Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Decide What to Write About and What to Omit ...

Welcome Linda Appleman Shapiro, author of She's Not Herself, A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness. In her guest post, Linda shares with us a writing tip that makes all the difference when it comes to storytelling whether it's in fiction or in a memoir.


How to decide what to write about and what to omit in order to create a flow vs. an overflow of information

by Linda Appleman Shapiro

Whatever the genre, authors have to make choices at every turn about what to keep and what to omit; what word to choose and what word to change; what detracts from the basic story line and what adds color and fleshes it out. Depending on how attached we are to words and actions, we can spend hours on choosing just the right word to convey just the right thought or mood.
Fiction or memoir, each has characters and a story line. Just as novels have narrative arcs, so, too, do memoirs. In fictional stories the arc usually refers to a chronological construction of a plot, leading to an ultimate resolution. It’s not very different with memoirs. Both are stories, but one is created from whole cloth and the other examines, explores and shares memories from a particular life experience, with the driving force being the need to revisit it, re-member it and write about it.  
To start, I think authors are more apt to write much more than is kept in the finished book. Not unlike a conversation where you wished you hadn’t gone on and on about telling a friend about something that happened and you know that you could have shared the experience with far fewer words and conveyed what you wanted the person to know without being boring or going off on tangents that your friend didn’t in the first place need to know about and in the end only weakened the impact of what you wished to convey . . .  so it is with writing (as you can see from the paragraph you’ve just read).

I can spill my guts and create dramatic scenes, but the bottom line is whether I am serving the reader’s experience. In telling my truth about any given moment or relationship, one needs not tell everything to engage the reader.

What to tell, what to streamline in the telling and how to create an easy flow for the reader is much like an artist who’s painting a pastoral scene of the cool but sunny days of autumn. Drawing outlines of every leaf, coloring each one perfectly, might be less effective than delicately dabbing reds, oranges and golds for a sense of the scene, which is completed in the viewers mind. Leaving some things to the reader’s imagination and focusing on what’s most important to the artistic vision is, to my way of thinking, far more effective.

So, too, in creating a story or sharing your memories, not everything will be important to the reader. You don’t want to hammer home your truth, your vision … you want to create a theme with characters that have a full range of emotional responses and reactions but not necessarily ones where we need to know about every breath they take, every person they meet, every pleasure or disappointment they experience. We need to know just enough to feel that the author has brought people/characters into our lives in a story we never heard before but one that has an implicit universality that touches us and perhaps teaches us but never bores us. 

So, to answer the question I’d say that the litmus test is to know – once you’ve written your first drafts and have written too much – what you can then omit so as not to lose your audience but to embrace them more fully, with less ego and more humanity.

Thank you, Linda Appleman Shapiro, for a wonderful and informative post! Also, much thanks to WOW -Women On Writing for providing this stop on Linda's blog tour. Please check out their website for more information and more blog tour stops!

She's Not Herself: A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness is a journey to make sense of the effects of multi-generational traumas. Linda Appleman Shapiro is ultimately able to forgive (without forgetting) those who left her to fend for herself--and to provide readers with the wisdom of a seasoned psychotherapist who has examined human vulnerability in its many disguises and has moved through it all with dignity and hope. The result is a memoir of love, loss, loyalty, and healing.
On the surface, her childhood seemed normal--even idyllic. Linda Appleman Shapiro grew up in the iconic immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with her parents and a gifted older brother. But she spent her days at home alone with a mother who suffered major bouts of depression. At such times, young Linda Appleman Shapiro was told, "Your mother...she's not herself today." Those words did little to help Linda understand what she was witnessing. Instead, she experienced the anxiety and hyper-vigilance that often take root when secrecy and shame surround a family member who is ill. 
Paperback: 249Pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Dream of Things (September 2, 2014)

Twitter hashtag: #SNHerselfShapiro
She's Not Herself A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon and is available through, Dream of and several other on-line book sites listed on Goodreads.
About the Author
Behavioral psychotherapist/Addictions Counselor/ Oral Historian/ Mental Health Advocate and author, Linda Appleman Shapiro earned her B.A. in literature from Bennington College, a Master's degree in Human Development/Counseling from the Bank Street College of Education, and a Master Certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming from the New York Institute of N.L.P. She has further certifications in Ericksonian Hypnosis and Substance Abuse/Addictions Counseling.
Linda Appleman Shapiro is a contributing author in the casebook, “Leaves Before the Wind: Leading Applications of N.L.P.”
In private practice for more than thirty years, Shapiro also served as a senior staff member at an out-patient facility for addicts and their families. As an oral historian, she has documented the lives of many of New York's elderly.
Her first memoir, Four Rooms, Upstairs, was self-published in 2007 and named Finalist in the Indie Next Generation Book Awards in 2008Her blog of three years, “A Psychotherapist's Journey,”  named Shapiro Top Blogger in the field of mental health by WELLsphere.
Married to actor and audiobook narrator George Guidall, Linda Appleman Shapiro and her husband live in Westchester County, New York. They have two adult daughters and two grandchildren.

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