I'm sure this isn't technically true, but at the moment it seems this way: my training as a journalist and my current job as a researcher/writer is very poor training for writing a book. The first time I read my attempt at writing a novel (that I tried to do in one month via NaNoWriMo), I was shocked by how much information I packed into each paragraph and sentence. It was as if I had to get the main character's whole life story into the first page.

It's not that journalists don't try to tell a story -- it's just that they do it as succinctly as possible. They know they only have so much time to keep someone's attention, so it's necessary to boil it down to the bare essentials. And the more complex the story or situation, the tougher this is. What's the key thing you have to convey? What's really going on? 

But this doesn't seem to work when you're writing a novel or narrative non-fiction. For the writing projects I'm working on now, I spend so much time re-reading what I've written and realizing how short it is and how much I'm rushing to get the story out. I am having trouble slowing down, expanding on things. It's almost as if I don't want to bother the reader with too much detail, too much explanation. I don't want to waste anyone's time.

At least I'm aware of what I'm doing wrong (I think). I'm about 3,000 words into an essay that is an experiment into how it might work to write a narrative non-fiction book about living as an American ex-pat in the U.K. And although parts of the essay are starting to sound narrative, a lot just sounds like this blog. Which doesn't work at all.

And so I am literally drafting and then going back and forcing myself to add in sentences and dialogue and expand, expand, expand. It's incredibly painful, but must be done. I might just be the only person who "edits" something by adding to it. 

As a kid I was always writing stories and they were very narrative in nature -- usually painfully so. But this has been drummed out of me as an adult. At least I'm learning, which is helping me focus on the process and not the result -- which is essential for this type of project.

Related Posts:

No comments

Back to Top