New Draft of Memoir Takes on a Life of Its Own

Last week, I finished the latest draft of the first installment of my memoir. The rewrite went well, but something interesting happened along the way.

The previous draft was just under 4000 words. I had planned to add to it, increasing the word count by about 2000-4000. First, I thought the story needed a little expanding — there were lots of opportunities for more detail. Second, I want readers to feel it is a good value. Since I’ll be selling the whole thing as a series of short works, I want people to feel each installment is a bargain.

As I always do for fiction, I sat down with my notebook and a pencil and mapped out the structure of the piece, making plans on how to build the manuscript to an amusing climax. I had the prior draft in front of me, marked up with edits on what needed cutting, what needed expansion, and ideas for how to get more detail in. Then I sat at my computer the next day and began the rewrite.

That’s when something interesting happened.

I was supposed to start working from the original manuscript, making changes and adding things in. But right from the get-go, I started writing a completely new draft.

Part of that was by design. I had resolved to write a new beginning; I didn’t like the way the original began.

But I just kept writing and writing and writing. Instead of importing old material and working it over, I kept it in front of me as a guide but otherwise wrote a completely new document.

By the time I was done, the new draft was nearly 12,000 words, and only about 1000 of them were from the prior version. In a very real way, it’s a completely different book.

Of course, it’s still the same story. It still recounts how I snuck out of my parents’ house one night when I was eight years old, dressed as a superhero determined to fight crime. It still chronicles my inspiration from Clifford B. Hicks’s Alvin Fernald, Superweasel.

But it has more depth now. It discusses the world of the 1970’s as perceived by a child obsessed with superheroes. It’s more than an amusing story from my youth. It’s a time capsule.

I think that’s what memoirs are supposed to be. They tell the stories of individual people while placing them in some sort of cultural or historical context.

I’m really pleased with how this one is turning out. I’ll be rewriting again this week.

Can’t way to see how many of my original words I keep.

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