Memoir Writing’s Toll.
Memoir writing is often a long and arduous journey. Sometimes it takes a toll on the writer in a variety of ways.
There is the debate over what family members will think or do. The writer questions the truth of what he/she is writing. This questioning brings into consideration just how much the truth may be altered. Use your own name or a pseudonym is another question. And after all this questioning, doubt takes up its place in the writer’s mind.
Self-doubt is an author’s worst enemy.
Self-doubt has a personality all its own. Its abilities can bring down a writer in an instant. Is my memoir good enough to be published? Should I self-publish or get an agent? Have I covered all the bases with regard to truth? What have I left undone? Perhaps I’ll just give up!
A year or so ago I gave in to self-doubt.
I’ll admit it was a combination of things, both physical and mental, that caused my self-doubt. But it became so overpowering, as it can, I thought I had no choice but to stop working on my memoir.
I tidied up my manuscript into a beautiful bundle of pages and tied it with a blue ribbon. Then I set it aside where I couldn’t see it. I’ve not touched it since.
In recent months I’ve read some books, including memoirs, which have encouraged me. Some blog posts have also heightened my desire to move ahead. Included in these posts are:
- Kathy Pooler’s post Our Stories Endure: A Memoir Moment reminded me if I don’t share my story, who will. And if someone tries to share my story, it will no longer be just my story.
- Marian Beaman’s post Memoir Progress: Peaks and Valleys assured me I’m not alone in the struggle against the peaks and valleys encountered in this writing journey.
- Susan Weidener writes about the fear we encounter in memoir writing in her post Fear and Writing About My Father: Memoir Lessons. Susan’s words assured me my concerns could be dealt with:
I advise this when writing about family: Pay attention to details … journals, diaries, photographs, conversations. Don’t paint people in black and white, but offer portraits with insight, based on knowledge, real and authentic. Ask yourself: Would I want someone to tell my story any other way?
Susan G. Weidener, Women’s Writing Circle, blog post dated June 18, 2018, Fear and Writing About My Father: Memoir Lessons (emphasis by Susan G. Weidener)
Let Deconstruction Begin!
We’ve all watched old buildings come down. Sometimes the building is not so old but is demolished in the name of progress. Other times the destruction is caused by forces of nature–tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fire.
I remember the first implosion I watched on TV. It was an amazing sight to behold! A building falling into itself. Even better here are two buildings at the University of Nebraska imploding almost side-by-side:
Cather-Pound Residence Hall Implosion
University of Nebraska at Lincoln (2012)
This image is a bit drastic in comparison to what I intend to do with my memoir manuscript. Yet, deconstruction of a piece of work that has taken years to write is somewhat nerve shattering.
Will I be able to bring it back together into a cohesive story? Or will I find myself on yet another wrong path? Pondering these kinds of thoughts make me nervous.
I am almost ready to start. A work table has been purchased and placed in the Studio. This is where I intend to sit and begin reading and cutting. Yes, cutting. With scissors in hand, I’ll snip what I want to move elsewhere and let it flutter to the tabletop where I’ll label it with its new location.
Here is Where Reconstruction Begins.
Once those snippets are labeled I’ll begin taping and moving them to their new location within the remaining manuscript. During my last reading, I recognized a missing link. Nothing like the Missing Link believed to be part of the Theory of Evolution.
My missing link may lead my readers to assume the worst about one of my characters, and this is not my intention. So, I need to bring that character into a whole person and not one divided by my storytelling. These words may not make much sense to you right now, but trust me they mean a great deal to me and my story.
What I’ve learned from this phase of my writing is that allowing the manuscript to marinate is one of the most useful tools in a writer’s toolbox.
Another handy tool is allowing yourself time to read your manuscript from the perspective of your unknown reader. Here you’ll find yourself capable of finding construction issues, plot, and storyline errors, issues with character development, and other things that may confuse your readers.
Take your time before you rush to publish your book. It never hurts to give it another close going over with a large magnifying glass. Heed Anne Lamott’s words:
As my writing and blogging gained momentum, I would see the phrase “creative nonfiction” used to classify an essay which, to me, was clearly memoir, or a book similarly characterized. For the life of me, I could not understand the need for separation of the two.Until . . .
I began to dig for an explanation of differences between creative nonfiction and memoir. What I learned is vastly important to how I’m refashioning my latest revision.
As I combed the Internet, local libraries, and writing publications, I found an online and in print magazine, Creative Nonfiction. When landing on a new or unfamiliar site, the first place I visit is the “about” section.
Gutkind begins his articlewith the following:
The banner of the magazine I’m proud to have founded and I continue to edit, Creative Nonﬁction, deﬁnes the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as “true stories well told.” And that, in essence, is what creative nonﬁction is all about.
And Gutkind’s words clarify what creative nonfiction is–“true stories well told.” Aren’t we told to share the truth in our memoirs? Isn’t it the truth we are seeking as we write about our lives?
I suppose I should have been satisfied with Gutkind’s definition, but I kept digging. Discovering a site hosted by Barri Jean Borich, I read with interest her post entitled “What Is Creative Nonfiction?” In her opening paragraph, Borich provided an extension of the answer found in Gutkind’s article:
There are many ways to define the literary genre we call Creative Nonfiction. It is a genre that answers to many different names, depending on how it is packaged and who is doing the defining. Some of these names are: Literary Nonfiction; Narrative Nonfiction; Literary Journalism; Imaginative Nonfiction; Lyric Essay; Personal Essay; Personal Narrative; and Literary Memoir. Creative Nonfiction is even, sometimes, thought of as another way of writing fiction, because of the way writing changes the way we know a subject. (Emphasis added.)
If we take the two definitions and combine them and agree with the simple use of the word “nonfiction” to mean we only write what is true, not fictional, we have the beginnings of creative nonfiction. But what about the word “creative?”
Just because we write nonfiction and tell true stories from our lives’ experiences does not mean we cannot and should not be creative in the process. The best memoirs I have read were filled with creations as delicious as a cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. Others took me down dark, painful paths into lives of abuse and suffering, but they created the darkness for me, the reader, to experience and reach and understanding of the writer’s story.
Never let it be said a writer writing creative nonfiction cannot paint a beautiful scene or imagine the garments and buildings of ages past in his/her family’s life.
Even though we write nonfiction, our true stories must be “well told” as Gutkind suggests. And as Borich states a lot of what is written as creative nonfiction “depends on how it is packaged” and “who is doing the defining.”
The only caveat to using your creativity in nonfiction writing is not to stretch the truth of your story.
We cannot overstep our bounds in using creativity to make up incidents which never occurred, or statements never made, or whatever else you could invent.
Are you finding opportunities to “paint” while you write your memoir or some other piece of creative nonfiction? Do you see other ways the two words, “creative” and “nonfiction,” come together to define the genre or form we are writing? Let’s find out in the comments section below.
Perhaps the title sounds a bit familiar. The words form a phrase from the song, “Do Re Mi“from The Sound of Music.
When thinking of ways to make my blog focus more memoir-centric, I kept going back to the beginning. My beginning. When I started out in this life.
It was 1946. February 10 the day. My parents had agreed on having no more children. Between them, there were already three–my mother’s son and my father’s two daughters–from previous marriages.
A short honeymoon in Chattanooga, TN, changed the course of their lives, and I entered the world a little over nine months later.
When I was born, my parents were living in an upstairs apartment on 17th Avenue South in Nashville, TN. Not a large space, the apartment became more crowded following my birth, or so I’m told. A view of the street, as it looks today, is seen here:
The address where my family lived is now home to the RCA Victor Recording Studios. The street was renamed Music Row as part of the entertainment district in Nashville. It looks quite different from the building housing my folks’ apartment.
Sometimes I jokingly tell people I was born on Music Row. If they put a recording studio on the site where you were living immediately after birth and rename the street, you aren’t to blame, are you? And it’s my story, right?
While living there, Mama stayed home with me and Daddy went off to work as a linotype operator. His apprenticeship for a newspaper in a small town south of Nashville seeded his ongoing love of printing and publishing.
I have no idea what life was really like in that apartment and among the three of us. But I want to believe it was a happy time. Here’s a photo of Mama and me when I was about six months old. It looks as though it might be in a nearby park in the area or on the campus of Vanderbilt University.
Now you know that I hail from Nashville. You know my birthdate which means you also know how old I am. And you know that the first house I lived in was torn down and replaced by a recording studio.
Memories, even bittersweet ones, are better than nothing.
~Jennifer L. Armentrout, Onyx
These are my beginnings. As barefoot as I am in this photo, barefoot I would be every chance I got until I was much older. Wearing shoes is so un-Southern.
I hope to bring you more tales from Nashville as I move on with completing my memoir and begin the publishing journey.
What about you? Where were your beginnings? Is the first house you lived in still standing? Any memories you’d like to share? Join in below–I’d love to hear more about each of you.
Continuing with creative nonfiction shorts in my series, A Day in the Life.
Recent events involving the family of my former managing attorney brought back many memories of my almost 15 years spent working with him and watching his family grow. At the same time, I was treated to casual reminiscences with other attorneys and their wives I came to know while working at the firm.
Prior to retirement, I was given sage advice by a brother-in-law. He cautioned, “When you retire, walk away not expecting friendships to continue. Some may. Some will. Many won’t. Don’t be surprised. After all, the friendships made on the job have an essential focal point–the workplace. Other friendships in your life have varying focal points. Don’t be disappointed by this turn of events. Go make new friends or get reacquainted with old ones.”
My brother-in-law was right to a point. The attorney and his family with whom I grew close during the workdays over 15 years have made it possible to stay closer than I expected. We’ve been included in recitals, concerts, weddings, memorial services, and more. A bonus was getting to know this attorney’s parents with whom we became close friends.
On the day I retired, February 6, 2006, the firm hosted a party in my honor with gifts, a trip down memory lane, some hugs, and some tears. I left thinking on my brother-in-law’s wisdom and advice.
I never expected to experience such family like feelings with my managing attorney and his family by the time 2015 rolled around.
A kinship exists going beyond explanation. Truly it has been a joy to have been “adopted” by their family.
Have you experienced this kind of extended relationship beyond a structured environment, whether at work, during college, or elsewhere? If you have, share your story with us, won’t you?