Finding the dog

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.

www.antillanostodos.com

21 thoughts on “Finding the dog

  1. I know exactly what you mean. I wrote my first book because of a nightmare I had in 2006. I had gotten used to having a pad and pencil by my night stand because I suffer from these awful dreams and I read somewhere that the best thing was to try and write what you remember as soon as possible. That was how my nightmare got recorded and then added to my diary. When I got into my diary to vent out after my mom had her heart attack in 2009, I read back the previous entry. I could not believe I had written that.. Well dear Lorenzo, that passage helped me through my mom’s partial recovery. I lost her in 2010 after a hip replacement surgery from which she never recover. A month before mom died, I lost my dog Ridgeback from old age complicated with a tumor in his hind. So I do know very well how our conscious mind works with the mysteries of our feelings and where you are coming from. Oh, a word of advice…
    Even when you find your ‘dog’, you will still ponder ‘what if?’

  2. A wonderful post. I’m working on a memoir too, and have the beginning and the end put together. Now I’m rewriting the meat I’ve been gathering and adding new pieces as well. It is extremely helpful to have the two end pieces done, as it keeps me focused and intent on filling in some of the blanks I need to finish it up. So, having found my dog, I’m feeling happy and confident.

  3. Me enorgullece todo lo que haces. Me lo llevo a mi profile para compatirlo con mis amigos. Sinceramente, Marielena

  4. Lorenzo, we of the Pedro Pan generation have a lot of latent, hidden emotions that surface when least expected; we are both a priviliged and sad collection of cubanitos. Sad because we left our homeland and parents behind and priviliged because we were raised in a free and open society. It took me a long time to “find my dog” because I felt that no one would be interested in reading my inner downloads in book format. After writing three books, two in Spanish which was a major challenge, I can honestly say that a writer has to forge ahead, be consistent, hard-headed, have self confidence and ignore all the negativity that comes with putting thoughts on paper. My best to Lorenzo and all aspiring authors.

    1. Fernan, thanks for viewing my blog and for leaving your comments. I agree not only that there’s a lot of emotions we Pedro Pans have and that they surface when least expected but also that there’s a lot of talent among us. I’m planning to buy and ready your book, “The Cubans.” I’m looking forward to it.

  5. Lorenzo, You have given excellent advice on finding our story- especially ignore the inner critic and be open to where the story takes you. Sending my deepest condolences to you in the loss of your sister. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Lorenzo, this is an excellent post on finding our story. I especially appreciate ” ignore your inner critic “and be open to where the story takes you. Thank you for sharing. Sending my condolences for the sudden loss of your beloved sister.

    1. Kathy, thanks for visiting my blog and your kind comments. I’ve been impressed by your blog as well and would be honored if you’d agree to do a guest blog for me. You can write about your experience working on your memoir or another topic of your choice. We can coordinate so we don’t duplicate topics (past or future ones I have in mind). I hope you consider my invitation. You can contact me directly at fadoremi2003@yahoo.com.

      1. HI Lorenzo. I would be honored to do a guest post for you and would love for you to reciprocate for me. You have such a fascinating story. I will contact you via email. I’m looking forward to collaborating with you on this. Thank you!

  7. Ahhh….how true you are! Finding that inner dog. Mmmmm…funny that sometimes we are our own worst enemy…..by self editing. Thanks for the tips!

  8. Estimado y querido Lorenzo:
    No solo eres un orgullo para todos los Antillanos,lo eres mucho mas para tu hermana Rosaura y tus queridos padres que en gloria estan .Escribir una autobiografia y dedicarsela a Cris es algo maravilloso de tu parte.Nuestras bendiciones para ti y te deseamos todo lo mejor en tu autobiografia.
    All our love to you in writing your memoir

  9. I am truly sorry for your loss, Lorenzo. Thank you for sharing this post. I found it most helpful and I love the idea of finding “my dog.” Oh that dastardly inner critic……he’s there, over my shoulder, just about every time I write. He doesn’t even take time off for Christmas, I’m trying to silence him long enough to finish my Christmas post! 🙂

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