I couldn’t come to grips with writing a new post this week. Something or Someone advised me to step back and take a self-care breather.
So, I’ve pulled this one from the 2015 archives, brushed it up a bit, and offer it to you on this Easter weekend in 2020. The memory is one of my childhood favorites. It always comes to mind during the week before Easter.
One Easter Sunday stands out in my mind above all others. The year 1950. I was around age four. Dressing up was a highlight to most little girls, especially around Easter.
Easter meant a visit from the Easter Bunny with baskets filled with eggs and jelly beans and always a chocolate bunny. And it almost always meant new clothes. This particular Easter meant a new pair of black patent leather Mary Janes. I was proud and excited to wear them. I thought Sunday would never come.
Finally, Sunday came. Up early to check out what was left by the Easter Bunny, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and then dress for church.
That’s when it all fell apart. I heard Mama and Daddy talking. Well, maybe arguing.
“She cannot wear those shoes. Can’t you see it snowed last night?”
Oh, no! Mama was telling Daddy I couldn’t wear my new shoes. If I hurried, I could get dressed and have my new shoes on before they finished.
“Honey, the snow isn’t that deep.” Hurray for Daddy! But Mama was having none of it.
Finally, Daddy saved the day. He told Mama if she felt it was too messy to wear the new shoes, he would carry me from the house to the car, from the car to the church, and reverse his plan when it was time to come home.
I’ll never forget wearing those shiny new shoes. But above all, I’ll never forget how loved I felt when Daddy reached down with his long arms, picked me up, and carried me to the car and into church that morning. I like to think it was Daddy’s way of showing me the unconditional love of God.
Whether you are beginning your memoir or have almost finished with that first draft, I hope the links listed below provide you with useful memoir writing tips. These links appeared on the Internet in recent days.
With autumn in full swing, it feels like a time for starting or restarting our writing projects. After working on a draft of my memoir for the last decade, I found the information tucked behind these links helpful.
I follow Jess Lourey on Twitter and via her newsletter. Her latest newsletter contained an article on the question, “Memoir or Fiction?” Lourey’s opinions in the short article are based on the completion of her latest novel and what she felt when she typed “The End.”
Sunday started the cruise-in season for car guys. Last year was our first year to take part. We had purchased a 1964 Studebaker Commander (see above image) in May of 2018, and we wanted to show her off. Cars have interested Bob since he was a young boy. As his wife, I came along carrying my dad’s interest in cars and built on that history to enjoy Bob’s interests.
Studie is the child of one previous owner. The gentleman who owned her took meticulous care of her outside and inside. Not much, if any, restoration occurred during that initial ownership. Car records note a new paint job (in the original color) and new upholstery (close to the original).
We never fail to receive a thumbs up along the highway, and then at the cruise-in a lot of “she’s a beauty.” Who knew you could feel as proud of a vintage vehicle as you do your three children? Well, it isn’t quite the same but similar.
Dad also had a love of Studebakers. So when Bob mentioned he’d found one for sale nearby, there was no question that we’d go take a look and kick some tires. I loved Dad’s Studebaker. It was where I got some of my best alone time with him.
Dad’s Studebaker was also a Commander but a few years older than ours. It was born in 1949.
The pictures below are of Dad at the wheel of his blue Studebaker. The other is of me on the first day of school (either first or second grade) waiting for my ride to school with Dad.
I find it amazing how threads of passion weave themselves through your life. Who knew as a young girl in first or second grade I’d be the wife of a man who, like my dad, had a special love of cars? Who knew I’d have fun going to cruise-ins?
Gratitude fills my heart for a lot of things shared in this story. My car guys are men so similar. A father like my Father in Heaven with plenty of unconditional love. And a husband, also a good, hardworking man who loves and cares for his family. I stand in awe of the connections found across two generations in our family.
A random DNA sample returns results which stun Shapiro and her husband. A lower percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage in her background leaves Shapiro suspicious. Considering her parents’ backgrounds, the Ashkenazi percentage should have been higher. With both parents now dead, who could she ask about this possible aberration?
Shapiro immediately begins her search for the truth. But what is the truth she keeps asking herself? And who is there to help her? Her Aunt Shirley is one possible source. Although she can’t solve the mystery, Aunt Shirley consoles Shapiro and tells Shapiro that:
“confusion about the identity of her biological dad can be a door to discovering who a father really is.” (Emphasis added.)
I found the first half of the book difficult to read because of several repetitive portions. Shapiro’s obsession with the question of her “Jewishness” may result in repetitions. Her obsession causes her to worry over her identity within her family and in the larger world. The obsessions and the worrying are understandable, but they become monotonous. These chapters are short and moved along at a quick pace.
The second half of the memoir is more engaging. Shapiro shares her attempts to connect with her biological father. Research reveals similarities in appearance, posture, and traits and mannerisms. This story is woven with threads coming from multifaceted situations involving real people. At times, Shapiro belabors her points but she always comes back to the truth and history wrapped up in her story.
Fans of her other books will enjoy reading how Shapiro coped with this unsettling find. It is clear to me that Inheritance will likely draw others who haven’t read any of her books.
Writing a good, perhaps great, memoir requires a map or recipe. Any good recipe has a combination of ingredients which in the end equal what the cook hopes to present to her dinner guests, or in terms of memoirists, what we want to present to the reading public.
While I’ve been resting and healing these past few months, I’ve had time to ponder the reworking of my memoir. What is it lacking? What have I left out? Could I have mixed those ingredients a little differently to get a better result?
Differences between memoir and other genre
The best way to review what ingredients are needed foremost is to look at how writing a memoir differs from other genre:
Memoir is, to the best of the writer’s ability, true. Drawn from a particular part of one’s life or an issue from which something is learned and can be shared with others, the facts are important in detailing scenes, characters, and places. Some facts may not be clearly remembered and in this instance, a disclaimer can be made to that effect.
Memoir is somewhat more difficult in creating the story arc than other genre, such as fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, etc., because memoirists are dealing with reality and not the imagination. In imagining a story and putting it down in words, one has a bit more leverage than the facts of a memoir often allow. However, a clever writer has the ability to make memoir as interesting and readable as first-rate fiction.
The memoir writer has a story to tell, and he or she is the only one who can tell that story. It is the writer’s story to tell despite what might be believed or felt by others. In other genre, this is not the case.
Writing memoir requires having a sifter on hand or the delete button handy. Once you have chosen your theme, you must be careful not to allow stories to randomly enter the narrative of your work. Although a story or snippet has importance in your life, you must be willing to leave some stories out, especially those irrelevant to your theme.
Lee Gutkind in his book, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, provides the following explanation of creative nonfiction which sets all nonfiction apart from other genre. A good memoirist will keep this definition in my mind.
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. (p. 6)
The five ingredients or components listed above will produce a good end result. This isn’t to imply there are not other components necessary in writing memoir. But I believe these are basic to the nature and quality of good memoir.
Of necessity is writing as much as often as you can. I recently met with a writing coach to discuss returning to my manuscript after almost a year of not touching it. We agreed that two hours each day, at my best time of day, five days per week would be adequate to accomplish the next phase of my memoir. Also helpful is an accountability partner or group. I am using the Facebook group, ROW 80: A Round of Words in 80 Days.
In addition to writing, you should read, read, and read some more–the memoirs of others, creative nonfiction essays, books on creative nonfiction writing. And don’t forget classes available to you on the topic.
What are you doing to keep your recipe for writing memoir balanced? Any suggestions to offer? Feel free to share in the discussion in the comment section below.
As I was working out a topic for this week’s post, I came across this one from May 6, 2014. Reading it, I am reminded that once more my memoir has thrown me a curve ball. I need to sort out what to do with this draft still waiting in the corner.
The two curve balls came from different directions and for different reasons. If you want to know more about the second curve ball, you can read a personal note to my followers and friends who subscribe to my newsletter.
Upon reflection, I believe my May 6, 2014 post may stand me in good stead when the time is right to begin inching my hands toward the binder holding my manuscript. I don’t think I’ll be rewriting so much as restructuring and moving things in my draft around to make my memoir more readable. The wheels are turning and never forgetting this draft, but the pull to go back and revisit this post left me with a need to share it with you once again.
Here’s the original post from May 6, 2014:
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE BOOK YOU’RE WRITING THROWS YOU A CURVE BALL
The drafting of my memoir began in earnest sometime the late spring of 2012. I had jotted down notes and memories plus digging through boxes of my mother’s personal papers for years. Folders filled with potential material for a book cover a work table.
Now, here we are approaching late spring of 2014, two years later. A few weeks ago as I was considering my progress and listening to my husband’s take on what I had written for one particular chapter, I felt like I had been hit by a tidal wave of emotion.
It was as if a tsunami had taken over the life of my memoir, and what came next threw me for a curve.
An epiphany in the form of a major change in direction left me wonder struck. Not so much because it was such a stunning transformation, but because it had stared me in the eye since the year 2000, when the seed germinated into thoughts of a memoir after moving my mother to Oregon from Tennessee.
Now, what am I going to do was the next thought passing not so silently through my mind. It was simple: Regroup, rethink, rewrite–the writer’s three R’s.
When I began writing my story of life with Mama, I sat down and started pounding out words on the computer screen without any thought for an outline or a plan. I knew the story I was writing and thought I needed no organizational scheme to get it done. So far, I believe I have a pretty good draft on that first turn. But this curve ball I’ve been thrown made me stop and take stock of the time I would have saved if I had gotten my writing act together first.
The first thing I decided I needed to do was spell out what I wanted to tell my readers and why. And I did.
I then moved on to think about outlining or story boarding. I vaguely remembered a post of Kathy Pooler’s on Memoir Writer’s Journey where Kathy talked about story boarding. Unable to find it, I emailed Kathy and she sent me the link, which is here.
As I sat and studied Kathy’s storyboard, it occurred to me that my favorite writing software, Scrivener, uses a bulletin board with index cards to act as an option to an outline. I rarely use it, but checked it out and below is an image of my current storyboard or imaged outline in Scrivener:
I think it’s going to work perfectly, and I’ve set about rewriting my first draft.
A good deal of rethinking went into picking up the draft and rewriting it. Was this worth making the book into a better story to share with readers? Would the rewrite get my point across any better? After all, I’d spent a goodly number of hours not only in writing but researching, retrieving and reading.
I decided the answer was a yes. I want to publish not just a good book, but a book people will refer to as a “really good book,” perhaps a “must read,” maybe even a “bestseller.” No matter the nomenclature used to describe it, I want it to be my best work product. So, yes, the extra time is worth the effort.
As I rethought the outline I’d come up with it, I could actually see the story unfolding in a much more cohesive fashion and with greater ease.
Rethinking taught me a great lesson: Rushing in headlong isn’t always the best route to take.
I am actually enjoying this “R” of the three “R’s” because I am sensing a better writing style, a tighter style. I feel the story coming together with less negativity about my mother, seasoned with a dash of her goodness here and there, because there was goodness in her. And at the end of her story and mine, I learn there was good reason for her parenting skills, or lack thereof. I think in the rewrite this will be more easily finessed.
Like schoolchildren sent off to learn their three “R’s”–reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, we writers can also learn from a different set of three “R’s”–regroup, rethink and rewrite.
We’re never too young or too far along in our writing to learn a little something or make a change in the direction we’re headed.