If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that I just needed to find a frame for my memoir, or to pick one thread and use that to guide the rest of my themes, I’d be able to buy the gorgeous owl fountain pen of my dreams.
“I think you should emphasize theme A,” said my faithful beta reader. And she was right. Of course she was right. But three paragraphs in, a detail about pine trees [not a real example] lead me right into the story about the time I went sky diving [never happened], and I lost the thread of theme A. Again.
There are many variables to blame for my inability to execute a plot. My actual writing training has been in poetry. In poems, you just lay out the three elements you want your reader to understand, and then add a snappy line that ties it all together. Bam, you’re done. [It’s a little more complicated than that, but not much.] Turns out that doesn’t work in prose.
Writing about your own life is tricky. You know what’s important to you, but you have to write about what’s important to the reader. I find this extraordinarily difficult. My only saving grace is that if you write about something well enough, the reader will probably be interested. And you maybe can’t tell by this slip-shod blog, but I can take a sentence apart and put it back together again and again until it fucking shines. This is a poet strength.
Did I mention I have ADD—oh look there’s a chicken! My executive function is not so great. My darlingest second sister likes to say that I have holes in my head because I was born premature. Shut up, darlingest second sister. [Ahem, sorry.] The upside of having ADD is that (almost) everything is interesting and interrelated. The downside is that most of my readers will not have ADD, and might require fewer leaps of place, scene, and topic.
So what works? Psychotropic drugs and therapy. And hiring an editor who pointed out examples of places where I kill my own tension. And then I could recognize it and fix it. I’m only on Chapter 2 of draft number 1,597. But I’m killing darlings, deleting beloved facts and sentences. The plot must go on.