The memoir writing process can be simple.
Note: This is the 1starticle in a series of 4 on the writing process of A Sugary Frosting published in 2016.
It’s 2016, and I am in the very last days of the memoir process and polishing A Sugary Frosting / A Memoir of a Girlhood Spent in a Parsonage, the early lifestory of my deceased spouse, Martha Blowen. It’s a time to make sure I have written what I want to write and to check grammar and spelling before it goes out to a copy editor.
I had promised Martha that I would write her stories so that our grandchildren would know something about her. In May 2015, I began gathering the stories she had written of her life. My intent was to create a booklet of these stories. But, to be honest, it has never appealed to me to write booklets. I like to write books. That’s what I do and that’s what I do well.
As I read through Martha’s stories, in a few instances, I understood that some were fragmentary and needed filling out. I knew the story she was trying to convey but then I had lived with her for 31 years. Would someone who did not know her—our grandchildren, for instance—appreciate the tale? So, I tweaked the stories to make them more complete, more meaningful. Good work, I thought.
Then there were all the other stories that she had not written that I knew to be important to her and that I felt our grandchildren would want to know. I had heard Martha’s stories many, many times and so it was not hard for me to write them. Soon I had composed more stories then Martha had left behind. Well, why not write these down, too—so I wrote them.
Now the stories were adding up to a life, to a memoir.
As I am always urging anyone who works with me whether in coaching, in editing, or in ghostwriting, I created a memory list. This is a list of any and all memories related to a topic. It is both a fantastic recall exercise and an organizer for a memoir.
As you can imagine, A Sugary Frosting / A Memoir of a Girlhood Spent in a Parsonage inevitably began to grow and grow. Soon it was well beyond the booklet stage. I continued writing, realizing I was creating a full-length memoir. As I wrote, there arose the standard question of where does the memoir end, where does this memoir of Martha’s early life come to an end. There was a natural curve to her story – and that was the life she had spent with her parents in the parsonage. After that, she lived a different life energy. (I write about life phases on my blog and why they are so important in memoir writing.)
I identified two things as interesting in the story. One was that it portrayed the story of a subculture in America in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s—in this instance, life in an Anglo-Protestant parsonage. A Sugary Frosting / A Memoir of a Girlhood Spent in a Parsonage was also a necessary prelude to a series of two journals that I will publish in the next year or two. These journals, which are collations of Martha’s and my journals, are about the two years after Martha had been stricken with intraductal breast cancer and during which it progressed through her body. These journals are full of her illness, her resistance, and her time of acceptance. This was, of course, my time, too, of resistance and acceptance.
Martha died on August 18, 2008. There was a long time during which I was unable to write about her. Eventually, however, after a couple of years, I was able to work on her journals and her stories. I created a book of the first year from the two journals she and I had kept. The book of the second year is still in process.
My original intent had been to make these two journal books my next publishing project. But when I thought about it, I felt these journal manuscripts had something missing. What was missing, I believe, was a large historical context – “historical” meaning her earlier life: what context did she come out of? What influences had marked her for life?
I will write more about the memoir writing process in the next post.
[A Sugary Frosting was published in both hardcopy and e-version on March 30, 2016. I welcome any reader who is interested in writing a review for A Sugary Frosting / A Memoir of a Girlhood Spent in a Parsonage to be in touch with me for a complimentary e-copy.]