Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler
“I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.” Author Laura Munson’s statement of intention.
The above quote is from a Huffington Post article on “5 Tips for Powerful Writing”. In this article, Laura shares some valuable tips for memoir writers about the importance of writing with intention.
Laura Munson is the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness (Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010) which Book of the Month Club named one of the best books of the year.
Laura is also the founder of Haven Writing Retreats, which Open Road Media ranked in the top five writing retreats in the United States, and speaks and teaches on the subject of voice and empowerment through creativity at conventions, corporations, universities and schools, retreat and wellness centers.
Why Memoir is Unique
A memoir is a portion of your life that has been crafted into a story.
As Laura points out, it usually involves exposing yourself and others to a difficult period in your life, advising that “we have to write past the fear of exposure”. It is in the sharing of the lessons learned that we can reach out to others through our stories and help them feel less alone.
With a story so personal and most likely difficult to relive, it makes sense to be clear on what benefit you and your reader will derive from the sharing it in a memoir.
Another valuable resource for writers
Another author who caught my attention is William Kenower. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine and hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.
William Kenower’s book, Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly with Confidence encourages writers to develop confidence through practice, noting that, “you will develop your confidence and begin writing fearlessly the moment you stop caring about what anyone else thinks.”
Both of these resources resonate with me as I work on editing my second memoir.
What does writing with intention mean?
To me, intention requires being connected to my purpose for writing the memoir. It serves as my guide and has helped me to answer the following questions:
- Why do I even want to write this book?
* Who is this book for?
- How will it help those who read it?
These are all questions any agent or publisher will ask. I need to ask them for myself and be able to answer them succinctly, no matter which route to publication I take.
As Kenower notes in Fearless Writing, “a story is seen from a distinct point of view”. It makes sense to be clear on why you want to write it. He talks about the three narrative arcs of the story–physical, emotional and intentional. Intentional being the most important—“to find the story that is the most meaningful to us and to tell it in our own unique voice”.
As memoir writers, we should ask what life events can I share that will constitute a story worth telling, one that will reach others in a meaningful way?
Certainly, we all have significant events in our lives but what is the story?
A litany of life events alone does not make a story.
Writing with intention will be the key to shaping these events into a publishable memoir.
How Do I Write with Intention?
1. I have to find ways to get past my inner critic. You know the one who says:
* What makes you think anyone will want to read your story?
* Your story isn’t unique.
* You can’t write that well anyway.
* Who cares?
At one point, while writing my first memoir, I had to put my inner critic in her place by writing out this dialogue with her. I still have to talk with her from time to time.
2. I need to show up and write on a schedule that works for me:
Sometimes the mere act of writing words unlocks creative juices:
- Free write—helps when I’m stuck. Writing words even if they don’t make sense.
- Journal—writing down thoughts, feelings and reactions helps me to clarify and focus.
3. Once I show up, I need to get out of the way of the story and let the words flow.
I can go back and change later.
4. I need to trust in the process
Often when I start to write, I have no idea how the story will unfold. These unexpected visitors—people and events—become the jewels of the journey.
5. Writing with intention helps me to identify the main themes of my story.
Once I find the heart of my story, I can shape it around the identified themes.This makes it easier to stay true to the themes, which become the foundation for the story structure.
6. Taking time to pause and think helps me be clear on my intention.
This has helped me to tap into memories and make connections about their meaning from my adult perspective. Sometimes the best ideas flow when I take time to walk in the garden or sit in church.
As writers, we really are working, filling our creative wells, when we’re staring out the window.
7. I need to keep my overall intention in mind as I revise.
If I’m clear on my main message and the audience I’m targeting, I can approach suggestions from editors and beta readers with a sense of purpose, staying true to my story while remaining open to constructive feedback. I can let go of scenes and events that do not move the story along.
While these tips can apply to writing in any genre, writing a memoir requires an extra layer of discipline to shape the pile of life memories into a coherent narrative with a takeaway for the reader.
Writing with intention will be a guiding light that will get you to the finish line.
How about you? When did your purpose for writing your story become clear to you? Have you read stories, memoirs in particular, that were confusing and didn’t have a clear message? What resources have helped you on your writing journey?
I’d love to hear from you. Please join in the conversation below~
“The Shame That Heals by Charlene Jones”
Charlene is a poet, meditation teacher and the author of The Stain: A Story About Karma, Reincarnation and The Release From Suffering. She is currently working on a memoir about healing from abuse, first and within the echoes of shame. The working title is My Impossible Life
June 2107 Newsletter: Updates, Memoir Musings, Max Moments
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