Bad Advice Wednesday: UCLA Q and A, with Sara-Kate

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Recently writer and professor Shawna Kenney invited me to take part in an online class at the UCLA Extension Writers Program, visiting virtually by way of Blackboard.  Students asked questions, I did my best to answer, and discussion ensued.  I got permission from a number of students to use their questions, and I got permission from myself to use my answers.  First up was T. Locke.  This week, it’s virtual classmate Sara-Kate.Hi Bill!

My name is Sara-Kate – I’m 24 years old and have a lot of stories but am not exactly sure how to tie them all together. My idea was to write about the past 2 years since graduating college, but then that leaves a lot of questions as to how I became the person I am.

It’s like there are two sides of me as a writer and storyteller – the introspective observer and the person who actually goes out and does the things that end up making a fascinating story. I find when I write about interesting events from the past I’m able to step back and portray my thoughts in the way that they have been developing in my mind ever since, full of imagery and complexity. Kind of like when someone says “one day you’ll laugh about this” – now I am able to apply greater perspective to these past events.

On the other hand, when writing about recent experiences it’s like I’m too caught up in the actions and stuck in my head. It’s harder for me to show rather than tell in these instances because I want the reader to clearly understand exactly what happened. Sometimes an important piece of back-story pops up that would clarify or connect to parts of the story, and as I’m reminded of these memories I’m not sure if I should just give it a one line summary or if I should find a way to go back and bring that memory to life. Therefore, my memoir is currently taking form as a collection of short stories.

I think my question is this: how does one strike a balance between providing enough clarity of the actual events and enough exposition without feeling like I’m just telling the story exactly as it happened, without taking the time to really paint pictures of each crucial moment?

Hope that kind of makes sense…any wisdom from you will be greatly appreciated!!

Thank you,



Hi Sara-Kate:

I know, you want to rise above the anecdote.  But you can start with the anecdote.  This happened, then that.  Or even better, this happened, then because of this, that happened.  And then you add more: This happened because of that, and here’s why.  And then, This happened because of that, and here’s why, and here’s what it means.  And then, here’s a metaphor that perfectly captures the subtle thing I’m trying to say–a whale came and ate us all.  Meaning arises from things like metaphor and juxtaposition and comparison.  So often three anecdotes placed just so, do all the work you need.  Don’t try to know.  just write, and keep writing, and write again.  Yep, tell the same story again from memory, but given all you’ve learned in drafting.  And all those short pieces you’re coming up with–think about what they have in common, then write upon that common thing, and keep writing upon that common thing till you get it right.  The nice thing about being 24 is that later you’ll be older.  And you will know more.  Including that that 24 year old was smarter than you thought!  When you were 24, I mean.  Trust her. 


Bill Roorbach couldn’t cross the stream this morning due to heavy rain that washed or overflooded the ice. 



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