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A Life Less Ordinary

IWSG Writing Update – February 2017

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.  Since August 2016, the IWSG offers a particular question as a writing prompt for their members. Answering it is optional. This month that question is “How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?”

January has been a month with little progress on the book writing front for me. Mark and I wrapped up a three-month pet sit in the Sacramento suburbs mid-month, followed by a week-long house sit in Fairfax, CA. Then, we drove all the way south, past LA, for a two and a half week puppy sit in Costa Mesa. All that moving around and “re-settling”, plus the care for a 7-month pup always looking for trouble, the attraction of sunny weather to be outdoors and my commitment to writing a few articles, leaves little time to concentrate on writing a book. Sure, my memoir is always brewing in the back of my head, but I have not put down any more words, except for trying to understand what thread I should follow. As I mentioned last month, I could use your help. But first, I’ll answer the IWSG question, since it is somewhat related.

As a writer, my experience as a reader has changed quite a bit and not necessarily in a way that makes reading more enjoyable. Rare are the days that I could just immerse myself in the story and enjoy the author’s or main character’s adventures, without focusing on the semantics, the style, the layout of the story or the approach and voice of its creator. How did he get his ideas? How did he construct the dialogue? How is he holding the reader’s attention? What is the main thread of the story? I mostly read to learn things about writing now, instead of for entertainment.

As a writer, I have also realized that the reader’s opinion is important. A book can only become successful if there is a wide audience that enjoys reading it. Of course this makes sense, but as a non-writer, you don’t give it much thought. The reader is important. If I want you to read my memoir one day, you are important. Which brings me to the question I want to ask you.

Some of you might know already that I am working on a memoir that roughly covers the most adventurous decade of my life, basically from age 30 to age 40, when Mark and I traveled through Mexico and Central America in a small camper with our two dogs and sailed on our small catamaran in the Caribbean and South Pacific over a period of eight years .

Since there are so many ways to approach this topic and I feel slightly overwhelmed, I would like to narrow down the main theme(s) of the book.

What would entice you to pick up a travel memoir? What topic(s) would get you hooked? Which part of somebody’s alternative lifestyle would you enjoy reading about? What would capture your attention and pique your interest?

Feel free to not look at the suggestions underneath and just share your first, gut thought! I thank my close friends for coming up with some of the topics underneath.

  • sailing stories
  • challenges to overcome – physical and/or mental
  • inspiring natural sights
  • cultural experiences
  • amazing wildlife encounters
  • the adventurous, unique part of the lifestyle
  • ins and outs of the couple’s relationship – being together 24/7 all the time
  • cost of maintaining a lifetime on the road and the water
  • humorous approach
  • personal anecdotes
  • friendships created and characters met underway
  • spirituality – what guided the couple in their decision-making
  • a non-materialistic approach to life
  • food and diet – how are groceries acquired and what was cooked
  • health problems and challenges
  • day-to-day life (including a lot of the other topics)
  • other: …..

I appreciate any input from writers (which will provide new insights to me) and non-writers. Thank you!!

40 Comments

  1. I always believe that it is important to write about what YOU feel the most passionate about because that will bring your story to life and draw people in.

    • I totally agree with you, Xenia. But… there is so much to elaborate on! 🙂 The most difficult thing for me about this memoir – so far – is to narrow it down to one or two main threads, instead of wanting to write about major events, locations, feelings, challenges, …

  2. Honestly? I don’t read memoirs. Lame, right? But I read about 15 other genres, so… Still, if I was going to go memoir, it would have to be for the humor mixed with inspiration, or those moments that make you pause and realize what’s important in life.

    • That’s great advice, Crystal. Maybe I can write it in such a way that you will have to read it! Your first memoir, genre #16… who knows? 🙂

  3. I think it helps to have a chronological approach to the memoir.. people love relationships and that perhaps could be a starting point.. very similar to your ‘about us’ approach.. Then stories about specific places – the adventures, wildlife, near misses, revelations.the dogs…. take people on the journey with you and add the small human and mundane in too things that make it human and relateable. Loved the post.

    • I appreciate your input, Sally. I think our relationship will be a big part of the story (and probably the main thread) with some adventures and experiences woven into it. I love your approach and it sounds precisely like what I want to do, but it is easier said (and plotted in my head) than done. 🙂

  4. Can I say all of the above? They all sound like things that would draw me in. But, then I probably relate more to your lifestyle then other non-boat type people might do. That will be the trick, drawing in people who have never lived that lifestyle or aspire to. I wonder if a focus on health might differentiate your memoir, especially the health scares that Mark has had and how that changed your approach to life? Hmm…I’m probably not offering much help here 🙁

    On an unrelated note, I was talking to some folks here yesterday who have a Wirie and love it 🙂

    • Part of me wants to incorporate all these topics, but, trying to accomplish this for half of the memoir so far, makes me realize that it is way too much! Eight (or ten) years of experiences is a long time… I love to write, but I don’t want the book to be too long, or nobody will want to pick it up. So now, I need to really decide which threads to focus on and add a little of the other stuff here and there. But, there is probably enough material and angles to write a few memoirs. No time for that, though, since we’d rather go have adventures again soon instead of just writing about them. 🙂 As of now, I have a full chapter in mind that deals with Marks health issues, because they were so gut wrenching and important to our relationship, decisions and future.

      You are helping me with your comments, Ellen! And, thanks for letting me know about The Wirie! All we hear from is customers who have issues, more than not because of their own doing…

  5. I’m most interested in humor and personal / relationship issues. Take us on a journey!
    On another note, I can’t imagine how hard it is to write when you are constantly moving and re-adjusting to new surroundings. I’m super impressed that you are able to keep plugging away!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Lucy. I like to hear them once in a while, since I am going crazy with all the stuff I want to accomplish and focus on, from a writing point of view and an exercise (like taking the dog for long walks) point of view. The days are truly too short. So many ideas, so much to see and do, so many things to take care of. 🙂 When we were on our boat, there was no time for creativity and writing, and now, I still seem to cram my days chock-full somehow, without having to worry about boat projects or chores that take a full day. Thanks for your input!! I’m taking notes.

  6. When I think of the travel memoirs I’ve read (and there are fewer of them than I’d like), those I’ve enjoyed most have always been anecdote driven. Locations and descriptions are fantastic, but personal adventures, stories about people (not things) draw me in, make me want to read more. These stories don’t have to be super adventurous, or life altering. In fact, I like stories where small moments alter someones perception about a place or a person. Those less obvious turns are what really connect me to a memoir, a book, a person.

    • I am very happy with your answer, Ryan, because that is how I feel. There are enough guide books and stories about places! I want to tell (I mean show) our experiences engagingly and the locations will be the music in the background. Thing is, I think I know exactly how my book should be, and can describe what I want and how I want readers to perceive it and what impressions I hope it will cause, and all those good things. But… writing it that way to accomplish these ideal results proves much harder than I thought. I guess handling that part is what makes good writers! 🙂

  7. Hi Liesbet. As a memoir writer who did write a short little travel memoir about some of the pitfalls I encountered during some of my own little jaunts, the focus of my stories were not so much on a travel guide to some of the places as it was a sharing of relationships, obvservations, humor and some advice from the pitfalls of traveling with too much luggage.
    Every writer has their own style, and by incorporating the moments you enjoyed, the pitfalls and your own personality is what readers will connect to. 🙂

    • Thank you for those wise words, Debby. I’ll have to check out “Have Bags, Will Travel”! Initially, I was wanting to do the first draft chronologically, focusing on the important events and feelings and then editing massively, reducing the book to a manageable size. But now, I want to go forward with a main thread in my head and already cutting the story to work around the thread and focus on the points you mention. I think that approach will make me happier as a writer. To accomplish it, however, I have to let go of that feeling and habit to compile “everything” first and then select. It’s a lot of work! 🙂

      • It is a lot of work. My advice: write the first draft freely, don’t restrict yourself let your mind put out what it wants. If you start editing yourself along every chapter that will make it difficult later. You know even Hemingway said ‘The first draft is shit’. Get your thoughts and stories out. I’d suggest outlining your chapters with topics you’d like to cover in them and go! You can always cut and rearrange chapters later. 🙂 Also, I’d like to say my Have Bags book isn’t written in traditional memoir style, more as essay chapters. 🙂

        • I am so glad you are saying this, Debby, since it means I am on the right track for now. I am putting the main stories into the first draft and my outline looks like what you suggest, but, I admit, I am editing every chapter a bit as I go along. Otherwise, they would really become three times as long instead of two times as long as my prospective word count.

  8. Research! 🙂 🙂 If I knew the answers, Liesbet, I might well be writing a book. I don’t tend to read memoirs so much as fiction based in an interesting place. It’s probably easier for me to say what I don’t like than what I do. And a lot of it comes down to writing style and whether the writer connects with me. I’m not interested in costs or food. Smorgasbord seems to have the right approach. Maybe it’s successful writers (like Jill Weatherholt, who often comments at mine) that you need a few suggestions from. There are quite a lot of writers who blog. Sorry to not be very helpful 🙁

    • I really enjoy reading what my research reveals. 🙂 I’m sure you could put a great memoir together, Jo. I am not planning to put too much “dry” or “factual” stuff in the book, as I think it takes away from the flow of the story. And, it is not my writing style anyway. As I mentioned to others, I have an idea in my head for an approach, but am interested to see what others think might be important in a memoir. Each time I try to explain what I want to do to Mark, he says “You want to write about too much. Stop vomiting everything on the pages!” 🙂 Anyway, it was his idea to start a little “poll” to see whether I am on the right track, or totally off track. And, maybe to continue the second part of the first draft in a different way and not waste too much time on stuff that will get deleted. Feel free to send Jill my way. 🙂 I’ll happily check out her blog one of these days.

    • Aw…Jo, you’re so sweet. I came to visit Liesbet and read your kind words. Thank you.

  9. I love all of your suggestions, and actually agree with all of the comments above. I do understand your point about narrowing down the threads. For me, a successful memoir from you would be all about access. What basic, simple steps took you and Mark from a common place life to an extraordinary adventure? How could a more mainstream individual connect and see themselves doing the same (if only in their minds’ eye). Hope this helps!

    • One of the things I hope to achieve with this memoir, if it ever gets done, is to inspire others to live a life less ordinary. The best way to do this, however, would be with a how-to book full of tips and anecdotes. But, for a first non-fiction book, a memoir is more my thing. I find it much easier to write about experiences and my feelings and thoughts, then to compile a book with expertise and examples. Maybe in the future. But, with the approach I am thinking about, I do hope to draw the reader in and come on the adventures with me – this is the reason I am writing the memoir in the present tense – and feels the transitions and the experiences first hand. Maybe that will be inspiring as well. I love how you describe it: providing access into our life. Thanks, Donna!

  10. I’ve read way too many dark and depressing memoirs when in reality, I prefer what Fenster mentioned. There’s nothing better than reading a personal experience written from the heart. When writing fiction, I like to scatter in real life experiences that have left a footprint on my heart. I’m happy we connected through our pal Jo…she’s terrific!

    • Thanks for the input, Jill. I hope I am writing from the heart; I just have to be very selective with the sections and the focus. I have learned that being personal/intimate and drawing people into the story takes quite a lot of words and I will have to go with the adage “quality is more important than quantity” when it comes to the anecdotes. 🙂 I’m glad I found you through Jo!

  11. Sounds like a spectacular period in your life. I don’t know much about writing memoirs but wishing you much success.
    Happy IWSG Day!
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    • Thanks, Juneta. Some people describe memoir writing as difficult, maybe because it is a very personal account of one’s life, but so far, I like it, since I have always been very straightforward and transparent and like to share unique experiences. I do hope to inspire people to live an interesting life, because they can! 🙂

  12. Okay, so I was going to highlight my top two topics, but then I highlighted the whole second half of your lists. So helpful, right? My gut question is: how do you manage to travel without making money? So the financial question was what I really wanted to know, but after learning the answer I don’t think I’d want to read an entire book on the financial portion of your travels. I’d also like to know the motivation behind it, but maybe not for the entire book. I’d read an entire book that shared the relationship struggles of the couple and the humor with bits of natural sites and cultural discoveries sprinkled in. I don’t read memoirs either, but they’ve been on my list to try some day. Maybe I’ll start with yours! Christy (aka Cecelia) from erica and christy http://www.lynneawest.blogspot.com

    • I love your thought process, Christy! We actually did make money along the way, in order to be out there on the water as long as we did. Since it was in a pretty unique way, I will probably dedicate one chapter to how we started with our money making venture. Then, throughout the book, I hope to mention the advantages of our frugality as well. I am leaning towards the relationship part being the main thread – since it affects so many things and is affected by even more – and then sprinkle in the parts you are talking about. So far, the humor seems to be presented in the form of sarcasm and irony. But, I might be able to do better! Thanks for your comment and it would be an honor to be the one who draws you into memoir reading. 🙂

  13. Liesbet I am a big fan of humor and also like a story telling approach. For me hearing about the challenges is far more interesting than the successes. Well maybe the challenges with a happy ending but I think you get what I mean. Does that help at all?

    • That does help, Sue! Humor and suspense, right? 🙂 It all sounds so simple which elements would work, but creating it the way I like it (and especially the reader likes is) proves to be a bit difficult! In my head, it is all easy, though, so that’s a start.

  14. I’d like to read about places you’ve been but told in a personal way – your experiences and what you thought of them. I can look up online or buy a guidebook if I want to know more about anywhere. Not too interested in the logistics, as sailing a boat is not something I’m ever going to do! But I could skip those bits 😉 I went to an author talk recently (about taking a Campervan round Scotland) and bought the book. It’s not chronological but has themed chapters similar to some of the things on your list. I enjoyed some parts more than others but that’s ok! She said she drafted the chapters in a different order then gave their titles and a few lines of synopsis to her brother (also a writer I think) who rearranged them, suggested combining some that seemed linked or repetitious and so on. Sort of like rearranging building blocks. She felt it was a much better book as a result.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful and helpful input, Anabel. I agree with what you write. I’m not planning on elaborating on the sailing specifics, especially in a technical way. Sailing for me was a means to get to places and I will approach it that way. I hear you about the guidebooks as well. I have written articles about places to visit, so don’t plan to put that in my memoir either. It would be great to have some (professional) help when I am at a later stage with my book. Being able to give talks in the future might help! It looks like that person you talk about hit somewhat of a niche subject, although there must be others who have taken vans throughout Scotland as well, just like there are so many sailors out there that write books… It is all about standing out with what you do and accomplish, isn’t it?

  15. True, you don’t give those things much thought when you’re just a reader.
    You have really been hopping around dog-sitting.
    Travels to a foreign country interest me, especially if it’s not one of the norm.
    Sorry so late – had to track you down on the IWSG list.

    • Thanks for swinging by, Alex! You might enjoy reading about our travels in French Polynesia then. 🙂 With the dog sitting, which is still varied enough for our wandering spirits, we are taking it easy on the travel front right now, to focus on my writing and our business. Much easier to focus on and have time for when not being constantly being on the move and fixing boat problems! Ask Ellen… 🙂

  16. Hi Liesbet!
    Even though you may not always be at the computer actually writing, the “brewing” stage is also important. Remember that ideas also need to bubble away as they develop and take shape. It’s part of the process and is just as important as the ‘actual’ words on the page.
    I think that writing from your innermost being on topics you are passionate about, produces the most authentic writing. 🙂
    From your list above, I’d say the humorous approach would capture my attention. Personal anecdotes and cultural experiences are also a good way to go.

    • I am so glad you are saying this, Michelle. While I do know this, I always feel guilty during these “brewing” stages, when I am worn out with the actual writing process. Still, most everything – like reading, writing short stories, thinking – is related to the book writing. I see it as learning more about the craft as well as about myself, or as practice for the memoir writing, even my blogs. It is all-consuming and I think at some point, I will want to get the damn thing done as quickly as possible. 🙂 I can write passionately and intensely, I think. Thanks for the encouragement!

  17. I generally trust that it is vital to expound on what YOU feel the most energetic about in light of the fact that that will breath life into your story and attract individuals…

  18. One book cannot cover everything, so I think you are wise to identify a central organizing theme (or two or three intertwined themes). Alternatively, center each chapter around a specific episode, adventure, or learning experience that was deeply meaningful for you (perhaps structuring each similar to a short story), and the theme will emerge organically. That way, the range of topics that you have in your list (food, financial aspects, cultural experiences, humour, etc.) will be woven in but not be the primary organizing theme.

    As you have mentioned, I think the the thing to avoid is trying to write down “everything” chronologically. That is too much work for the writer, especially knowing that most of it will be cut, and also less interesting for the reader.

    Jude

    • Thank you so much for your input, Jude! The underlying themes are so important, especially for the writer, to connect all the chapters together. For this first memoir, I have decided not to do separate stories in every chapter. Maybe in the future. It would be a relatively easy way out, because in eight-ten years time, we certainly have had enough meaningful and exciting experiences to share and connect into one book. For this non-fiction book, I want something more than a collection of adventures. Not sure why, but I truly want to provide a whole, meaningful story that can inspire, move and/or entertain the reader. My goal is to weave some of the topics into the book with small anecdotes, or a quick brush.

      I really appreciate your take on not writing “everything” down. That does make more sense to me, especially on a time and energy level. Most writers encourage you to start with writing everything down, to spill it all out, especially when you have no idea of a theme yet. From now on, I’ll try to follow your approach and focus on the main things that matter and fit into a general theme.

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