Tag Archives: fiction

Writing Wednesday: To fictionalize or not to fictionalize, that is the question

It’s Writing Wednesday. It has been, in fact, since I woke for the first time last night at 12:30 to put a soothing hand on a stirring baby, and since I fed him at 4:30, and since our wretched dog starting whining outside the bedroom door at 5:00, and since Dominic decided morning had indeed broken at 5:45am.

I do hope no one is expecting anything too profound from me today.

I also hope one of these days soon I’ll stop expecting anything too profound from myself during this particularly fatigue-fogged season of life.

So let me tell you a little more about the story of the book baby that hasn’t found a publishing home. If I were to cast this as a children’s story (of which I’ve been reading no small number out loud recently) it would go something like this.

When the agent overseeing book baby adoptions organized for publishing families to have a look at book baby, many of them said very nice things. Indeed, they said the writing was fabulous. Just like the bear’s porridge though, book baby never seemed quite right to them. Some of the publishers wished book baby talked more about Lisa’s faith and some wished it talked less. Some wished that book baby talked more about Lisa’s work and less about Lisa’s love life, some wanted exactly the opposite. Several wished book baby were not a memoir at all but a novel. And so, eventually, book baby arrived back to the book orphanage without having found a home…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to quit my day job to take up writing children’s stories (although when you read some of the crappier ones that actually get published you have to wonder how hard it could be to kick ass in this genre).

But back to my homeless book baby…

It seemed there were several editors who were seriously interested in the prospect of this book as a novel, and I spent weeks mulling over whether I wanted to rewrite the entire thing.

It felt weird to me. I’d spent three years working hard to make sure this story conveyed emotional and factual truth and here I was being asked to turn it into a novel. Where would I even start with that? By spicing up the details of my past, or adding a serious addiction or abusive parents?

In the end, I’ve decided not to do it. There are multiple reasons for this but here are just a couple.

Rewriting it as a novel doesn’t stay true to my original vision for the book. I realize that in saying this I’m running the risk of coming off as precious. I don’t mean to be. It’s just that the book I wanted to write to tell this story was a memoir. Three years down the track, after I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to carve an actual story out of the therapeutic mind-dump of my first draft, that hasn’t changed. I don’t get all that excited at the thought of taking this story and fictionalizing it, and at this stage I don’t want to see it published by an establishing publishing house badly enough to make that effort.

There is also the other baby.

Yes, that one. And the presence of this other baby means that right now I don’t feel that I have the time or the energy I’d need to embark upon a massive creative re-write. Freelancing, I can do. Essays, blog, even some consulting, I can do (on a good day). But I’m genuinely unsure as to whether I could stretch to writing a novel at the moment. At least, not one I’d be completely proud of.

So what to do about homeless book baby?

That has, indeed, been the question of my life this last three months – right alongside: Is Dominic hungry/wet/tired? If not, why is he crying??? And, what on earth am I going to do to entertain him today?

There are only so many afternoons you can spend gyrating to ABBA’s Dancing Queen in front of the baby bouncer, you know.

Come back next week for more news about the fate of homeless book baby, and if you have good suggestions for entertaining a three-month-old baby, leave them below! I guess you could leave a comment or question related to writing, too, or let me know what you think about the topic of fictionalizing memoirs. It is after all, Writing Wednesday.

I’ll leave you with this quote by John Berryman because it made me laugh. Here’s to a happy Thursday all round the globe. Thanks for stopping by.

“The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.”

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How is Memoir Writing Different than Fiction Writing?

Here’s a break from all the baby talk. This is a guest post I wrote for Moody Publisher’s blog InsidePages just before Dominic was born – they asked me to reflect on the difference between writing memoir and fiction…

When I got engaged in 2008 I wasn’t writing a memoir, I was writing a novel about sex trafficking. But as my fiancée, Mike, and I began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about. After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the trafficking novel, one day I stopped long enough to ask myself what I really wanted to be writing about.

The answer to that question wasn’t trafficking. It was the idea of home.

I’d spent my childhood in countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. I carried Australian and Canadian passports. I was living in Los Angeles working for a non-profit organization that provided psychological support to humanitarian workers worldwide. I was hopelessly confused as to where home was. Perhaps, I thought, I could write my way towards clarity. How hard could it be to write a memoir exploring this theme?

Of course, the answer to that question turned out to be “much harder than I had imagined.” Luckily that wasn’t the only thing I learned during the whole process.

I had expected writing a memoir to feel completely different than writing a novel, and in some ways it did. When I was writing my first novel I found myself getting surprised by what was happening, but as I figured the “what” out then understanding my characters’ actions and reactions followed fairly naturally. Writing a memoir reversed this process. I already knew what happened – I’d lived it – but I had to work much harder to figure out what it all meant to me then and now.

The plotting process was different, too. With the novel I wrote my way into the story blind, without an outline, but during the drafting process the story gained increasing momentum as events unfolded. In contrast, I had a clear vision for the start and end of the memoir but little idea of how I was going to get from one place to the other. Despite repeated outlines I continued to flounder in the middle until the very final drafts of the manuscript.

What about ways that writing memoir was similar to writing fiction? Well, unfortunately, the first draft of the memoir turned out to be just as much in need of major revisions as the first draft of my novel had been. The first draft of the memoir was basically a therapeutic mind-dump. It was the product of a lot of thinking and soul searching and I had indeed gained a lot of clarity around the issue of home. What I hadn’t done, however, was tell a story in a way that might sustain interest for an entire book.

This second draft was the point where writing the memoir began to feel a bit more like writing fiction. First, I had to figure out what a story arc was. Then I had to take this therapeutic ramble of a manuscript and think about how to “nest” my reflections about home within a related story that could better structure the book and propel the action.

The second and third drafts were painful revisions. They involved completely restructuring the book around the long-distance love story of how I met Mike and cutting out scenes, even whole chapters, that didn’t move the story forward. In the end, however, it was worth it. I discovered that wasn’t just trying to figure out what home meant; I was trying to answer this broader question:

After a nomadic life that has been largely defined by coming and (always, inevitably) going, am I even capable of the sort of commitment demanded by marriage and children and a place called home?

I’d love to hear from you! For those of you who write fiction and/or memoir, how have you found them to be different and similar processes? For those of you who read both genres, what differences and similarities do you see between fiction and non-fiction stories?