Five Ingredients Memoir Writers Must Have

 

Ingredients, you say?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Lee Gutkind in his book, You Can’t Make This Stuff Upprovides 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.

Image attribution: Ella’s Kitchen Company Limited via Flickr

Repeat Performance: What to Do When the Book You’re Writing Throws You a Curve Ball

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.

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

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.

REGROUP: 

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.

 

Kathy Pooler’s Storyboard
Kathy Pooler’s Storyboard
  • 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:
Scrivener corkboard
Scrivener corkboard

 

  • I think it’s going to work perfectly, and I’ve set about rewriting my first draft.

RETHINK

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.

REWRITE

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.

Happy writing!

Guest Post: The Choice of Invisibility by Destiny Allison, Author of the Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage on Ourselves

It is my pleasure to take part in Destiny Allison’s WOW! Blog Tour for her new memoir, Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage On OurselvesDestiny writes a bold yet honest memoir about making life changes in the midst of the cultural battles we wage on ourselves and with our culture. Today Destiny looks at “The Choice of Invisibility.”

On Friday, January 29th, at Puddletown Reviews, I will share my review of Destiny’s new memoir. I hope  you will join me for a look at her book in more detail.

Now join me in welcoming Destiny!

THE CHOICE OF INVISIBILITY

Healing, like writing, is a slow and difficult process. One day, one word at time, we fill the holes in our hearts. Each word is a drop of water in a dry pond. It is a tear finally shed, a hurt undone. The process not only heals us, it empowers us to do things differently in the future because it changes the way we see ourselves.

Unfortunately, changing the present is more challenging. As we work to give voice to our stories and release them, we are under a constant barrage of cultural norms that seek to diminish us. It takes great courage to rally our voices in a surging storm.

Nine times out of ten, if I’m in a business meeting with my husband (who is also my business partner), our associate will direct the conversation toward him. If I interject with a thought or comment, I’m often completely ignored. My husband knows this and works with me to balance the conversation, but he, too, is up against cultural norms.

Men are supposed to make the decisions. Women are to be quiet and not rock the boat. We’re the support system, not the engine. As such, we’re often invisible, even when that’s the last thing we want.

In every industry in this country, women are underrepresented, minimized, or ignored. Amy Schumer and other celebrities are working diligently to change the system and create opportunity for women to be heard, but try acting like Schumer in real life and the results are as disastrous as they are comical.

In my new book, The Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage on Ourselves, I chronicle an experience I had a few years ago. At that time, my husband and I had recently acquired a bankrupt shopping center. It was the height of the downturn and we had our work cut out for us.

I have long believed that the only thing we can control is what we give, so I created a community giveback that I thought was win-win. I built a professional art gallery, complete with track lighting and moveable walls, and gave it to a different group of local artists every month. I taught them the business of art, helped them with pricing, statements, and hanging their shows. They used the space and my time for free and kept 100% of their sales.

One of the first art openings attracted several hundred people. Someone my husband had done business with for years attended. He couldn’t say enough about the gallery or the event. “What a great gift! This is so important, so necessary, so good for the community,” he told my husband. My husband thanked him and replied, “Let me introduce you to my wife. She’s the one behind all of this. I just pointed the lights.” The man checked out my body, turned back to my husband and said, “Well, it’s just great of you to support her little projects.” My husband’s mouth dropped open. He took my hand and pulled me away, speechless. He had never experienced this kind of behavior because he had never partnered with a woman. For me, it was one example of many.

As we toil away at our manuscripts, we face the probability that our voices will never be heard because, well, women are supposed to be invisible. On top of that, a million books are published every year in this country and most of them won’t sell a hundred copies. And yet, we keep typing the words. For women, these words are essential. The gates have crumbled and gate keepers, who overwhelmingly publish men over women, are scrambling to survive. Today, the publishing revolution has given courageous women a chance to tell our stories. Invisibility is a choice. We can go with conventional norms, or we can create our own storm.2

Thank you, Destiny, for joining my readers and me today to share your thoughts and feelings on what, for me at least, is an area of pointed abuse and influence against women in today’s business world. Of particular interest are the statements related to the writing and publishing of works by women.

 

THE BOOK

Advance praise:

IN HER LATEST BOOK, DESTINY ALLISON HAS DEFTLY PARSED THAT FEMINIST CLICHÉ THE PERSONAL IS THE POLITICAL IN A FRESH NEW WAY. THE SEARCH FOR THE AUTHENTIC SELF IS NEW FOR EVERY GENERATION AND ALLISON’S BOOK IS A VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION TO THAT QUEST FOR TODAY’S WOMEN.

–PATRICIA MURPHY, PHD, JOHN D. & CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION WOMEN’S HEALTH POLICY FELLOW AND AUTHOR OFMAKING CONNECTIONS: WOMEN, WORK, AND ABUSE

Brave, raw, and unflinchingly honest, this book is a weight loss journey, a love story, a heart beating loudly on the page. Every day we battle against something–injustice, our spouses, our weight. Seldom do we acknowledge the real wars we wage. Repressing feelings and silencing our voices, we suffer under the surface, attributing emotional distress and unwanted pounds to the inescapable effects of hormones or age.

But weight gain, anxiety, and marital difficulties aren’t always so easy to explain.

In her poignant and touching memoir, Allison doesn’t offer recipes, exercise tips, or advice. Instead, she shows us how to stand up, express what we want, and develop empathy for ourselves and the people we love. In doing so, she provides invaluable insight for those seeking to lose weight, save a marriage, or make a significant life change.

Includes a Readers Guide.

PURCHASE THE BOOK: AMAZON

MEET THE AUTHOR

Destiny Allison was a professional and award-winning sculptor. Her work is collected by individuals, civic entities, and corporations worldwide. When an injury required her to re-envision her life, Allison did what she always does. She applied her explosive creativity and dog-with-a-bone tenacity to new endeavors.

In 2011 she was named Santa Fé Business Woman of the Year. Her community building efforts and innovative business model transformed a bankrupt shopping center into a thriving community and commercial center.

In 2012 she published her first book, Shaping Destiny: A quest for meaning in art and life. The book won best independent non-fiction/memoir in the 2013 Global Book Awards.

Since then, she has published two novels and opened a general store.

Allison believes that one’s life is one’s greatest work of art. Hence, she flows freely between mediums. Unafraid to make mistakes and always passionate, she lives in Santa Fé, NM.

CONNECT WITH DESTINY:

Facebook | TWITTER | WEBSIte

Have you ever chosen invisibility? Have you ever stood up to those who want to make you invisible? Why not share your experiences in the comments below?

What Is Creative Nonfiction Anyway?

Creative Nonfiction vs. Memoir
Creative Nonfiction vs. Memoir

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.

To my surprised pleasure, I came upon an article entitled “What is Creative Nonfiction?” written by Lee Gutkind, lovingly referred to by “Vanity Fair”  as the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”

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.