Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Susannah Q. Pratt's essay, Get in the Car! We asked readers, "What parenting skills do you bring to your writing? How has your perspective as a mother helped you to put your writing struggles in perspective? Is there a metaphor for creative chaos in your own family life that you could use to foster confidence when the stories, poems, chapters, or sentences won't fall into place?" Below is Kaye Curren's response.
Bumps in My Literary Journey
By Kaye Curren
Working with my memoir manuscript the other day, my mind wandered back to my days as a mother to a sensitive five-year-old. Mary had bumps in her socks. She also hated sleeves. She rolled up her coat sleeves, even on the coldest of winter days.
I dreaded the morning ritual of getting Mary to kindergarten fully dressed. At first, I told her to get over the bumps and leave her sleeves alone. Not a good idea. She cried and stomped her feet. I would take the shoes off, smooth the socks, put the shoes back on—several times. I finally had to escort Mary out the door, although she went whining and protesting and pulling at her sleeves.
As I struggled with the pieces of my memoir, I realized that my narrative had bumps that were driving me a little crazy. What is a narrative arc anyway? I would ask myself. Why wouldn't the darn story do what I wanted it to do? Did I even know what it needed? Could I smooth out the bumps? Could I bring my story to a satisfying and smooth conclusion? Would Mary mind if I threw myself to the floor and cried?
I thought my ideas were good. The premise seemed right. What was keeping my story from moving along? Experts say we should begin with an action scene and let the reader know our heroine from the start. Which scene would do the trick? I simply did not know. I wasn't sure who my heroine was, even though she was supposed to be me. Experts also say we shouldn't clutter the opening with backstory. I had backstory in mine. All along there were bumps of narrative that simply did not belong. Bump, bump, bump.
My memoir also had sleeves that did not want to stay in place. Key plot details slipped out of sync when I, for example, had forgotten to note the six-hour time difference in my journey from New York to Madrid. I would have to go through the whole manuscript to correct dates and times. Slippery sleeves. In the course of a draft revision, those plot sleeves went up, down, up, down, just as Mary's sleeves slid up her arm and down her arm on the way to school.
Thankfully, by first grade, Mary had outgrown her frustration with sleeves and bumpy socks. I can't say, however, that I have escaped my equivalent literary frustrations. It seems the revision of manuscripts will always be a matter of pushing on sleeves and tugging at socks.
Kaye Curren lives in Ann Arbor, MI. She spent several years planning writers' events for the University of Michigan and originated Women Writers of Ann Arbor/Ypsi. She has published in Literary Mama and GRAND Magazine. She is also a regular contributor to the Erma Bombeck Workshop Blog. Her three-year-old granddaughter, Elodie, has recently been complaining of bumps in her socks and slippery sleeves.