Writing Tip #6: Distractions from your own head

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Thought I’d get back to posting some memoir writing tips. This one deals with a frequent issue many of us face when creating a memoir, or for that matter, any form of writing.

Do you find that a bunch of totally different adventures and people keep jumping into your thoughts as you’re trying to write a story? Don’t let that throw you into a tailspin. When you’re working on one chapter or idea and another crops up, just take notes on a separate piece of paper (or separate document if you’re on the computer). That way, you can get back on track quickly, yet not lose the “intruding” idea. And later, you’ll be able to develop and maybe incorporate that idea, too.

This tool has been very helpful to me, and to members of my Footprints Writing Club. For example, one man, new to writing, is committed to getting his life story on paper, but at first he had a terrible time keeping to a narrative line. He wrote what happened clearly, in a matter-of-fact-based way, but in a rather stilted tone, devoid of feelings and tension. He also complained that ideas for other parts of his life kept coming up as he tried to write, and he would find it next to impossible to stick with the story he was working on.

After a bit, trying this method of jotting down a note about a new idea, and then going back to where he was, his frustration level lowered dramatically, and his writing improved in equal measure. Now when he reads a segment of a new tale, rather than expecting to hear him wade through a rather detailed recitation of events without any plot, the class is eager to know what will happen next. And he feels much more comfortable while he writes. He’s even gotten very good at short fiction. Creating a fun story from a weird prompt is a new talent he didn’t know he possessed. Most of his writing is still carefully geared to “telling it like it was or is,” which is quite interesting in its own right; we his readers are learning about times and places we’d never have known about. But now that he can focus on storytelling, whether he’s writing fact or fiction, it’s a surprise and treat for us all to read or listen to new tales he weaves.

The above tip is excerpted from my upcoming sequel, How To Write Your Memoirs, The Toolbox Edition.