Finding the dog.
Since my last blog, I’ve had a moratorium on my postings. I’ve considered and re-considered whether to explain the why. Because the thrust of my blog is in writing a memoir, which is about peeling off the layers of our emotions and revealing the raw truth, I’ve decided to expose the reason behind my silence: the sudden death of my sister, an event that in itself is fodder for another memoir. For the time being, let me just say that the sadness, as well as the time devoted to take care of her personal and legal affairs have consumed every bit of my energy.
I know she would want me to go on, so I take over where I left off, addressing a topic I had planned to cover when her death interrupted not only my writing but my whole life. Cris, to you I dedicate this blog.
On an earlier posting, I discussed that instead of doing an outline before I wrote my memoir, I used a concept I called tracking. I mentioned drawing two parallel, horizontal lines (tracks), with a starting date and an end date; the top line represented my physical journey, the bottom my emotional state. I also mentioned my adding two vertical lines to divide the tracks into three equal sections. With this method I had established the scope of and major breaks (or acts) in my memoir. What next?
Some authors start their books at the beginning and keep on writing until they have said it all. Others start at the end. Since I’m someone who browses through and read magazines from the back cover forward, I knew I would write my ending first. But that was still daunting. I chose to focus on the end of the first section. Once I finished a rough draft of that chapter, I felt free to begin my story. I followed the same process for the second and third acts, always tackling the ending first.
I called this process, “finding the dog, a term that came from an experience I had with my dog. A bundle of white, fluffy mischief, Donny had escaped through the front door, which had been accidentally left open after a delivery. Dreading the worst, twice I took the same route I followed on his walks. Out of breath, I knocked on neighbors’ doors, or peered into their yards, calling out his name. Nothing. He had vanished. After calling the police and Animal Control, I decided to give the area a third comb through. Then a neighbor volunteered to look in the opposite direction. I was certain his efforts would prove futile. Donny would never venture out that way; he would have to cross a busy intersection, and that would have intimidated him. Well, my neighbor found him half way down the block—exactly in the area I figured Donny would never dare to go–sitting on stoops that looked similar to ours. I realized that had I known where to look, I would have spared myself a lot of angst.
For me, the same is true of writing. When I know where my “dog” is, I stop writing in circles, trying to figure out where to go with my story.
In the case of my memoir, the first break or beginning of my second act coincided with my arrival in Miami. I did a draft of that chapter without letting my inner editor take over. It was a fast write just to get the bones down. When I finished I knew where to start my story.
So, my advice to anyone struggling with the trajectory of a novel or memoir is to “find the dog” first.
In my memoir I often make reference to my hometown of Antilla, a little jewel that sparkled next to the waters of Nipe Bay on the northeastern coast of Cuba. The town that gave me birth and inspired many of my dreams is barely clinging to life now. Hurricane Sandy almost wiped it off the map. A group in Miami comprised of Antillanos has been garnering support to help those affected by the super storm. Please check out their web site and help if you can.