Saturday, November 23, 2013

WHY MEMOIR?

As usual I read a lot of how-to books. How to write novels, how to write poetry, how to write short fiction and now how to write memoir. Memoir is a touchy topic and most books will ask this question first:

Why do you want to write your memoir?

So after years of deliberation these are the answers I have come up with:

  • I have a story I need to tell. It is curled into my heart and I want to expunge it.
  • I believe my story can help other women who are in bad relationships as well as women who have lived with an alcoholic.
  • I love to write.
  • I've written about my happy childhood and I want to balance that with this more disturbing tale.
  • I want to be a published writer.
  • The story tells a transformational tale from my life.
  • It will be therapeutic to write this.
  • I want to share my truth.
I'm sure there are many more reasons. Up front though is the fact that I am a writer and I must write. What better story to tell than my own?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

ART OF TIME IN MEMOIR

There is a book titled "The Art of Time in Memoir" by Sven Birkerts. In this book he takes several published memoirs and discusses how the writers pull together events in a period of time in their lives and create a rich tale from which we can learn about life.

In writing memoir time stands out as a scaffold for the narrative scenes. The writer must choose the time period she wishes to portray in the book. She must give the reader a sense of the time in history during which these scenes play out. And the pacing of the tale requires a sense of time from the eye of the reader who will either enjoy a nicely paced narrative or feel bogged down with a slow moving story. the writer needs a sense of when to speed the pace to keep the reader reading, and when to slow it down within a scene to create a deeper impact.

That said, this is not the concept of time I wish to rant about today.

When I speak of time in memoir I am talking about the time a writer needs in order to craft a readable, publishable memoir. the memoirist needs time to distance herself from traumatic events in order to process them. The writer needs time to stew the events so that she isn't just complaining on the page, but also examining the lessons learned. And of course the writer needs time to actually sit at a desk with a notebook or computer and do the writing.

I find scheduling time to write is necessary yet difficult. If I plan to write in the morning before work I have about 20 minutes I can fit in. That means about 3 pages, which means I need to know exactly what I want to write so I can get to it without having to think or plan. if I want to write at night it means getting home in time to do my workout, eat dinner, shower and get to my writing desk. That only works when I don't get caught late at work or caught in traffic. It also requires I be fairly awake. That's a challenge considering I wake up at 4:30 am.

Time to write is a struggle, and using it as an excuse not to write is unacceptable, but I have to get past it. I have to find the time to write this book, because it's about time it got written. It's about time I faced that particular musical score of my life.

Monday, November 18, 2013

FEAR OF MEMOIR

What is the fear of memoir?

It's a horned beast with a trident tail that threatens to stop the writer in the pursuit of her own truth. We all experience each life story we live in our own way. Why then is it so difficult to commit that truth to paper? Why do we struggle and procrastinate in starting our memoir? Why do we give up after ten pages of truth telling? What is it that we fear?

Some memoirists fear writing stories that in some way degrade, insult, expose, or diminish family members or friends. They are afraid what they write will be disputed, or worse, that they will be sued for writing it. Other writers fear exposing their own faults, sins and misdemeanors.

Each time we sit at our desks, pens in hand, to scribe the truth, that horned beast raises his head and swings a webbed hand that wipes the pen right out of our hands. He noodles into our minds and attempts to erase from memory the very stories that make us who we have become. The very stories that might help us to learn and grow, and become even more than who we are today.

I have listed my own fears on a piece of paper, read them over, then put them through the paper shredder in hopes of getting rid of them forever. However that sharp blade that slices the paper, doesn't kill the fears, it just multiplies them. It's as if by writing them down they are eternally emblazoned in my memory.

I have to fight them. I have to write in spite of the fear of facing my own stories, in spite of the chance that if the book ever gets published people from my past will rise, just like that horned monster, and slap the truth away.

But this is my story. This is my truth. And in spite of the fears I have to write it. For me. And for every woman who might get help, strength and support from reading it.

In the end fear of memoir is only fear of my truth. And truth is the only story I have.

Friday, November 15, 2013

READING TO WRITE

A worthwhile piece of advice given to all writers is to read profusely. It's particularly suggested that you read books in the genre in which you are writing. Perhaps reading is the best teacher of how to write, far outweighing how-to books and writing classes and workshops. Critique groups are great and so are editors, but in the end it's your choice and every comment is just one reader's opinion. So in order to prepare myself better to write my memoir I am starting to read published memoirs again. (Of course I'm still taking classes too!)

I just rejoined the internet reading circle at www.storycircle.org. It's fantastic group of women who read and write memoir! I look forward to reading their monthly book choices and engaging in thought provoking and interesting discussions about the books.

At the moment I am reading "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. It's the story of a woman who sets off alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Her experiences, both inner and outer, are amazing. She triumphs over so many physical and emotional obstacles. She shows such strength in hiking through hot deserts and freezing snow, often with her feet shod in ill-fitting boots. She endures months of hiking in this wilderness, eating what rations a hiker has available. I doubt many women would survive one week in the elements this way. I know I couldn't, but it goes to show how strong women can be if they need to be. Whether that need is external or internal the strength will prevail.

It's a good read. I'm just finishing the book now.

Next up? Mary Karr's "The Liar's Club."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

MEMOIR JOURNEY STEP ONE

In preparation for the memoir course that begins in January I am making lists of turning points, themes, take-aways for the book. It's a long process. Picking out the exact time period to put into the book. Reliving difficult times. Making lists of characters to include and wondering how they would react if the book ever gets published. So much to consider.

In the meantime the weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter and I am hunkering in for the long winter to come. Not happy about the short days or cold, but looking forward to long weekends tucked inside, fingers on the keyboard, finally getting my story down on paper with the help of two great mentors.

I'll be posting here about the writing journey and also sharing bits of the book as they get written.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

WRITERS' CONFERENCE FEVER

This weekend two of my writing critique friends and I attended the New England Crime Bake, a writers' conference for mystery and suspense fiction authors. Although I don't write in those genres it was an amazing weekend!

We drove to Orient Point at the tip of Long Island and took the ferry to Connecticut, then drove to Nedham, Massachusetts for the conference. We attended informational sessions, author interviews and several panels on writing and publishing. The collective energy in the hotel was like lifeblood to writers. While there I felt I was among my people--my writer friends. I knew with every part of me that I belong with writers and I am meant to be a writer. Though it was a different genre there was much to be learned. I even received a great critique on the first 15 pages of a novel from author Lea Wait. It is always encouraging to have people commend your writing skills and helpful to get some critical feedback to make the writing stronger.

I now have writers' conference fever and am planning my next trip!!

Since I am focusing on writing my memoir I am eager to attend the Story Circle Conference in April called "Stories from the Heart." I am hoping to find a way to finance the trip to Austin, Texas so I can once again be among my writing friends. I've been to Stories from the Heart before and it is an amazing conference. The workshops are excellent and the stories told by the women who attend are fascinating, heartwarming and heartbreaking too. It is quite a gathering of fascinating women.

The conference is offered every two years which is why I'm so eager to attend in 2014. I don't want to wait 2 more years to be able to go to the conference. Guess I need to curb my book buying addiction to save some money.

By April I hope to have the poetry collection finished and printed so I can bring copies of the book with me to the conference. I will have started the 6 month memoir course and hope to meet up with my mentors as well.

I'm searching for other memoir and poetry conferences so any suggestions are welcomed. Conference fever is one illness I want more and more of.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

FESSING UP

Greetings to my blog friends and readers
It's time for me to fess up and stop confusing you all. National Nonfiction Writing Month is turning into something different than I planned. I am NOT writing my teachers' book. I am focusing on my memoir.

Last night I viewed the first of four webinars presented by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner. The topic is various aspects of writing craft using the book "Eat Pray Love" as an example. I've also enrolled in their online course "Write Your Memoir in Six Months." With that in mind I want to focus on memoir writing.

Between now and January when the course begins I hope to develop a list of the turning points of my memoir, write a loose chapter outline and make a list of memories/flashbacks that will help to explain events that occurred during the period of the memoir. I am very excited about writing this memoir as it's taken me many years to muster the courage to write it. It involves exposing my own difficulties as well as writing about other people who are no longer in my life. The struggle in postponing the writing is not only about being afraid to be so honest on the page but also fear of reliving past events I'd just as soon forget. Now that I've moved on and into a better life I can be more comfortable writing my truth.

As far as publication goes, that's another consideration. I am a writer and therefore want my stories and poems out in the world for people to read. I want the acknowledgement and honor of being a published writer. I didn't think I could publish this memoir and therefore avoided writing it as just a therapeutic exercise. Now it's time to write it and to seek publication when it's done.

Since writing memoir is my new focus I would love to attend the Story Circle Network's biannual conference in April-- Stories from the Heart. I attended in 2010 and it was phenomenal! The workshop sessions are fun and informative and the presenters are very accessible. It's a marvelous group of awesome women who attend. I'd love to go again and hope to make it work financially since I would have to get to Austin, Texas for the event!

All things considered I'm feeling really good about my writing and hoping to narrow my focus. I want to seriously commit to my book while taking the course. After the six months I hope to have much of the first draft done. At that point I will consider working with either Linda Joy or Brooke as a consultant on finishing the book and making it publication ready.

Wish me luck!

Friday, November 1, 2013

NONFICTION WRITING MONTH

November is nonfiction writing month--a response to NANoWriMo where writers can sign up to write a novel first draft in one month. I did sign up for the nonfiction writing challenge and had the idea to do a first draft of the memoir. But since I will be taking a 6 month memoir course starting in January I had a different idea for this November challenge.

I've always wanted to write a book for teachers to help them through their first year in the classroom. I targeted preschool special education teachers since that has been my field for over 20 years. It seemed a daunting task but this might be a good way to begin.

It doesn't have to be a long, in depth look at a first year teacher, but rather a simple book with some time tested strategies to make things go easily and to make teaching as effective as it can be. Perhaps ten chapters, one for each month, with suggestions. I have to take this opportunity to try it out. And if it goes well I will put together a proposal and start sending it out.

I'll keep you posted on my progress. I'll also look into Nina Amir's strategies on how to "Blog A Book" and maybe create a blog for preschool teachers.

When November is over I'll let you know how far I got. And in January I will blog my journey of writing the memoir. It's taken a long time for me to commit to writing the memoir but it's time and when the online course came up I had to take the chance. The same way I did with Lorraine Mejia's poetry course. I have now finished the poetry manuscript and will do final edits. It really pays to take advantage of courses online that just happen to appear right when I need them.

This weekend I am revising some flash fiction stories to put in a chapbook that will be entered in the Rose Metal Press Chapbook Contest. It pays to take advantage of those contests that fit right in with work I've done already and that I feel should be out in the world.