Late Friday afternoon, I finished my book, Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley. I could say it was nearly a lifetime of work, but I certainly did not work on it full time. However, I will tell you when and how it all began, because I just did a search on how far back the files went and surprised myself.

First of all, I always knew I wanted to make some kind of creative non-fiction endeavor about my family and my self because I knew I’ve lived an unusual life. But I only really knew this because, as I told my stories to other people, I observed their reactions, and at times they seemed a little shocked. Sometimes even impressed. Maybe a little revolted too. So, I figured I’d make a movie about it or something – maybe a series of claymations.

My first attempt at writing my story came in May of 2006. That was just straight writing (Chapter One…etc.), but in the meantime, I was also making Artist’s books. At that time, I was probably concocting All Done But None, which is a total autobiographical work. The straight writing really started with a short story piece called, Place to Place, that I wrote in May 2006, as I was saying, and it was about moving to different places between the ages of 14-28. That was what started me on the idea of maybe writing an “autobiography” based on place.

I guess I let that roll around in my head for the next four years because I didn’t do much writing at all. I just made art, and in the interim, both my parents died within nine months of each other, my mom in the latter part, and that was in the summer of 2009. After a year of mourning and depression, and not being able to create much of anything, I finally sat down and wrote the first seven pages of what I intended to be a book called, Family of Four. I had no idea if I was writing fiction or non-fiction at that time, but I knew I was writing my longest work ever. At the time, it was all true, but the characters were fictionalized. I did that because I did not think anyone would believe it was real.

In any case, I was ready to take my time and spend the next few years on it. At the same time, I was writing out just as many pages of freestyle prose about my childhood too, mostly about moving, and specifically a long piece called, Thirteen Times Before Nine, which eventually broke apart and became a couple of poems.

Then I began to get really impatient after a year. Mjp started to talk me into un-fictionalizing my characters. “One of the best things you have going for you is that everything in your story is true!” I still don’t think it’s believable, but he was right. Nevertheless, after I changed everyone back to who they are (I left out their last names), I wasn’t adding much else to the book. Sadly, I just wasn’t putting in the time. I was really putting 100% into my art career, so I don’t know how I thought I could do both. Instead, I decided to write a collection of poems based on my childhood regarding aspects that I wanted to highlight in the book: moving constantly, the chaos in my house, my parents fighting and breaking up, etc. Doing that satisfied something in me, but it was because I was mostly impatient. Some of these poems were published with Bottle of Smoke Press and include a few watercolor paintings too. That book is called Monsters on Jasmine Street. 

Over the next two years, I’d say I was writing on a part time basis, but without any time or schedule, and I did not have any rhyme or reason on how I was going about anything, Nothing! No discipline, no chronology or structure — it was chaos. I worked on it whenever. Not only that, I kept writing and rewriting the six chapters I had by then, over and over. I was not getting anywhere, and I rode the whole thing very slowly like a snail. But, at least I had six chapters to play with. I got the idea that they could also be stand-alone pieces. Short stories, if you will. I even submitted them to a couple of indy publishers and no one liked them. Oh well, back to the book. I had just wasted a lot of time editing them to work in short story format for nothing. I tend to keep doing that still! Bad Carol.

So later in 2013, mjp introduces me to his writer’s program called Scrivener. THIS is what changes my life. This is when I really get my shit together. The program gives me rhyme and reason (hey, I was just looking for that), structure and a true light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sure it wasn’t completely Scrivener that got my ass in line. It was mostly my doing, but I’ll tell you a few things about it that helped me. Maybe you too will be helped.

First of all, I knew I needed to get everything about my story out of my head, on the keyboard, and onto the hard drive (don’t forget to back up your work on an external drive folks!). But it was overwhelming just thinking about that. I needed a “system” of some kind. So I decide — because I had moved so often — to first base the chronology on PLACE. In the program, you can make folders to the left of the body text space and name them whatever you want. Great. So I set up some folders named: Jasmine Street, Hargas Street, Bassett Street, and so on.

Then I gave each folder a sub-folder with other names, i.e. “the booger incident,” “milkshakes,” “the time I crashed the car,” and so on. All this gave me structure to start filling in all those memories into the blank text body fields as they came up, because of course these don’t come to you readily, nor do you feel like writing them in order. It all takes time and you remember new things all the time. You also can decide that something isn’t all that spectacular/relevant and stick it into the Boring folder.

Later, you can write a synopsis for each of your “incidents” on a little index card, and take those and move them a round on a bulletin board, kind of the way directors move scenes around on a story board. Perhaps you rather place these scenes in a different time frame in the story so everything isn’t so, A, B, C, D. That could make for a predictable story. No worries, you can move all the folders around too by dragging them with your mouse.

So, for me, after a while things just began to organically morph into a narrative. It wasn’t quite based on place, or age, or exact time-line of events. But PLACE was the starting point — important! And it got me to work with great focus. It helped with discipline and I put in more hours. Because from there, I worked almost every day on this book until the spring of 2014. I stopped working on the book for one year to do something called the Exodus Project. But since the spring of 2015, I’ve been working on it again full-FULL-FULL time, until now. And now it’s finished!

I know this is a really long entry — sorry. But if you have been thinking about writing a book and you never have before, maybe you will find this of some use. I never wrote a whole book before. I don’t think it has to take you six or seven years, or whatever years mine add up to be. Maybe if I had instructions, I could have gotter done faster.

I did it in drafts — this is when I actually made progress. If I kept going back to those first six chapters and refining them, I was never, N-E-V-E-R going to finish neither would you. I can almost guarantee it. The first draft has to be written badly, like it or not. Just write it – goobeldygook and all. Typos, missing words, words pushed together, horrible misspellings, wrong paragraph structure, NO fancy adjectives or stanzas. — Just write without correcting a thing as you go along –the entire draft. Get it out.

After that, you go over it again and make a working draft, meaning you fix it and make it readable. But you are still not writing anything fancy. You are just making your crap writing readable.

Once you do that, you can write. You can pay attention and get creative with what you have. It’s the “fun” part. That will be your first real draft IMO when you are done. Do NOT let anyone see the crap draft, even when you turn it into a legible working draft. That’s not you. That’s not how you write yet. You will start to find out how you write during the next 300 passes. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Okay, I am done for today.

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2 thoughts on “Finito!

  1. Diane murphy March 6, 2017 / 1:46 pm

    So proud of you carol and thanks for the info yes it helps I want a copy when it comes out please let me know how to get one love you❤

  2. Keith March 6, 2017 / 12:26 pm

    Yup, it’s all about drafts. First one = crap. 2nd one = not so horrid. 3rd one = reasonably OK., etc….

    I think I did about 6 in all for my book and it probably could still use a re-write, but at some point you have to just move on instead of nitpicking things to death. I like to think of the final version as impressionist work instead of photo-real. 🙂

    Either way, congrats, Carol… now where can we read this tome of yours???

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