Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Keep the End in Mind

My German genes require a structured approach to everything, including writing.  I can't meander aimlessly down a path; I need to know where I'm going.  I need to write with the end in mind.  I needed  structure for my book, a detailed outline.

Before the outline, I had to wrestle with a basic structural decision.  I wanted to tell the story of our life in Africa.  But I'm also a teacher to the core of my being, and I wanted to teach about destiny, purpose and faith.  Should the story be inserted as illustrations in the midst of a teaching, or should the teaching be inserted into the flow of the story? Ultimately I chose story as the skeletal structure upon which I hung some suggestions about finding and following one's purpose in life.  Why?  Everyone likes a story, but few people enjoy being told how to live their lives.

So with that decision made, I tore up the outline I'd originally jotted on my way to the Congo. I started anew. I broke our story into bite-sized chapters and gave each one a short title. It served as both structure and motivation as I approached the discipline of writing.  Twenty chapters.  Write the first chapter; check.  Write the second; check.  This is easy.  The book will be finished in record time. Or so I thought . . .

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spurt of Creativity

I quickly wrote the prologue.  I was tempted to edit it, but resisted.  I didn't want to stifle my creativity.  Instead, I plunged into chapter one.  Again, I faced the first-sentence challenge.  I wanted more intrigue than the prologue's "I love adventure." And I wanted punch.  

Inspired by Dickens,  I penned "Everything was fine, but nothing felt right."  I liked it; much later I still like it.  It depicted my emotional state on the threshold of my adventure, and it created the cognitive dissonance needed to push the reader into the hearing of it.      The rest of the chapter spilled onto the screen as thoughts and emotions tumbled over each other. Don't edit, keep writing.  I described my inner turmoil in much detail, the yearning for more of life than I was getting.

My search for identity and a larger story led me to Africa.  Another good chapter start. It was a bit long (I like to keep opening sentences to 10 words or less), but for some reason the word Africa intrigues people. The words still flowed like a river filled with Spring rains. I was writing about a pivotal time in my life, and the memory was still fresh many years later. Maybe I could write a book after all.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Imaginary Roadblock

Fear is a dream killer.  Your dream sits fine as long as it stays a dream.  But as soon as you commit to putting feet to your dream, fear sets in.  What if I really can't do this?  Writing a newsletter is an easy sprint, but writing a book is a marathon.  What if I don't have what it takes? Dreams in action are dangerous and scary.

So I waited several months before writing the first sentence.  After all, the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first chapter are the most important parts of the book.  If the first sentence is boring, the reader may never taste the second.  If the first paragraph is predictable, the reader fails to turn the page.  If the first chapter isn't inspiring, the reader quits and finds a movie.

So I searched for the perfect opening, calling it "waiting on inspiration" rather than fear of failure.  The first sentence has to have punch, interest and intrigue.  It is the hook in the reader's mind.  Short sentences that say something interesting have power.  I wanted a short, powerful opening. Look at the first sentence to this blog for an example.  I wrote and rejected hundreds of them.  All of them fell just short of perfection.  I was stalling.

I love adventure.

It wasn't perfect, but it was short.  It might make the reader wonder what kind of adventure I loved. Would that be enough for motivation for a second sentence?

Several years ago, our family drove the bushveldt of Etosha National Park, in search of African game.

Americans are intrigued with African animals, right?  I even used the Dutch spelling of bushveldt to add more spice.  Voila!  I'd started.  Two sentences and the book felt like it was half done.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Conception

The book was conceived on an airplane somewhere between Johannesburg and Kinshasa.  As a boy, fueled by Tarzan and Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the Congo represented the ultimate adventure.  I was going to teach a leadership workshop on the banks of the Congo River, but more than that, I'd be walking into fantasy land, the source of many boyhood dreams.  Even more, Val and I had been living that adventure for several years in Namibia.  I realized that I'd accumulated enough stories.  It was time to write my book.

In an instant, my book-writing dream morphed into a concept.  I'd  invite readers into the drama and emotions of the African adventure my wife and I'd been experiencing for several years.  But I'd also share the lessons we'd learned from that fairy tale existence.  I'd share the excitement, the humor, the tears and the terror.  Late in our lives, we'd traded the safety of the rocking chair for an adventurous uncertainty, falling headlong into our destiny.  It was a story worth telling.

I put away the book I'd been reading and began outlining chapters for what turned into The Leap: living the life you dream about.  My wishing star no longer just twinkled; it blazed a trail across the sky.

The Wishing Star

"I can write."  It wasn't a sudden epiphany, but rather an emerging realization. I had the ability to put words on paper in such a way that people understood and enjoyed them.  It didn't take long for a dream to emerge: "I want to write a book someday." I had no idea what the book would be about. It didn't matter. I had talent and I wanted to display it. Dreams don't have to be specific.  Novel? Memoir? It didn't matter. I wished upon that star and it kept me warm at night.

Then came college, marriage and the baby carriage. The star still twinkled in the dark regions of my mind, but practical realities, parenting,  and career screamed for attention.  Over the years, many who read my musings would comment, "You should write a book" and the star would wink at me.  Maybe later once I'd learned something about life and gathered enough stories.

Then we moved to Africa.  Life became scary and exciting, and the stories mounted.  People kept saying, "I hope you're writing this down.  It would make a great book."  I was. Writers write, it's what we do.  We record life in journals just in case ...