Thursday, February 7, 2008
Factual writing is much more difficult for me than my usual off-the-cuff ramblings. I'm sure you've never noticed, but I generalize a lot, and take my own opinions pretty seriously. I can't use those techniques in these biographical chapters.
I'm working from transcriptions of twenty oral interviews, each about ninety minutes long. Separating everybody's recollections into topics, and then weaving them back together has been mind-boggling. It would help if people talked in well-written sentences. In reality, there's lots of repetition and backing up, restarting a story and lengthy searches for the right word. We change tenses and get stuck on certain phrases, and jump all over the place. Quoting a person is difficult when they haven't planned a pithy, concise answer in advance. Writing about an event where several different people have commented and have various versions is even harder.
I enjoy editing and re-writing, polishing and tweaking, finding the perfect word. Starting with a blank page and telling the story of a person's life, knowing they will read it, is very intimidating. I want to capture the essence of the personality, and demonstrate the concerns, challenges, and accomplishments of the individual in an entertaining and accurate way. It has to be told in context, with the memories of family members and friends included. It has to be long enough to convey the message, and short enough that someone will actually pick it up to read.
With a contract and deadline, waiting for inspiration is impossible. Clients don't understand terms like writer's block, or waiting for my muse. In Dee's world those phrases mean unemployed. So I just sit down and start typing and eventually my mind gets into motion again. (Someone said that the real art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the chair.)
My point is that my brain and my fingers are cramping, and my shoulder is stiff from moving my mouse. I write to relax and unwind, but the same activity has me all wound up. I'm not used to working with words. I like to play with them!