In this blog post, I talk about an article I wrote for Readwave in August 2013 called Life’s Full of Surprises, Ain’t it? I thought you might be interested in the processes I went through, and it relates in particular to writing a personal narrative. If you’d like to read the article first, you can access it here: http://www.readwave.com/life-s-full-of-surprises-ain-t-it-_s12389
Hey you! Yes you! Write something meaningful, and write it now!
With no real experience in article writing, I went into a slight panic recently, when Readwave got in touch to ask me to write a piece of non-fiction for their website. To be honest, this inclination to flap is a deep-rooted part of my personality, as I’ve gone through similar experiences when I started to write fiction, poetry, and later, my blog. Once I maintained control of this hysteria, however – giving myself a good old metaphorical slap, in typical 1950s movie tradition – I managed to stop being such a sop. I mean, my blog already meant I had an understanding of writing non-fiction (I’d also written a million letters and emails in my lifetime, plus an array of essays at Uni. They count, don’t they?) All I needed to do now was to find a subject that I could write about with some degree of authority.
And that, I decided, was the key.
Be open, be honest… but be careful how you say it…
As I’ve already said, articles aren’t the kind of writing I’d usually tackle, but I’ve read a few, and I imagine that many require some type of research to back up a writer’s point-of-view. But research takes time, and this article had a tight deadline (plus I had a limited word-count of 500-1000 words). With little time to write or expand on a subject, I needed to focus on something in which I considered myself an expert.
It wasn’t a difficult choice.
For starters, there’s not much I consider myself an expert at. However, there was something close to my heart that was just itching to come out; something that I’d touched on over the years with friends, but never actually written down.
I decided I wanted to concentrate on the early years with my younger daughter, who happens to have additional needs.
As disability and special needs are an emotional subject, affecting millions of people in myriad ways, sensitivity was crucial. Yet I wanted to remain as open and honest about this as possible; to express exactly what our life was like, in my own voice, but without sentimentality or self-pity.
Be yourself… but don’t be yourself?
When you’re describing children in situations which are emotionally (and often physically) difficult, it’s easy to appear all ‘woe is me’ and ‘poor them’. I definitely didn’t want that. I wanted the audience to come on a journey with me, to understand – not rub my back and drink my tears. I also wanted my daughter (and others in similar situations) to retain dignity, and not be an object of pity.
In the end, I found a solution.
I decided that, if I sounded as though I was addressing someone else in my writing, it would, in effect, remove me from the equation somewhat. Essentially, making it less personal. Writing in the second person (‘you’) distanced me from the subject matter. Somehow, this made the situation easier to write about – I was describing my life as if watching it through a video camera; not as if it happened to me.
And how do I set out this thing?
Though the article had to contain the truth, it also had to be more than a simple anecdote. Otherwise, I was simply telling my story without any real purpose. I needed to consider what my intention was, as well as what the tone would be. In fact, it turned out that the planning process (for this particular article at least) had quite a few similarities to story writing. For instance, like fiction, it needed a story arc, as well as a definite beginning, middle and end. The beginning was obvious – the birth of my daughter and my attitude at the time. The middle was the journey we went through, and the end, again like fiction, needed some kind of emotional shift, or some kind of change; preferably one that the reader could identify with. I also felt that whilst humour wouldn’t be shunned from this writing, it shouldn’t dominate it. Instead, I’d use it to reinforce important points within the narrative.
Another consideration was the structure of the piece. Through blogging, I’ve found that titles and subtitles can be used as a brief overview of each section, which helps to guide the reader to understand what each passage is about. However, they can also be used as a focus for any humour, breaking up what might, at times, be quite serious or dry reading matter.
Don’t write it now, put it in the fridge.
One thing I found of benefit was not writing the article straight away – in spite of the time limitations. Of course, I noted down the initial idea immediately, later adding any further themes and snippets as they arose. But
then I left it alone, letting the article’s flavours meld together, like a marinade on a piece of steak. Allowing my idea to sit, meant that the initial flash of inspiration could marry with the other points and questions that the article raised. So, when I eventually sat at my keyboard and blended my various thoughts together, it didn’t seem as much effort as it would otherwise. I spent approximately two hours writing the article (better writers could have written it with more expediency, but I am constantly – and failingly – fighting the urge to edit as I go along).
Once I was satisfied with the end product, I put it to one side, before giving it one last edit, and sending it to Readwave.
I was surprised when the article immediately became an Editor’s Choice, and the positive feedback from my readers blew me away.
Like all my writing experiences, after an initial wobble, it was extremely fun to do. Next time I write an article (and there will be a next time) I’ll brave something that requires research. I’m looking forward to it.
And I promise, I won’t go into a panic.
You can read the full article here:
Have you got any experience, stories, or further tips and advice about writing an article? I’d love to hear them.