of this work.”
I nod my head sympathetically and then tell him about a doctor/cattle farmer whom I met in Montana. “’Darling,” he told me, ‘just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean you should build a house.’”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the client said.
At the time, I had no idea what the doctor was talking about either, seeing as I was merely asking for directions to the gas station. But over time, I realized the brilliance of his words. Just because we have something that resembles a larger whole does not mean we have the whole. And sometimes, actually often, it’s better to start over rather than to try to scotch tape something together.
This doesn’t mean that the year my client spent blogging was a waste of time. Quite the contrary. It strengthened his writing, gave him a reason to write, finessed his voice, and transformed him from someone who wanted to write to someone who was a disciplined writer. And, he will most likely use some of the ideas he wrote about, even if he doesn’t use the actual blog post.
Think about trying to build your kids a tree-house out of scraps of wood and a roll of duct tape that you had lying around. At first, it would seem easy. “I already have the materials,” you’d tell yourself. “I’m halfway there.” But during the first windstorm your house would mostly likely fall apart, if not at least leak. Hopefully, your children would not be in it when this occurred. Most certainly you would spend a lot of time trying to make your little hobble of a house into the house of your dreams. Dreams rarely form from duct tape, but they do come from ideas.
If my client pastes all of his blog posts together he’ll have one hundred pages of anecdotes and a few funny stories, but he will still be far away from having a cohesive book. He’ll spend a lot of time trying to transition the anecdotes so they flow. He’ll need to figure out what the common theme to his stories is (if there even is one) and then try to weave that theme throughout the entire manuscript. He will have to look at how and when he introduced all of his characters and move those introductions to the first time the character was mentioned. He will have to form one overarching arc to all of the stories and remove the tiny one hundred arcs he currently has. He will need to think about pacing and tension and again add this so it flows throughout the entire manuscript. He will have to look at his tenses, point of view, tone and change and alter that so the book at least appears to be written by one person at one time while relatively sane and lucid. He will have to … well you get my point.
Instead, I suggested that my client read and reread his posts to identify key elements. In general, blog posts don’t tend to have a lot of depth, pacing, or narrative arc. They’re quick and easy. But it was a year’s worth of material to start gathering ideas from. Remember, ideas are better than duct tape. By mining what he had, my client was able to see some core topics and themes that he believed were relevant enough to construct a whole book around. His changing family dynamic, sexuality, lost dreams, and expanding waist band were a few topics he felt would be of interest to a larger audience than he currently had. They were also topics that would hold his interest for long enough that he could continue writing about them for another year.
His annoying neighbor, tardy garbage pick up, and the local bar that closed in his neighborhood were all deemed as topics to let go of. For now. The beautiful thing about “for now” is you can always take another look at the once deemed paltry story and give her some resuscitation. Do not, I repeat, do not, be one of those writers who puts your 500 page manuscript in the trash and empties it immediately. Shalom Auslander pulls this off brilliantly in Foreskin’s Lament, but we’re not Shalom Auslander. And that’s probably a good thing.
A few weeks later my client returned to tell me he started over with a blank document and now had several chapters of a “book” written. “It starts when I still lived back east, only introduces a few characters at a time, and in general follows the arc of my career and failed relationships.”
“That’s great!” I said. “See you didn’t waste the last year writing. You just needed to go to Home Depot and gather a few new supplies to…”
“Promise me you’ll stop using building metaphors,” he interrupted.
“Ok,” I agreed after considering it for a moment. “But only during our sessions.”
Corbin Lewars (www.corbinlewars.com) mentors other writers in her office in Ballard and virtually. She is the author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which was nominated for the 2011 PNBA and Washington State book awards and her essays have been featured in over twenty-five publications including Mothering, Hip Mama and several anthologies. She lives in Ballard with her two children.
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