Thursday, February 7, 2008

Word Play

This is the stack on my desk.

I've been co-writing a biography with Dee, and since Christmas I've tried to write a few hours each day. It's getting close to our deadline, so this week I've been pushing it. Today I sat at my computer from 10 am until 6:30 pm with only an hour's break! (Some of you work for a living so you're probably rolling your eyes in sarcastic sympathy. I'm a newbie.)

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!

These are accumulating on my shelf, waiting for me.
Can I be a writer and a reader?

What is overwhelming you right now?

10 comments:

Stie: My Favorite Things said...

I've never "worked" with words, but I do love to play with them. Can't imagine the pressure of a deadline. Blog writing is pressure enough!

Ashlee said...

What is overwhelming me huh?

The clutter in my house, due to the unfinished basement and the construction going on down there and lack of space for my house full of stuff because of all of that.....
the fact that we still haven't sold our other house....
starting school in a few weeks and hoping I won't screw it up like I did last time {though I was 19 then}....
Yes....overwhelmed.

Holly said...

I have my own editing job that's eating at me. I just want it over with and it will still take some time!

deejaycee6 said...

I wrote my Memoirs several years ago and thought I was through with that chore. Later I decided to write my own story because my Memoirs were mostly about my friends and family.

I added to my story each day until I became overwhelmed. It is in my computer waiting for an ending because I just can't face another episode now. Maybe I will get back to it if I have a deadline (like my doctor telling me I had better finish fast).

I don't know how anyone can write for a living. You have to love it, I guess.

Sheri said...

Like you, I write about people's lives. However, I write reports on the research I've done rather than biographies. I'm overwhelmed right now because I have four reports which were due before Christmas, but I was hospitalized and spent three weeks in bed recovering. I can't get back to thinking! It takes a lot of effort.

Jenibelle said...

My biggest dream is to write something. Something profound would be great. Ahh...to be you.

What is overwhelming me? Thinking about the future. I sure wish someone would turn off the squirrels running in my brain.

Bridget said...

I'm with Stie. Sometimes coming up with a legitimate comment is pressure enough.

Sandra Ferguson said...

Sure, in the perfect world you can be a reader and a writer. However, you will need to get rid of the kids, the grandkids, the hubby, the dog, the neighbors, the mailman, the paperboy . . . well, I guess you see what I mean.

I'm so excited to here about your upcoming book. Good luck with that deadline -- they can be blessedly intimitating. And waiting for inspiration to show up . . . well, that can be like waiting for the proverbial watched pot to boil.

mama jo said...

no wonder i'm not a writer..i boggles the mind!

care020 said...

What's overwhelming me?

Being a middle school teacher is truly overwhelming. Thankfully, I have God, friends, family, and an awesome cat, with personality plus, to balance my life.