Roz Morris provides us with an excellent article on how to write a memoir about difficult times. Thank you very much for this great post, Roz!
I’ve had this question from Julia.
I would like to write a nonfictional account of my experience as a caregiver of my 80-year-old mum during lockdown. I’ve never done any creative writing. Where do I start? A diary, a memoir? I’ve been through a lot of struggle and want to put that on paper. Maybe someday I will publish it to share my experience with people facing the same difficulties.
First, Julia, capture the raw material. Start with a diary. Write it as often as possible, before you make any decisions about what to do with it.
How to write the diary
You might be self-conscious to begin with. You might worry about who will read it and what they’ll get from it. Forget that for now.
You won’t publish this diary. It’s notes that you will eventually use to create a book. So for now, it’s you and your thoughts, talking privately to a page or a recording app – whatever is comfortable.
Keep it simple. Just write what you did today. Then write whether that was usual or unusual, and how. If it’s usual, for how long has it been usual? Write how that made you feel, what was difficult and what was a pleasure, and why. Write what you think tomorrow will be like. Or next week. Write your hopes and pleasures and fears.
My favorite blogger Kristen Lamb has published a post about narrative style, the heart of storytelling. Thank you so much for another educational blog post, Kristen.
Narrative style is the beating heart of writing. While our voice might remain consistent from a blog to a non-fiction to a fiction, narrative style is what keeps our work fresh and makes it resonate.
Developing a strong narrative style is especially critical if we decide to write a memoir because the style will need to not only reflect the personality of the author-storyteller, but also hit that sweet spot in tone that is appropriate for the story.
But what IS IT?
Last post, I opened the discussion about memoirs. Memoirs are not only becoming increasingly popular, but with the implosion of traditional publishing, there’s good news. Anyone can write and publish a memoir. There’s also bad news…anyone can write and publish a memoir.
Before we talk about the various structures and types of memoirs, it’s a good idea to first discuss the broad concepts. Last time, I mentioned that superior memoirs frequently DO reflect The Hero’s Journey.
That was our first meta-concept, so to speak. The second meta-concept is narrative style. This aids us in connecting with audiences and generating long-lasting resonance.
Narrative style can be one of those amorphous concepts that’s tough to define directly. Sort of like black holes.
Scientists don’t per se observe a black hole directly, as much as they suspect they might have a black hole because of what’s going on around a certain area in space (the behavior of light and nearby planets, etc).
This said, all creators would be prudent to keep some core principles in mind when writing anything from a blog, to a non-fiction, to a memoir. These principles lay the foundation for what we think of when it comes to ‘narrative style.’
Do you plan to write your memoir? If yes, don’t miss Karen Coiffi’s blog post. She provides us with rules to write our memoir. Thank you very much, Karen!
on Writers on the Move:
Writing a memoir is different things to different people. Some people are looking for closure, or a cathartic release from a traumatic event in their lives, others simply want to share their experiences with readers. Or possibly, the author wants to impart some wisdom or insight to the reader.
Whatever the reason behind writing a memoir, there are a few rules that should be adhered to.
I heard from three writer friends so far that they’re currently writing their autobiography – or memoirs… I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t consider writing my own after getting the idea. But I had to see that this won’t work.
We all know the saying when a writer has the idea for a story in his/her head, it needs to get out and be written. It is a true saying. And that’s why after I got the idea of writing my memoirs two minutes later the idea had been disappeared out of my head again. I figured this meant that this story doesn’t want to be written.
There are many reasons for not writing my autobiography: I always considered great minds, great personalities, famous and respected people do have an autobiography or biography… but me? Who would want to read about my life? It has been normal! In fact, it was extremely normal I think it would be boring to read about it. Yes, there were struggles, so many that it wasn’t an easy life – but these struggles are only important to me! Compared to other people’s problems and challenges mine were so minor.
I understand there are people traumatized as children or young adults and writing down their story might help. I heard about an actress who wrote her memoirs when she was 18 years old. Come on! 18? At that age, you discover that you are legally an adult. Was your life so freaking bad as a teenager? If yes, fine; if no, would I have to read about 15 years of overly dramatic boredom? With me, it’s different!
And I won’t write about a life that is so full of happiness, greatness, adventures and fantastic pictures, which would paint a completely wrong person. Like people who live their life on Instagram. Their lives are full of fantasy, greatness, fun, happiness and impressive pics. How many times do I see some friends of friends posting pics of their vacation in Australia! All people with Koalas on their backs! They all are happily beaming into the camera (except the Koala, whose 400th pic it is that day). One could almost think Australia was only built for Koala vacation. And yes, I’m just kidding.
But I refuse to write about a colorful life that I never had. I don’t need to impress anyone; I don’t need to publish my mistakes and wrong decisions in my life. I only need to make sure one person is going to be good with my life – and that’s my former child-self.
I want that little AJ looking into the future and saying: “Okay, this is the AJ I want to become later. She might not always do what society tells her to. She might not always have decided for the best, and sometimes she’s clumsy and a bit helpless; she trusts people too easily and when she was younger. occasionally she was blind when it came to guys. But hey – she is herself. She’s always been herself. She still has jokes in her head and has incomparable humor. And even though when she’s on the ground, flat on her belly, she gets back up and fights. With pride in her heart and her chin high.”
And then there’s another reason: Writing my autobiography or memoirs, wouldn’t that mean, I never want to be forgotten? I want people to remember me. I figure, to the ones who have me in their heart, they’re going to keep me there. And I doubt I would ever find the impertinence to expect the entire world to keep me for eternity.
What IS eternity? – Yes, I know. The definition of eternity can be read in every dictionary, right? But that’s not what I mean.
From what I hear a priest has described eternity like this: “You see a dove picking up a sand grain at the beach, taking it into its beak, flying up to the moon, letting the sand grain fall. Then the dove flies back to the beach for centuries, picks up the next sand grain, flies up to the moon for centuries, lets the sand grain fall. And again it flies back to the beach, picks up the next sand grain, flies up to the moon, and so on; until it has transported the last sand grain of that beach up to the moon. By then – eternity has just started!”
Would I ever want to be remembered by people – in all eternity? (Or until the Earth explodes, but that’s another story). No, I don’t. I’m going to be at a place, where heaven is surrounding me. I wasn’t great; I wasn’t the best thing humankind has ever seen. Shoot the damned bird. LOL
I think you know what I mean.
Yes, my loved ones, my friends, and my family. Keep me in your hearts. But don’t expect me to write down all my life for people to read it. I keep secrets. At one point, let me go.
Do you write your autobiography or memoirs right now? What is your reason to write it down?
During this year’s BOAW Blogfest I discovered your blog and took a peek. I was interested about what you had to write and like your style. I also like your art and read about your life a bit.
I know there’s much more, and I’d like to hear about this.
When did you start writing?
I started pounding on my parents’ typewriter when I was in kindergarten, and I just loved the way the keys felt under my fingertips. I loved putting my thoughts down on paper and receiving such positive feedback from everyone around me. In 2nd grade, I had a wonderful teacher — Mrs. Church — who dragged me down the hall to read a book I had written about robins and their nests to the 5th graders. I couldn’t believe they would want to hear anything that I’d written, but they seemed to enjoy my words. I’ve been writing ever since.
What motivates you to write?
Writing is my way of processing the world, all its beauty and pain. Simple as that. I feel a pull to write whenever something is troubling me. That may not appeal to everyone, but it works for me. Writing is a coping mechanism for me.
What genre do you write in and what made you chose this particular genre?
I remember reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder Series of Little House on the Prairie in 3rd grade, and I thought to myself, I want to write a book like this. And while my audience might not be adolescent female readers, I suspect that most of my writing appeals to a predominantly female readership.
What is your goal in writing? Do you have dreams where your writing should take you?
Right now, I’m working on finishing my STATE OF UNDRESS PROJECT, which is a combined art/writing project featuring figure studies of women representing every age, color, and social class who have self-identified as living with invisible obstacles. Participants were asked to write about their insecurities/obstacles and frame these challenges as strengths. They also had to be willing to pose in some state of undress — and have their likeness painted as an impressionistic piece of art. I feel fortunate that these women trusted me with their stories and allowed me into their lives in this most intimate way. I suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD as a result of a brain injury, which occurred in 2013 after being improperly weaned off a prescription medication. After 3.5 years, I’m nearly back to where I was prior to the injury, and yet I am no longer the same person I once was. People who meet me now can’t tell, but I know how I feel inside my body. Collecting the stories these women shared made me realize that there are so many of us going thru something at any given time, and collecting these stories made me feel less alone.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if yes, how do you deal with it?
I only write when I feel moved to do so. I’m fortunate to be able to alternate my writing and my visual art, and I need to be able to do both. When I finish a lengthy piece of writing, I generally move to a painting next. When that paint is drying, I go and write. It is a process that works for me.
What state is your writing in now and do you already have an agenda on publishing?
I’m mid-way thru the first draft of my memoir –a cautionary tale about what happens when trauma is treated with psychiatric drugs rather than therapy and understanding. In the meantime, I’m still posting on my blog – http://rasjacobson.store/blog.
Mick Peluso is the author of …And the Whippoorwill Sang—an outstanding memoir:
“Micki Peluso takes readers along on her journey through life as she deals with the tragedy of the imminent death of one of her six children in a story that will bring tears—not only of immeasurable sadness—but also those wonderful tears of the joys and hilarity of a family’s life. As I traveled with Micki along life’s highway and byways, I not only met her wonderful family and friends, I felt like I was one of them. That’s what I call great writing! From antics to dilemmas, you won’t want to miss out on the laughter, the love, the sorrows, the courage or the tears as Peluso poignantly weaves a well-written memoir that will not be forgotten in AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG.” ~Bette A. Stevens, Maine author/illustrator