Writing a memoir is like making a movie, and in many ways, a good memoir writer treats the story the way a filmmaker treats a movie. Too often, as we write memoir, we tell the reader what is happening in the story rather than show it. Fortunately, a filmmaker does not have this luxury—or is it curse?—of telling. The only way the filmmaker can let us know what is happening is to show something on the screen—whether that is a setting, an action or a feature of characterization such as a frown. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Tag Archives | help writing memoirs
Writing for an audience may be more important than you think. Sometimes the audience is of specific people but many other writers, while they do have a specific audience in mind, are really writing to a group according to their interest.
“I want to write for my kids and grandchildren. I want them to know who I was,” one sort of memoirist will realize. While another will think, “I want my children and grandchildren to know me, too, and I want to place my life in a greater context. I’m hoping to have readers beyond my kin, readers who are interested in a larger picture of what life was.” [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
In this post, you’ll learn how to let go of deathless prose in your first draft. November is Memoir Writing Month is a good time to let go of the perfectionism that keeps you from writing. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
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.]
Are You Holding Back the Hard Truth in Your Memoir?
Your memoir needs the hard truth about life—your life—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”
I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt…. we have to know all we can about each other and we have to be willing to go naked.—Mary Sarton
Wow, going around naked! Gulp! (Better hit the gym!)
But, I guess you get the idea—psychologically and emotionally naked. Your memoir needs truth telling about life—yours—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”
I would like to change the metaphor a bit, to use a metaphor that is less startling but very graphic nonetheless. It is the metaphor of the kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl.
I love popcorn and enjoy eating it but there always comes a moment when I get to the bottom of the bowl and the plethora of corn kernels that have been popped into delightful puffy bites gives way to the hard half-popped or not-popped-at-all kernels. These are not fun to eat. Disappointed, I walk to the trash and throw the kernels away. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
To help you to get a fast start writing and to write your memoirs more prolifically–and even bring them to a finish in the form of a published memoir–I offer these eight suggestions. They are tried and true tips that bear repeating and repeating.
One of the writing process steps is to linger with your story. Many, and perhaps most, people write too fast. I don’t mean that they end up with a text characterized by sloppy grammar, spelling problems and chronology issues—although that may be the case, of course.
No, what I mean is that they push through the process of writing their stories much too quickly. They end up with only a part of the story they could have written had they lingered. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
The shock I had first experienced at hearing of Candice’s death had given way to overwhelming sadness. I had lost my daughter, my daughter in whom I had placed so many hopes when she was a baby and a little girl.
What a top editor does for you. People often ask, “What sort of input does an editing client receive from her/his Memoir Network editor?” The answer, of course, varies according to the client. No two receive the same response. We always individualize. You persist in asking, “Yes, yes, but what sort of manuscript input can […]
Your relationship to your memoir-writing coach is likely to be a long one. There is no other way to make it effective. Coaching is like counseling in a way. Counseling requires an introductory, getting-to-know-you phase before both of you can move on to a productive phase. You can’t expect a counselor to help you with […]