Dave talks about the personal nature of memoir writing, his publishing process, and more in this week’s Author Q&A.
What inspired your journey to Australia? What led you to write Walkabout Undone?
I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, footloose in my mid-twenties–definitely a golden era for me during my favorite decade, the 1990s. The book came about because I had to explore a relationship, which it seems we never stop exploring (or maybe some people do, but not many I know).
What was your process for writing it? Getting it published?
I just started writing, and of course changed the beginning scene on a suggestion by a rude editor! Robert Frost said writing is like driving through the night: you can only see so far in front of you, but you’ll get to the end. This was like that. Getting it published was much harder. You have to make the story sell-able and convince people there is a large enough audience–some call it a universal audience–that will want to read your book. Herein lies that grand storytelling principle: that the more specific your choices, the more universal your story will resonate. You also have to size up your agents and publishers. It’s a long road, and you have to keep the one you’re shopping under your arm with a few other projects in the bag over your shoulder.
Memoir by nature is so personal… How did you decide what to include and what to eliminate from your experience?
You have to pay attention to what matters to you and what makes a great story. I believe it was Anne Lamott who said not everything that happens to you is interesting. Cutting when it’s very personal is personal, but you can’t lose your audience. They’re smarter, and they don’t know you, so a memoir is an uphill battle.
What was your favorite part of writing Walkabout Undone? The greatest challenge?
Finishing, hands down. Everything comes together, but you don’t explain everything. Leave something to wonder, which is what writing and fiction are. The greatest challenge was the first fifty pages. You can put sentences and paragraphs together, but you have pull readers in and sustain energy, curiosity, and inspire them to keep reading.
How do you balance your teaching, website, and writing? Any recommendations for others?
Great question. I work on them when I can. A school librarian once told me she took a year off to write and wrote just as much as she did when she was working. Same thing for me. You compartmentalize and focus on the task before you, which leads back to Frost’s quote. Writers develop their own style, even if it’s in different venues. Some of my favorites, including film critics Richard Schikel and the late Pauline Kael, have a way of writing where, whether it’s a magazine or a book or a column, you know it’s them.
What advice do you have for those who want to write a memoir?
Goodness: keep it personal and lighten up. You learn to step back from yourself and realize you really are just one tiny person in this great big world.
Additional tips for writers?
Keep writing, be tough on yourself (but not too hard), and take breaks. Experiences breed reaction, which is what drama is.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
Ha! I’d say that you are running a marathon. Enjoy it, and enjoy reading. When I started looking for agents, I didn’t know I’d discover Noah Lukeman’s books–or authors Jason Starr, Victor Gischler, or Don Winslow. The whole writing and publishing processes have opened up worlds and favorites I never knew, and I’ve met wonderful people, so there you go.Tags: Author Q&A Dave Watson Memoir Memoir Writing Movies Matter Walkabout Undone: A Memoir Write On! Writing