Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler
“Rather than simply telling a story from her life, the memoirist both tells the story and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her current knowledge. The contemporary memoir includes retrospection as an essential part of the story. Your reader has to be willing to be both entertained by the story itself and interested in how you now, looking back on it, understand it. ~ Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir.
As I prepare for the next stage in my memoir writing journey- pulling together three years worth of vignettes into a story- I find myself reflecting back on where it all started.
Today, I’d like to share three questions that I had to ask myself before I decided to take on the challenge of writing my memoir for publication.
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time in 2009…
A woman toyed with a dream that had bubbled underneath the surface for years. She wanted to write a book about her life. Armed with a completed “Getting Started in Writing” Writer’s Digest Course and a story that had garnered Honorable Mention in the 78th Writer’s Digest Annual Competition (Inspirational category), she drove to Boston for her first national writer’s conference. Totally. Green.
She walked into a room teeming with agents, publishers, authors milling around tables of books published by past conference participants. Totally. Intimidated.
Fighting the urge to flee the scene, she battled her inner critic who told her she had no business being there. All the healthcare conferences she had attended over her 42-year Nursing career had not prepared her for this feeling:
But she reasoned that she needed to stay put and fight through her doubts. She decided to hunker down and asked herself,
“Why don’t I just fake it till I make it?”
So she stood in long, winding lines to pitch to any available agent or publisher, practicing her pitch with anyone who would listen.
She learned, bit by bit, that before you pitch, you have to know what you are doing.
She learned a lot about what she did not know as she began to wonder…
Question #1: What is a memoir?
Over time the woman learned that there are many different ways to tell a life story. “Under the category of Narrative Nonfiction (telling a story of what actually happened), you can have Literary Nonfiction (narration of a story using literature techniques to make the writing poetic) and Creative Nonfiction (using creative writing techniques with nonfiction to make the story read like a novel).
Here are some forms a story can take:
Autobiography/Biography~ overview of an entire life
Memoir~ a slice of life told as a story
Personal Essay~ personal writing that makes a point
Literary Journalism~ written story with journalistic techniques (reporting).”
( above adapted from Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir by Lisa Dale Norton,page 5 )
When the agents and publishers asked her what she was writing, she had to stop and think:
* Am I writing a how-to book? OR
* Am I writing about my entire life? OR
* Am I writing a slice of my life that holds important lessons to share?
She set out to study her craft and..
she learned that:
“a memoir is a slice of life about which a writer muses, struggling to achieve some understanding of a particular life experience.” (Unreliable Truth by Maureen Murdoch, page 49).
She had left the 2009 conference with more questions than answers. But the burning desire to keep writing her story continued and led her to the next question:
Question #2: What is the purpose in writing my memoir?
Over the next several years, the woman went to many other writing conferences and began taking memoir writing courses through The National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) with Linda Joy Myers and The Fireheart Writers Institute with Heather Summerhayes Cariou. After learning more about memoir writing through writing stories and attending memoir writing workshops, she began to explore and discover for herself the following purposes in writing her life story:
* To make sense of the past through reflection.
* To share lessons learned through a introspection.
* To leave a legacy for her descendants.
* To preserve family history.
* To share how the power of hope through her faith made a difference in her life.
She discovered that connecting to her purpose for writing was a powerful motivator to keep writing.
She decided to write a memoir and work toward a goal of mainstream publication-a whole other topic of study in itself.
But, she had to face one big obstacle, leading to the last question:
Question #3: Am I qualified to write a memoir?
The woman had to believe that she had a story worth telling. She knew that everyone had a story but she had to convince herself that not only did she have a story “deep in her core”worth telling but that she was the only one who could tell it.
She had to believe in herself and her right to be heard. In doing so, she had to fight off her inner critic who kept nagging at her:
Who are you to tell your story? Who really cares? Who will listen?”
She had to claim her voice.
So she surrounded herself with mentors, gurus, fellow writers and soaked up every opportunity to learn from all of them.
And she kept writing.
She began reading other memoirs to learn what worked and what didn’t. She also read fiction to see what techniques worked.
As Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
She made a commitment to learn her craft, build her platform, and keep writing until she got it right.
And she kept writing until…
She called herself a writer and began moving closer to her dream of publishing her memoir.
She is gathering her stories to shape into a narrative arc. Her goal of finishing her first draft by December, 2012 is within reach.
She learned to swim with the rest of the fish:
~The End of the Beginning~
The Moral of the Story:
A life story is worth the time, effort and resources it will take to do it right.
Keep writing until it’s right.
How about you? How is your memoir writing going? What constitutes a compelling memoir? Please leave your comments below.
I’d love to hear from you~
Next Week: “Why Memoir Writers Need to Use Fiction Techniques”
The voting for your favorite “My Gusty Story” on Sonia Marsh’s blog is open through June 13th. Hope you’ll stop by and consider voting for my story “Choices and Chances.” Here’s the link: http://soniamarsh.com/2012/05/vote-for-your-favorite-may-my-gutsy-story.html