No, this is not the story about the single set of footsteps of Jesus carrying me on the beach. That’s what I think of whenever I see that something is entitled “Footsteps.”
This is about following over your own footsteps in editing, going over another pass through a chapter, section, or a whole manuscript you’ve been working on time and time again. Polishing, refinishing, and all that. Of course, there does need to be some kind of “scratch track” there first before you can really start going over those initial footsteps.
When recording music, you usually start with a “scratch track.” This can be anything from a melody line with a metronome, or a recording of the song on an acoustic guitar, or even the band playing the song over a click track so that it’s relatively in perfect time. The scratch track eventually gets erased as you record your “good” tracks, one by one, over the scratch.
I was just looking over the steps I made during my first draft of Shrapnel and found the process pretty interesting. I learned quite a bit. In April of 2013, I was three quarters of the way through with the first draft. It seems as if things have been moving faster than a bullet ever since then, even if three years seems long to some. It’s really not for this undertaking. Trust me. Remember, I did take a year off to focus on the Exodus Project, so it’s really two years.
Anyway, one great thing that I had going for me was that I already had a structure for the book in my head. Scrivener is partly responsible for that – as far as organizing that structure – but of course, I had to have some semblance of how the book would go (what order). I knew, because I was working in Scrivener, I could always change my order any time I wanted. I could try on different orders for size and see how they would read if threaded together differently. A cool thing about Scrivener is that each written section comes with a little index card where you create a short synopsis. Later you can move them around on a bulletin board, like pictures in a story board. It’s pretty handy.
And also, since I’m writing non-fiction, it’s a bit easier to tie things together – chronologically anyway. I already know how the chain of events went. Not that I can’t be as creative as I want.
I have mentioned some of the inspirations I’ve had for this book – one being a novel called, Push, and a memoir entitled, Bee Season. For a long time I actually thought that Push was non-fiction, but it is not. It is rather a non-fictitious kind of story written as a memoir, much in the way The Color Purple was/is. It certainly could be true and may have been based on someone’s life, but it’s still technically a novel. Bee Season is a straight up memoir and is almost hyper-focused on a specific subject in Myla Goldberg’s young life when she was vying for her parents’ attentions – Not an easy task as the youngest female in a traditional Jewish household. She only had her older brother to compete with, the one whom her parents’ hopes and dreams were riding on, so I really related to this story for obvious reasons. I related a lot, as a matter of fact. A lot of similar family dynamics there, except where her parents were intellectuals. Ha.
Now, what was the point of this blog entry again? Oh yeah. I was talking about structure. I was talking about it because I look back every so often at what I was blogging about during the time I was working on the book and I never knew what I was doing. I never wrote a damn book before. But somehow, I fell into knowing that I had to start somewhere with something. Some foundation. Some structure, some chronology. Or else it was just too abstract to grasp otherwise.
Overall, the first draft was very abstract. I likened it all to feeling too high above it, and at times, dropping deeper into it and then getting detailed – pushing and pulling away. I said something about feeling like I was in a helicopter, “section by section, chapter by chapter [-] sometimes the helicopter flies high over miles of mountain ranges. Sometimes, it flies lower and circles around a camp. And many times it will land so the pilot can get out to get a really good look at the dirt.”
It was hard to get all that abstract thinking down and make it more and more tangible, but I started with a literal chronology and, at first, I focused on place on the timeline. If the timeline was from A: 1969 to B: 1983, then every chapter would focus on where everything took place. I moved a lot, so this was easy. Only so many significant things happened in one house, during my parents’ break-ups, and the reuniting of the family again. Once I was out on my own, I think I started organizing chapters by people and jobs.
If, while I was typing out a “scene,” or just writing endlessly about moving into some place with my family and what it was like making friends all over again at a new school, I was kind of “speed-writing” everything I could think of without any care as to how my sentences were crafted or how the words were spelled, etc. It was like stream-of-consciousness writing. Then, if new memories or thoughts came into my head that didn’t have much to do with what I was working on, I’d quickly jot them down into the little blue space on the right side of the screen in Scrivener. Those notes stay there no matter what section you’re in, so that was really helpful.
But, yeah. Footsteps. It was important to make light ones at first, even if I was staggering so I could have a path to walk back over them, deepening them, erasing some, making new ones, refining them, defining them, over and over again. Eventually you carve out a story. Hopefully.