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A Life Less Ordinary

IWSG Writing Update December 2017 – Finished First Draft

Every first Wednesday of the month, the IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) encourages writers to share their fears, thoughts, progress, struggles, excitement, encouragement or anything really about their writing. A different question is posed each month, as a writing prompt for IWSG members. Answering it is optional. For December, the question is “As you look back on 2017, with all its successes and failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?”

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the co-hosts are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner. Feel free to swing by their sites and see what they are up to.

My answer to the question

I am a woman of few regrets, living my alternative life quite deliberately, so this is a tough question. On hindsight, we probably would all do things slightly different, because we are wiser now. But, I don’t want to feel bad about the decisions I make. Those are sometimes hard enough. When it comes to my writing focus in 2017, of course I hoped to work on my memoir more. I do write all day, every day – emails, diaries, blogs, comments, chapters, articles, notes, business documents, translations, reviews – but I wish I could have removed myself from social media and all the “unimportant” scribbles, to make more room for writing in my book. Life got in the way of my memoir frequently in 2017, either because we were traveling, exploring in between house sits, settling in a new place, visiting friends and family, or our business required full-time attention.

My book progress

Some people (and I used to be one of them) think that writing a book is easy, once you have compelling material, which I have in abundance. The adventures, stories, thoughts, experiences and mind-blowing events are there – in the past, the present and the future. When you live life to its fullest, you will never lack stories to share. But… just reporting what happened in a conversational way is not enough. That does not create an appealing book. You have to start somewhere, though.

My San Diego “office” for three months

In regards to this memoir I began developing two years ago, after we sold our sailboat Irie in Tahiti, I have been typing away every morning in November, pretty much without disruptions. It is now or never on this three-month house and pet sit in San Diego when it comes to writing my manuscript. The rest of the process will have to happen in the first half of 2018 for which we don’t have a plan or a home yet. Next summer, we hope to move on to new adventures and writing will be put on the back burner.

The positive outcome of my productivity in November? The first draft of “Floating About – A Life Less Ordinary” (working title) is finished! I have read and cross referenced all the blogs I wrote during the period of my memoir (2007 – 2015), but I still have heaps of notes to consult. One of those “writing in the moment” spurs is a full-blown document, 42,000 words long, about the most life-altering event that happened during the period on our sailboat. Maybe that should be a story in itself? There are many of them. Just like my diaries (which are in Belgium), I am considering to bypass reading these extensive notes. The reading takes up an incredible amount of time and I have too many words already. There is so much to say, and therefore, the content in my book is still all over the place.

Now, before congratulating me on this first step in the process, there are a few things to note:

  • I love writing and it comes very easy to me (when I prioritize the memoir); this first draft was a “breeze” in terms of just writing; putting it “all” down. Before starting the next chapter, I always reread and fast-edited the one I finished, a process I enjoyed as well.
  • All I have so far, is a compilation of scenes, conversations and anecdotes – moments I found the most important during our eight-year sailing journey, running a business from the middle of nowhere, and being in a close quarters relationship.
  • The manuscript contains 177.000 words, which is double the word count of an average memoir.
  • There is a lot of work to do. A lot. The book still requires an appealing theme (my biggest struggle since the beginning), needs to flow and has to make sense. Plus, I have to somehow cut the word count in half!
  • And, I haven’t even said anything about finding the right titles, quotes and photos, unexpected problems, proofreading, professional editing, publishing and promotion.

But, real progress is finally being made and I am proud of that.

What have you been writing in November? Anything counts!

52 Comments

  1. Liesbet, I was working on a post when your email popped up and when I saw the “finished first draft” I just had to jump in to say YAY YOU! This is HUGE. I’m even doing a little happy dance for you and I promise you that I don’t EVER dance, not even when I’m alone.

    I know, I know, you’ve still got a long way to go; your theme isn’t worked out yet; you have too many words; there are lots of resources that you may or may not decide to consult. I hear all of that. I recognize that each one of those things is a big deal in and of itself. And tomorrow or next week, you can be thinking about all of that. But for today, for the rest of this week, please bask in your achievement. The vast majority of people in the world want to write a book, say they want to write a book, and never get beyond the talk. You are miles beyond the talk.

    I’m so happy for you.

    • Oh Karen, you have no idea what these words mean to me. Thank you so much for your encouragement and excitement! I am taking your wise advice seriously and am not working on my book again until next week. Or, maybe even the week after. Of course, I have to make sure not to slack too much, or lose my sense of priority. It is easy to get carried away by other projects. 🙂 I appreciate your ongoing support – it gets me through the tougher moments.

  2. Woohoo! Excellent work! Maybe I’m the only one who things this way, but once there is a draft, the fun part begins. I love editing so, so much, as I feel it is the moments when a real story, a real book emerges. I envy you. No really, I do. My November did not produce a draft and that makes me very sad.

    But let’s not talk about me, let’s ramble on some more about you. Great job. I’m super impressed and can’t wait to read what you’ve created.

    • Thanks, Ryan. I like editing as well. When I write articles, I enjoy both processes… first putting the story down and then cutting the words so they fit into the required word count. It is a fun challenge. I have a feeling that it is a bit harder with a book, as cutting it down just doesn’t “cut” it. The narrative in this memoir needs more attention as well, so it will be a combination between deleting, digging into what needs some help, expanding, moving around, changing and cutting again. Well, I assume that is what happens next. 🙂

      You seem to be working on a lot of different writing projects and you have some finished drafts, so I’m sure you are being productive in other ways that creating a new draft.

  3. Finishing is huge, but you’re right with twice the word count you’ve got some cutting to do. Good Luck. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  4. I’ll take some of those words! I am so into the editing process that even when my word count starts to grow, I have more fun wordsmithing and cutting back than I do adding new material, so I never get anywhere! Congrats on the hard part – splattering it all out onto the page!

    • When you say it like that – splattering it all out onto the page – it doesn’t sound hard at all. And, it wasn’t that part. Like you, I do enjoy the immediate editing process, which is why it took me two years to get this far. I could not spill it all out without revising, so I edited every chapter before I started the new one. That was my favorite part as well. 🙂

      This second draft will be more than editing, unfortunately, since I still don’t know what my book is about. I know that sounds funny, but I should have had a theme since the beginning. Instead, because I couldn’t make up my mind, I followed the advice to “write it all down” in the hopes a theme would immerse. I ought to be able to sum my book up in one line by now, but I can’t. “The story of an adventurous couple” doesn’t sound quite appealing. 🙂

      Sometimes, I think I don’t need a theme and I just want it to be the story about my life with Mark. Wouldn’t that be enough? But, then I read memoirs need a theme and an arc. Well, I have about six themes that could work and that I’d like to weave into the narrative. Yeah… When I do something, it has to be hard and challenging. 🙂

  5. someone recently in fact told me to write 350 words a day, even if you don’t feel like writing, that way you are always making progress. I can see the end of my 1st draft in sight yet I am not sure I want to get there in a weird kinda way!

    Who says a memoir can’t have that many words in!!!!

    X

    • mlouisebarbourfundyblue

      December 6, 2017 at 13:12

      Congratulations, Lisbet! I’m still slogging through the first draft of my memoir, so it’s encouraging to see that that you’ve made it to the end of the first draft. I’m sure that you will continue to make great progress despite a very busy and adventurous life!

      • Thanks, Louise. And, I’m sure you will get there as well. I found it easier to not see the writing as a “job” or something to be hard on myself about. It all comes easier when you let go (avoid the “slogging” :-)) and not care about the results. For now. This is a first draft after all. Repeating that in my head, made it easier to keep writing with less pressure.

    • I know I have some boring passages in the first draft and I prefer to cut out more of the sailing stories, so I will be able to get the word count down a bit. But, reducing it to half will be tough, since some parts need beefing up, depending on what I decide to go with.

      I know what you mean about not wanting to get to the next step. Creating the first draft feels familiar now and there is no pressure. Every new step means a different kind of focus and getting closer to the end, which will cause more stress in regards to publishing etc. Enjoy producing – and finishing – your first draft. The new challenge of a second draft has to be fun as well. 🙂

  6. Well, I’m just going to ignore all of your disclaimers and say, YAY!! WELL DONE!! That’s such a huge achievement to have your first draft completed.

    On another note, I’m curious about these upcoming adventures you have for next summer. Do tell 🙂

    • Thanks Ellen. I”m slowly following in your footsteps. 🙂 There certainly will be upcoming adventures, but as is our usual style, we don’t totally know when or where yet. The goal is some land travel in Eastern Canada during the summer months.

  7. Congratulations on completing your first draft…that’s huge! Some people don’t like the editing process, but really, it’s my favorite part of fiction writing. Lately, I’ve been editing my third book, but right now, I’m not enjoying it as much. When that happens, I need to step away for a while. Again, congratulations Liesbet!

    • Thank you, Jill. I generally like the editing process as well, but have only experience with that for short articles. This big book seems to be a different beast, especially since I still have no clue what direction to take with my theme, and which passages to include or totally discard to make it flow. But… it will happen. I just might need some extra help! 🙂

  8. I think the fact you’ve written your first draft and still are enthusiastic about the next step says volumes. You current sit is the perfect time for you to make even more progress, and I know you will. Yay you!

    • You make me smile, Janis. I do hope to make more progress the coming months, despite the holiday season. This project has been “hanging above my head” long enough. But, I am happy to take some breaks in between as well. Luckily, the noise is not interrupting the creative process too much. 🙂

  9. Yay! Congratulations on finishing your first draft 🎆🎈🎉 and I wish you lots of fun with the editing!☺💖🍀 xxx

  10. That is an impressive word count. Maybe you can create two memoirs for different stages of your life, sort of like “before something” and “after something.” Or divide them into separate stories and create a series of sorts, like the life-altering event that happened on the sailboat can be one story. Just ideas. 🙂 Good luck!

    • Thanks for the ideas and input, Chrys. You are right, I do have to move some parts into another book (or discard), but instead of a time line split, it will be more of a topic/theme split, I think. I can’t get into the big event too much in this memoir, but it did play a big role in the outcome of our adventure and lives, so I have to mention it “briefly”. So far, I have dedicated a whole chapter to it.

      I also have played with the idea of creating a book with separate essays/stories to put together the most intriguing passages on the road and the water. This is a totally different style than what I have in mind for this memoir, but it would be a fun project as well, and an exciting read. So much to share – so little time – so many more adventures that are waiting for me. And, after those, I will have even more material… It is never-ending. But, in a good way. 🙂

  11. That’s awesome! Yes, you probably have a lot to edit out. Sounds like you could create one or more companion books as well. I think your story will really fascinate people.

    • I am hoping it will be fascinating, Alex. It certainly is when we tell the stories verbally. But, as you certainly know, it is challenging to transport those words onto paper and have them be compelling as well. And, you are right, I could fill volumes of books, all with a different focus and theme, but that would mean I won’t have time to travel and collect more memories. 🙂

  12. I love it when I finish my first draft of anything. It’s such an accomplishment! Here’s to polishing it.

    • That’s a positive way to look at it, C! This is all very new territory to me, so the next steps worry me a bit. I think I’d rather just start work on a new first draft, since I won’t be able to use all of what I have and I have come up with a bunch of new book ideas already. Of course, that has to wait. Yep… Here’s to polishing this one! 🙂

  13. Time to organize!

    I know someone who lives on a sailboat and someone else who has lived across the world, but not someone who has done both. What an adventure.

    • Thanks for swinging by and commenting, spunkonastick. I’ve done quite a bit in my life (except sit still or live in a “normal” fashion), which creates a lot of material to write about. It gets quite overwhelming sometimes, especially when I want to be out and about and explore again, but I really ought to write this book now that our life is relatively settled. Pressure! 🙂

  14. Congrats on the progress you’ve made! I can’t imagine trying to write a memoir–it would be such a daunting task. Good luck in your endeavors!

    • Thanks, Megan. To write a memoir, I assume you have to be outgoing and willing to share the nitty gritties about your life and personality. As far as I understand, a lot of writers are introverts, so I do see why it would be hard for some to write a memoir. To me, it seems difficult to write fiction. One needs to have such a creative mind, and be able to put structure in all those events. And, keep track of it all. To me, it is easier to just think about my life (or grab my notes or look at photos) and write based memory and experience.

  15. That’s wonderful how much you’ve accomplished. Writing book is such hard work. Good luck in the new year! November was slow for me, but I’m hoping 2018 will be productive.

  16. You should be proud! I think if you can get it just under a hundred thousand that would be fine. On the theme problem, I don’t know if you have researched this already, but I have found ‘story arc’ advice to writers helpful for shaping/ordering material to create a satisfying storyline.

    • Thanks for the advice and the tip, Hilary. When I read “Your Life as Story” – an incredible book about writing memoir – I did an exercise like that, but for my own character. I will compare those notes to what I have created so far and incorporate it into the second draft. When it comes to the story, I have a good idea about the arc as well, but there are little side-arcs, and there are several themes (with their own arc) I could focus on. I’ll have to pick a main one to build upon. Sigh. Sometimes, I think just a chronological flow of the dramatic events will do the job as well. Too easy, right? 🙂

  17. Victoria Marie Lees

    December 7, 2017 at 09:55

    Liesbet, this is wonderful. We all need to start somewhere. My first draft of a 10-year college experience while raising 5 kids is also a conglomeration of scenes, anecdotes, and facts. It’s organizing our memoir rambles into a cohesive manuscript with a theme that’s the difficult part. Please read my response to your comment on Adventures in Writing. http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com I have a suggestion. This can happen whenever. Tell me what you think.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

    • Yep. Couldn’t agree more about that difficult part, called the main theme and its organization. Your advice on your website about memoirs has come in handy and made me think about it all a bit more. Glad we are in touch over email now. I hope we can help each other progress somehow. 🙂

  18. That’s quite an accomplishment, Liesbet- well done! The lady who suggests 2 books might have a good point. Obviously some of your words will be superfluous but if there genuinely are enough happenings maybe you should plan for a first book and a sequel out of your adventures. 🙂 🙂 That’ll keep you busy for a while!

    • No problem about remaining busy, Jo. 🙂 As it is, I have already grabbed some parts of the first draft (and my blogs of that period) to put into other books. My goal is to focus this first memoir on my 24/7 relationship with a partner and the trials and tribulations that came our way. But, I think some of the physical adventures should be woven in as well. My goal is to create a nice,, compelling balance between the two to give the reader a good idea about life abroad and on the water. And, yes, I will need to grab more passages, maybe even whole chapters and put them in the “other book ideas” folder. As always, thank you for your thoughts!!

  19. Congratulations, Liesbet! I hope you celebrate this milestone. In November, I’ve been writing a few draft posts for my blog. Like you, life got in the way so I haven’t finished all of them to my satisfaction yet. Plus, I find the writing and editing can go on forever. Even after I hit “publish”, I still think about the topic and how my writing could have improved.

    • I hear you about the writing and editing going on forever. It reminds me of creating lesson plans when I was a teacher. They could always be more perfect, but we don’t have the time to become perfectionists. And, what is perfect to you will not be perfect to others, so there comes a time in all of our writing projects, where we have to say “enough is enough” and be ready to hit that “publish” or “send” button! 🙂

      I used to (and still often do) mull over stories that have been emailed to publishers or blogs that have been posted, and find better ways to express myself, or more appropriate word uses. But, we need to move on to be able to focus on the next story/blog. The advantage of blogs is that, if you really come up with a better alteration, you can just get into the file and change it. 🙂

  20. Well done! I know there are caveats, but it’s still a brilliant achievement.

  21. Victoria Marie Lees

    December 7, 2017 at 15:01

    Excellent! Thank you for this. Don’t forget I’m up to my eyebrows right now. Let’s start in 2018! Are you on facebook? I could provide my e-mail address through messenger.
    My author page is at:
    https://www.facebook.com/Victoria-Marie-Lees-117126664970485/

  22. www.retirementreflections.com

    December 7, 2017 at 21:13

    I’m ignoring your disclaimers as well. Congratulations, Liesbet! You’ve made great accomplishments.
    BTW – You look great at your new writing desk!

    • Thank you, Donna. I love how my writing desk, and view, and pet company changes with every new house sit. That in itself is exciting. 🙂

  23. I think we all dream of being able to writte a book, but like you said it is harder than we imagine. So well done for already accomplishing so much. You have lived such an interesting life, I can’t wait to read your memoirs😄

  24. Yay, you! Finishing the first draft is fantastic. So, by your word count, you have enough words for 2 books. Once you find the theme, you might consider finding a second theme–for a second book. Nothing says you can only write one memoir. Whatever you decide, best wishes. I hope 2018 is your best year yet.

  25. Yay! I am so happy to hear that you have finished your first draft, Liesbet. That is a tremendous accomplishment. Just think of the commitment of hours and hours of writing month after month that it represents. And now that you have finished a first draft, you have something solid to work with as you revise and refine your story.

    I like the the idea of putting the chunks that you are going to cut into an “other books folder.” Like you, I have the problem of writing too many words, not too few. During the revision stage, I find it easy to edit out words and phrases, but much harder to cut entire sections, knowing that I have toiled over those sentences. If they go into another folder for possible use in another work, that makes it easier to cut.

    Jude

  26. Congrats on finishing the first draft, Liesbet. Sorry so late to comment, but I couldn’t comment on the page (looked like a plug in was “broken,” so here I am finally! Your SD office space looks open and airy and a great inspiration for you!

  27. Well done Liesbet, I admire your perseverance. Onto great things in 2018!

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