How to Write by the Seat of Your Pants: Outline or No?
by: Dana Hui Lim
Writing a book seemed to be an impossible task when I first thought about it. English is not my first language and I can neither think nor write it quickly, or with any great sweep of metaphor. What I did have though, was a head stuffed full of memories that I had not ever examined closely but that were always there. They had hovered at the edge of my consciousness for so long that I had almost ceased to notice them, like the beggars on a Delhi street that have simply become part of the scenery to the local inhabitants. One day though, I began to tell my partner about where I had come from and what I had seen. He heard the voice of a confused little girl speaking to him across the years, plaintively wondering why her world had been torn apart. He thought that this was a story that should be told.
But where to begin? I could just start to write and hope for the best, but it seemed to me that the result would be too scattered, even for a story that history had already told and now only needed to be set down. Mine was a true story though, so I did not need to make anything up out of whole cloth or worry about keeping a consistent fiction. The answer seemed to be a middle road where I decided to simply list every memory I could think of, put them in some sort of chronological order, and then see where that would lead me. What I ended up with was a lot of repetition of the major themes of my childhood, basically that I was hungry and surrounded by terrors. The dangers varied but the hunger did not, so most of that was cut out once the point was made. I had not realised as I was typing those first notes that the same line was being repeated over and over. Hunger had been my world for so long that decades later it was still a bogeyman, waiting just out of sight.
What was left served as a template that I expanded and tried to make readable. The method worked for me, but of course it is only open to people who are writing about their own experiences. I could never make something up from beginning to end, and for this reason I think that this will be my only book. I do not consider myself lucky to have this story to tell, but I am glad to have told it. Without that first plan though, without those halting, rambling and repetitive steps, I never would have begun.
A book is hard but a list is easy, we make them all the time. Whatever sets you on the path is the right way to begin. My advice is to start walking and see where you end up.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG13
Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.