My life is so interesting . . . I should write a book

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a Don't Write LIke We Talkcompilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

My life is so interesting . . .

No, it’s not.

No one’s life is all that interesting, fortunately, we think our own lives are pretty fascinating but if you’ve ever listened to someone on their cell phone, you know that isn’t true at all.

So why write a memoir if we just decided you aren’t that interesting?  No one’s whole LIFE is interesting but you may have something that happened during your life that is true and has a story arc that would be worth sharing with readers and the public at large.

Or say you survived an interesting period of history in your area and you want to share that time with your children and grandchild.  That is a good reason to write.

What if you have family history to pass along?  Please do, but not through all the genealogical research, write up the information in narrative, story form, or no one, not even your favorite grandchild, will read it.  Oh, they will say they will read it, but after you are gone, how are you going to know?

We recorded an in-depth podcast – episode 45 –  with Linda Joy Meyers, the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and author of the Author: Power of Memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother http://memoriesandmemoirs.com   www.thepowerofmemoir.com 

Linda recounted the time she visited her great- grandmother and realized the only way to discover how history was lived, was to ask.

“Great grandmother was 80 and I was 8.  She remembered Custer’s last stand.  And how people baked bread and delivered each other’s  babies.  It blew my mind that she lived all this. It was that moment that I realized that everyone has a story inside of them.”

It took her many years to write her memoir and during the process she founded the National Association of Memoir Writers to help others write their memories.  Along with Linda, we offer up some of the concerns and solutions for newbie memoirists.

Does everyone need to die before you can write your memoir?  No, but it helps.

Do you change names and details?

Write the memoir using the right names, if anything, to keep it all straight.  Remember, the memoir needs to be true to your memory and your experience.  Most people change names to protect the guilty, that said, if you write a memoir about your family, no matter what you write, they all know who you are talking about. Damien pointed out that in his memoir, which is about his father, he didn’t change the names because, at the end of the day, his father’s name is still dad.

And sometimes family members want to be in the book and are deeply insulted if they are left out.  Don’t tell people early on you are writing a memoir, or they will start bugging you early on.  Keep it private for a while.

Write the book first, deal with the family in question, second.

If you have a committee standing around talking in your head, you will never get started You need to start!

Memoir by definition is a perception of what happened according to you.  The memories and repercussions belong to you alone. When writers worry about telling the truth, in the memoir world – the truth is your own point of view about what happened.  A sibling may remember the same incident differently.  If so, they can write their own damn book.

How do you even start a memoir?  Remember that a memoir a part of your life and experience, not your whole life – that’s autobiography, which can be more unwieldy and may lack a clear story arch.  You are telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Sometimes the easiest way to start your memoir and to get going is to consider not only the big events in your life but also the small, seemingly insignificant memories.

Why do we remember these at all?

Damien had some big memories that he began writing about, and they are very powerful.  But what about the smaller ones?  Here’s why I bring that up.  The small memories, add to your work and give depth to the memoir as well as give the reader a brief rest from the intensity of the stronger or more dramatic scenes.

I would also argue that these trivial memories are not as unimportant as they first seem as we write them down.

Why did we remember that particular Halloween?  Why did we forget the details of our prom, yet can recall, with spooky clarity, that campout?

Because as unimportant as they may seem, our remembered moments are revealing, and often we don’t understand how revealing until we begin writing about them.

Consider one of your clear even cherished memories?  Why do you remember it at all?   What is telling about that memory?  Why is it lodged so deeply in your brain, in your sense of smell, in your mental catalog of evocative sounds?

One reason we remember these moments is because they came before.  If you reflect back on big events of your life, you can often remember the day, the hour, the moment before just as clearly. So it becomes a two-part memory.  What you were doing before the divorce, the death, the accident.  You can recall those moments just before everything changed.

Call up the odd particulars of your childhood.

Toys and games from your childhood.  My favorite example of this is when we were kids, a popular game was Lawn darts.  Big, pointed darts we hurled at a target set on the grass.  Great fun, imagine when your little brother got in the way.

During my childhood, two plastic relief maps that hung in the hallway leading to my bedroom.    One was a map of the US, the other was a map of the world.  Stopped by often to trace our trip from California to South Dakota, fascinated that the black hills were these isolated little bumps in the center of essentially flat states.

I loved to examine the world map and imagine where I would go when I could finally grow up.

This is a small, isolated image, but one that can be used to launch a memoir, a short story or launch a whole novel.  Your memories and impressions can be used, stretched and manipulated into great fiction if you want.  And this may be another option as you explore your memories.

In all deference to Woolf, sometimes recalling calm, unimportant moments are exactly what we need to do in order to launch the bigger life changing moments.  The average can set the stage for the remarkable.

Some good memoir examples:

The Glass Castle: A Memoir  by  Jeannette Walls

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Don’t let’s go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

These are good because they do not over analysis or even editorialize their own story, they do not give away the ending, even though you know the author survived if only to write the book.

As a contrast, what books are not good examples of good memoir writing?

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey   

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

When you write about your past or childhood.  Avoid blame and editorializing.  Just write what happened and what you felt at the time, not thirty years later in hindsight.

First, you lose the immediacy of the narrative and scene if you write from a high perspective your work will become pedantic and dull.

Choose one scene, one time and experiment.   It took me a few tries and about 30,000 words before I realized I was REALLY BORING.  I mean, startling, elaborately, unbelievably boring.  I have a happy marriage and happy children and a mostly happy mother.  Really, my husband’s siblings are all lovely people.  See the problem? I have no problems.

Good memoir needs more than just happy all the time.  What was a difficult time for you? If you write about it will it help others?  Is your story strong enough to build a platform on?  If not, don’t panic, just makeup stuff.  That’s called fiction.   

Newbie

I’m not sure on memoirs for the everyday person. I certainly am against memoirs of famous people who are yet to reach their 30’s as I don’t need to be reminded about those talentless sods who win the life lottery.

If you are considering writing a memoir, have a look back on your life and take note of the events in your life that are truly different, or extraordinary. Pick one or two of these events and explore that for your memoir, not your whole life. We (Maybe more like I) don’t really when you were born and why you were upset because Daddy didn’t hug you enough. But what is interesting is that time you were sent off to war and what happened there, or perhaps the time your wife had a baby that was severely disabled and how your life changed, the lessons you learned.

Focus down your memoir and cover that. If it’s not enough for decent length book, then write it down and share it with your loved ones. Not the world.

Prompt 

Write your own Wikipedia entry.  Describe yourself, your career, or what you want your career to be. Who do you want to be?  Rock star, super star. Newbie Writers Wikipedia

Write your own

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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