This article—“What’s holding you back?”—was written for academics, but the suggestions are excellent for any writer. For me, achievable daily goals are key: goals I try to meet before allowing the rest of my To Do list to topple me.
What’s holding you back?
by Sandra Gulland | Oct 12, 2010 | Adventures of a Writing Life | 3 comments
P.S. Cathy — I posted your long post two times by mistake! Hence, I deleted one.
Cathy, your project sounds very interesting. I'm so glad I've been a help.
I'd be cautious about workshop feedback (unless it resonates): it's hard to judge a long work in bits and pieces. Experimenting is important: every writer does this at the start.
"Do you know of any good “how to” books along the lines of finding narrative distance when writing historical fiction or popular histories?"
This is such an intuitive process. I'm not sure which of the several books I like would help with this specifically. My favourite book right now is FROM WHERE YOU DREAM by Robert Olen Butler. Accept that you will be writing at least five drafts, and that with each one you will be making huge changes. What you write today will change six months from now. The narrative distance will change with each draft.
Perhaps, to begin, concentrate on getting the story down. Don't worry about protecting kinfolk: you can erase bits you feel uncomfortable with later.
I think your idea of beginning with a "long shot" of the town and then moving in is a good one—many have done this well. Perhaps find a book similar to the one you want to write; use that as a structure. It's a good place to begin.
Thank you so much for writing! Bon courage …
I love the wealth of information you offer on your blog post! Not only do you share the process of your historical writing, but you have great links, opinions of other writers and followers and the wonderful interviews with well-known authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and others.
I sought out your blog because I’m nearing the end of the Masters of Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and am planning my capstone project, which I want to be a popular history. I have in my possession about 300 letters (all now archived) and a memoir of some ancestors who lived through the Civil War in Virginia. Because the letters deal so much with personal issues and hardships and the father was a doctor in the Confederate army, I’ve thought their lives and losses would make a good story. I have a lot of the “facts” and yet some room for imagination to bring it to life. I’ve done some writing about the family for pleasure and for classes and I’m thinking I’d like to write their story as a narrative history.
As I read through your blog entries, the first one that stood out was on narrative distance. I like that you said distance is an issue for nearly every writer you know, and I’ve found when writing fiction that this is was an issue for me, as well. At first, I tried to write the beginning from an omniscient narrator point of view, sort of looking down on the town of Petersburg, Virginia (where the protagonist was a surgeon and lived during the siege of that city). The idea was to describe the setting and the times and then hone in on the characters. Some of the feedback I got from a class workshop was that the voice was too “southern” and possibly too contemporary. I found it challenging to create the best narrative voice. I have a lot to learn, but I think a key right now is experimenting with different narrative distances to pick one that will flow. Do you know of any good “how to” books along the lines of finding narrative distance when writing historical fiction or popular histories?
Some of your best blog posts for me were the inspiring ones such as “The Ugly Duckling” where the author cited many, many people who helped get her book together, and was one that you said was written so beautifully and simply. I liked your quote which said, “It’s easier to describe the dead than to bring them back to life.” That said succinctly what I’ve often felt about writing about deceased family members—I want to represent them realistically, warts and all, but after all, they are kinfolks. In my case, I’m wrestling with how they could be such devout, strong, Christian people—strengthening each other with hopeful Bible verses in their letters—and yet be slave owners.
Then, finally, I loved the quote by Joyce Carol Oates, “writing a novel feels like crawling across a floor pushing a peanut with my nose.” I already experience some of these feelings and it’s good to hear that from one of the greats! Thanks for all the great inspiration and information.