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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

A Fantastic Find!

What Exactly Happened: Four (Excellent) Essays on the Craft of Memoir Thomas Larson, author of the  indispensable The Memoir and the Memoirist, arguably one of the two or three best references for those who teach and write nonfiction, has just released a new book, and there are a few interesting details. 1.) The new book  costs only $2.99.  2.) Delivery is free  3.) You can only read it on your Kindle, or on the Kindle software you can download to your PC, iPad, or other device, and 4.) It offers more of Tom Larson … Read More

via BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

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I wrote a proposal for funding and other support to start a writing group last month, but my proposal was rejected for reasons that are complicated but completely understandable. However, that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. I had taken a lot of time to put my ideas on paper and to select the items that I wanted to purchase for each participant so that I could create a budget. It felt so good to complete the proposal and I was excited by the possibilities. It was a major letdown to not be able to move forward with my plans.

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine who had read some of my memoir pieces and she mentioned that she had always wanted to write down her life experiences but didn’t really know where to start or how to do it. Her son was leaving for college and I wanted to get her a gift that would help fill the gap that her son moving away would leave. Then something clicked in my mind. A journal! Now that would be the perfect gift. She would have the time to write and I could provide her with the tools necessary to do so. I ordered The Spirit of Flight journal and a Pentel Arts Slicci metallic pen with violet ink. She loved it!

After she received her new journal I noticed something extraordinary. I would be having a conversation with someone and a little voice would say, “She needs a journal!” And so I began sending these journals as special gifts to women who are important in my life. As I sit here, I imagine us all filling blank journal pages with our life experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, and adventures and our collective empowerment being sent out into the universe. At the beginning of Leslea Newman’s book Write from the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write there is a quote by Muriel Rukeyser: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” I want to help make that happen! I want to begin a journal revolution. Won’t you help me? Listen to those you talk with. Listen to the small voice when it tells you: “This woman needs a journal, a gift, a safe place to split her world wide open.”

If you decide to join the revolution and send a journal to a woman you know (or one you don’t) come back here and leave a comment. I would love to hear about it!

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Inventing the Truth is comprised of a collection of essays that address the art and craft of memoir by authors such as Annie Dillard, Frank McCourt, and Toni Morrison. I found many of the essays to be helpful in their offering of advice on writing memoir. Many discuss the author’s evolutionary writing process; their research techniques; the length of time to complete their memoirs; and how they dealt with writing about people close to them that were still living (some asked permission and offered to take out anything disagreeable, others avoided writing about the living altogether). In the back of the book is a bibliography of important books to Zinsser and to each of the authors in their writing journey. This is an invaluable resource for any writer. I was inspired by the wide variety of approaches to writing memoir included in this collection of essays. It gave me a greater understanding of how important it is to do the research and then develop my own approach. I also learned a great deal about organizing my research and writing which I have already begun to put into practice.

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This book covers the basics of writing memoir. The first section includes “teaching boxes” that are great for quick reference when writing. Topics in these boxes include voice, first person, and narrative. The book also includes suggestions for writing at the end of each chapter which are a great way to get your creative mind flowing and to practice what Barrington discusses in each chapter. Barrington addresses what memoir is; the all-consuming question many memoir writers obsess over: Who Cares?; finding form for your memoir; the law and writing memoir; and a discussion on truth which is a very important debate among memoir writers. My favorite section is on the writers’ myth which includes the belief that one must be depressed or suffering from some sort of addiction in order write. Also addressed in this section is the belief that in order to write a memoir you must already be famous or know someone who is famous (something I have personally worried about). The end of the book includes an Index to Authors and Titles that is a fantastic reference for additional reading. I recommend this to any writer working on memoir. Even experienced writers can benefit from what Barrington has to say about the memoir writing process and the suggestions for writing she includes at the end of each chapter.

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This was a quick exercise we did in class on Tuesday night after reading Terry Tempest Williams’ essay “Why I Write.”

I write because it connects me to a lost part of myself. I write to recover memory. I write to release pain and shame. I write to bring myself to life. I write to never forget. I write to tell secrets I’m never supposed to tell. I write to share my life with the world. I write so that others will be compelled to write too. I write to bring about change. I write because it’s all I have ever wanted to do. I write because it keeps me from being lonely. I write because it helps me feel less afraid. I write to silence the demons. I write to quiet the ghosts. I write to heal. I write to understand. I write to forgive.

If you decide to do this exercise and post on your blog, please come back and leave a link so that I can read it.

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I have finally started to write again. It has been quite some time since I have put pen to paper and as I begin this process again, I am now cognizant of why. Writing memoir is hard to do. Of course, this could depend on your topic, but for me it is extraordinarily painful. I have often thought it might be easier to write my life into fiction because I could create what I want without worrying whether I was sticking to the truth. But that lead me down another path. What is truth? Is truth what I remember even if it didn’t happen the way I remember it? Do I try to solicit others to verify how I remember things from my past or do I write my truth? Ultimately it is my truth that I have to live with. It is my truth that has formed who I am. If I get others’ input and incorporate their memories into my own does that become dishonest? I have found that the core of a memory is most often the same from person to person (for those who admit the event has occurred) but it is the details surrounding that memory that often differ so drastically.

At first I was adamant that I would not ask for input from my family members as I wrote my memoir. I wanted to write directly from my memories without them being tainted by someone else’s perception. But it has become clear that I need more information, more details to flesh out my stories, to make them real. My memory is severely limited when it comes to my childhood. It has been the biggest hurtle to overcome when it comes to my writing. I could not write an in-depth memoir about my childhood right now because the memories are just not there. They are sporadic, fleeting, flickers of scenes from an incomplete film. Yet everyone wants to know about your childhood. What led you to do the things you did, to end up the way you did? We want details, details, details…Ugh!

I have spent nearly a year trying to figure out how to structure my memoir. Do I focus on a specific time period? Do I try to write everything about my life so far? Do I move chronologically? Do I just create a collection of essays? Do I write up everything, toss the pages in the air, and order them the way they fall? This dilemma has kept me paralyzed and unable to write. It was while I was reading The Writer Magazine’s August 2010 issue that a little voice said: “Find something common.” I took a few moments to search for commonality and found that many stories I want to share do have a particular theme between them. I needed a focus, a common theme, before I could begin and now I have it.

This afternoon I sat with a fresh spiral notebook, my favorite pen, and some quiet time. I just started writing. I was broadsided by the amount of emotional trauma that is dredged up as I write. Now I understand my reluctance. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and did not reemerge from the memory I was lost in until an hour later. The only sense of reality was my need to eat – a sure sign that I am under stress. I wasn’t hungry, but I needed the comfort of food to make the bad feelings go away. Food is the only addiction I have left since kicking all my other ones six years ago and as I have been building myself up to start writing again, I have been eating uncontrollably. I noticed the incessant desire to eat over the past few days, but did not put that together with my fear of writing again until today. Amazing how the body and mind work, isn’t it?

I have a plan now and a structure for my memoir. It will require all new material as what I have written before does not meet the criteria for what I am creating. I have decided to ask for input from my siblings and to try and get photos and anything else that will help to bring the foggy edges of my memory some clarity. Something else I learned while reading Stephen King’s article in The Writer Mag was that I am not giving my inner eye enough time to develop the scenes of my life. Maybe it is the pain that keeps me from lingering too long in one place. Sometimes I can’t help but look away – quickly. But if I am going to expose the memories that have been rotting my brain and my body for all these years, I am going to have to linger longer, with eyes wide open, and take in the scenery, garbage and all.

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