Writer’s Week #2

Deer paths at sunrise.

January has been good for my writing. I organized an approach and it served to reduce stress. I’m better able to sit down, write, and feel like I accomplished something.

I eliminated a daily targeted number of written words. I mean, there is no deadline. It would be great to finish the book so I could begin the next project, yet I’m in no hurry. I want to be true to myself, not to an artificial writing goal.

Instead of a specific daily goal, I make sure to do something related to the project each day. Some days it’s hours, and some days it is minutes. I feel I have a grip on what was an unmanageable project.

I stopped writing and that enabled me to write. It’s the way a lifeguard overpowers a drowning victim to save them. I stopped writing and organized. First I developed a chapter list, or as I call it, the “big sections” list. There are 31 sections and seven appendices. I typed them all in a new document and as I find previously written sections or write new ones I hang them on the framework. The same with fragments located in folders or audio tapes of interviews. It is less hodgepodge than the way I wrote last year. Last year’s work can be plugged into the new framework and rewritten. The whole thing works.

The writing divides into some clean big parts. After the dedication and preface there are five sections where I combined my personal experience with whatever artifacts I could locate or had in my collection. These sections involved historical research and probing my memory. The working titles are Minnesota, Illinois, Virginia, Davenport and 1951.

The next part is written mostly from memory beginning with my earliest ones in the duplex where my parents brought me after being born. We lived there and three subsequent places before Father died and I left home. I don’t have much documentary evidence from these times: report cards, a few letters written to parents, and a small folder of school papers. The 1960s were the beginning of an explosion of home photography, so I have albums and extra photos from that time. I also scanned copies of Mother’s photographs before she died. While documentation is scant, there is plenty to prompt memories. I find it remarkable the detail with which I remember things long hidden in my brain. The working titles of these sections are Madison Street, Starting School, and Marquette Street. I’m a few thousand words into the latter and have to get through grade school, high school, music, work experiences, and leaving for college. This section ends with the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival I attended with high school classmates the day after graduation.

The next sections are better documented. Leaving Home is about my conversations with my parents about going to university, and after Father died, about whether I should give up college to stay in Davenport and help Mother. I have many letters received from friends, university papers, photographs and newspaper clippings. There are also a few pieces of ceramics I made, some musical instruments, and memories of my time at the University of Iowa. I began writing a personal journal after graduation from university. This section also includes my 12-week tour of Europe in the Fall of 1974, and the year I spent in Davenport afterward.

There is a gap in recent writing during the period when I left for military service, returned to Davenport, and then moved to Iowa City for graduate school. That takes the narrative through four sections titled, Military Service, Homecoming, Iowa City and Graduate School. By this time, I was a regular journal writer and had published a small number of pieces, including travelogues for the Belgian Society in the Quad Cities. I was still taking photographs with film cameras, I had begun to write letters to the editors of newspapers. This section ends with the job search to find something to enable me to stay in Iowa City after graduate school.

A good part of the next section was drafted last year. It takes us from finding a job at the university, our marriage, beginning a career in transportation, the birth of our daughter, and moving to Cedar Rapids, then to Indiana. These sections are titled My Spouse & Me – 1982, Career, A Daughter – 1985, and In the Calumet (1988). By now I’d developed an extensive document collection method producing financial records, photographs, journals, letters, and all the raw material to turn into something. These were years before we adopted email or owned a home computer other than a word processor. When I worked at the oil company, I was introduced to email around 1990.

The final big section is of our return to Big Grove Township in 1993, where we currently live. Because this section has the most documentary resources, I saved it to write last. There are currently 11 sections and the organization and titles of them is fluid. No point writing them down because they are sure to change. I lived here longer than any other place, more than twice as long as I lived on Marquette Street with my family.

The difference this change in organization and methodology made is I have a sense of purpose when I’m writing. When I write something, I know where it goes, or whether it goes. I started a complete rewrite from the beginning and am now on section 10 of 31. It lets me know where I am. I can sleep at night knowing I won’t lose the thread.

January was a good month for my writing.