Have you ever been to a party where they serve lots of those little, bite-sized delicacies that explode with flavor as soon as you put them in your mouth? You know, the ones that you just have to keep on eating until you realize that you have no room at all for the main meal—and you don't care.
In Eating an Elephant, Patricia Charpentier has served up two hundred of these, guaranteed to inform, amuse, and motivate anyone who is thinking about collecting and writing down their life stories. In a few short paragraphs, each bite explores a different aspect of storytelling, covering such topics as collecting and organizing your stories, writing dialogues, and the bane of so many writers' existences, grammar.
Two of my favorite tips in the whole book are actually at the beginning. In bite number four, Charpentier says, "Start anywhere. Write now, organize later. Write what is on your mind today." I really needed this piece of advice, as I worried over chapters in my book that just weren't flowing at all, that I felt had to be written before I went on to other parts of the story. When I mentioned this to a circle of fellow writers, they all said, "Yeah! Great advice! That's what I do." So now that's what I do, too.
In bite number six, Charpentier urges us to get a binder and start collecting our stories in it, placing them in their proper order as they are written. Even if we use the computer, she suggests, we should print the pages and put them in the binder. This is excellent advice; it feels so good to have the weight of your stories in your hands, a concrete proof of the work that you've done so far.
Eating an Elephant is not just motivational, though it is quite motivational. It is not just a guide to writing, but it certainly takes on that role. Charpentier writes in a warmly engaging manner, giving examples and sharing ideas with a great sense of humor and a generous spirit. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to the book for just one more bite.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Patricia Charpentier grew up in South Louisiana surrounded by extended family, but had no desire to understand the history and culture she was born into. By the time she became interested, all those who held the answers to her questions were gone. Since that time, through ghostwriting memoirs on behalf of others, co-authoring, editing, teaching, speaking and publishing, Patricia has motivated and guided hundreds in leaving written legacies for their families. She lives with her husband, Bob, in Orlando. Visit her website.
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