Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pay Attention In Your Writing

If there is one thing writers should remember, it is this:  Pay attention.

Pay attention to what is happening around you.  Listen, pay attention to what's turning in the world.

Our job as writers is to mine the ordinary, the commonplace.  Meaning resides in the conversation over coffee with a best friend; a walk in woods when a butterfly suddenly appears; the dead deer along the side of the road; the sound of neighborhood children running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day; the smell of spearmint your mother grew in her garden and put in your iced tea. 

Notice and learn from the things around you.  Knowing something is knowing how to be creative with it.  Writing about it brings understanding.

Some wonderful quotes to ponder:  "Our job as writers is to mine the commonplace by paying attention."  Richard Olsen. 

"What is a poem if not an overhearing of another human being making sense of the nonsense and wonder of life."  William Stafford.

Our writing prompt for the July 14  read-around at Wellington Square Bookshop: Listen, pay attention to what's turning in the world.
Start off with:  Pay attention . . . .
This writing prompt also reminds us that I will be offering a Life Writing Workshop on September 8, 2012 with Jerry Waxler at the Fairfield Inn in Exton, PA.  This all-day workshop will offer specific tools and strategies to mine the ordinary moments and memories of your life and turn them into compelling writing for personal essay, memoir, creative non-fiction, poetry or fiction.   The early bird special runs until August 1.

And one final quote to ponder:  "If you don't write, life is just one damn thing after another . . . "
Zen in the Art of Archery

NOTE:  Many thanks to June Gould, my writing instructor at this summer's International Women's Writing Guild  workshop who used this prompt - Pay Attention - in her class at Yale University.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reality and Invention in Writing

The "what might have been" as much as "what was" should interest the memoir writer. We recreate, we craft, we embellish, we dramatize.The main character in memoir is the narrator.  The reader must understand what drives and motivates her.  The how or why of her life story is more interesting and important than details of where and when it took place. 

Memories exist in that place between reality and invention.  This should not detract from the truth of our story, rather compel the reader to live it with us; to enjoy and be enriched by its emotional scope.  Scenes act as the catalyst to move the story along, but a book is only as good as the human experience and journey it conveys to the reader.

The same holds true for the people we write about. They, too, exist in that place between reality and invention - or, if you will, imagination.

“Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.”
Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase

As an editor of fiction and memoir, I tell clients of both genres - keep the story moving. Make it a page turner. How? Story arc, characterization, voice, drama and conflict. These techniques, among others, bring the reader into our story.  Please keep in mind our upcoming Sept. 8 writing workshop  The Art of Life Writing.  It will explore and instruct in these concepts.  Schedule by August 1 for the early bird special.

This week I am traveling to New Haven, Connecticut for the IWWG summer conference, "Live the Magic" at Yale University.   This is where women work to mine their memories and find their voices . . .  resist the internal censor and the inner critic.

I view this experience - as I did when I attended last year - as professional development as a writer and teacher of writing, as well as editor.  A writer needs to travel outside the cocoon of isolation.  She needs to work on her craft in a workshop setting with other writers from time to time.  This conference also offers opportunities to explore Yale University's libraries and museums . . . for contemplation surrounded by the intellectual and the emotional.

I will return with renewed enthusiasm, energy and - hopefully, ideas -  for our Women's Writing Circle read-arounds and critiques.  Those who have signed on to the WWC book anthology, please remember that our Saturday June 30th critique at Wellington Square Bookshop represents one of three opportunities over the summer to rework your contribution through the feedback and editing of other writers.

Also:  Tuesday June 26, I will read my work with nine other writers at the Brandywine Valley Writer's Group reading at Chester County Book and Music Company Bookstore in West Chester. Readings start at 7 p.m. I hope you can join us and support BVWG.

Many thanks and keep writing . . . keep writing . . . keep writing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Memoirs For Summer Reading

We are all familiar with The New York Times summer reading list. It is always composed of authors published through traditional publishing houses.  But what about independent authors?  Who takes the time to read their work and recommend their books for the summer reading list? 

I ordered three eBooks  - memoirs published independently -  as I traveled Brazil.  And I have to tell you how wonderful these books were, how incredible the writing, how true the stories ring of human emotions and experiences.  These books provided entertainment and insight. Not to mention they are a bargain, price-wise.

So ... here are three memoirs by self-published authors I highly recommend. 

Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages by Boyd Lemmon.

This story takes us deep into the mind of a man who was afraid of being alone, whose life was about accomplishment and the need to find meaning through that well-known rite of passage, marriage.  Boyd's three wives are drawn in vivid detail.  His memoir takes us through his own insecurities, his parental expectations to succeed, as well as his addiction to drugs and alcohol to help ease the pain of lack of fulfillment.  Boyd unsparingly provides details of his own weaknesses, his need to find meaning through having a partner and how this eventually led him to strike out on his own.  This is a great read.

Night Bloom by Virginia Redfield.

For anyone who has ever felt the yoke and the burden of a parent who felt her only way out was through self-sacrifice and placing that burden on her child, this story is for you.  The author takes us through her torturous childhood growing up with a mother who used religion - the Nazarene Church in Miami during the 1940s - to punish herself and her family for unfulfilled dreams.  What makes this story interesting is how it is told through the eyes of a child, and, later, a young woman, who feels her own identity slipping away with a domineering mother and an ineffectual father.  The story has an upbeat ending as the author finds her identity and meaning through books and writing.  This memoir includes an interesting sequeway during one summer in Asheville, North Carolina where the author spends many afternoons talking with the mother of her idol, Thomas Wolfe.

It Rains In February - A Wife's Memoir of Love and Loss by Leila Summers.

I read this book because I was curious how the author dealt with the loss of her husband.  Set in South Africa, this book instantly transports the reader into a wife's futile attempt to save her bipolar husband from killing himself.  Her love for him is so great that despite his continued assertion that he loves another woman, she stays by his side, vainly hoping to rescue the man she loves and save her family from ruin.  Much of this memoir is told through emails between wife and husband.  The writing is lyrical and beautiful in tone and emotional intensity.

So there you have it.  My memoirs for summer reading. 

Of course, if you want to read a compelling narrative of the loss of youth and dreams and how chronic illness affects a marriage, there is my favorite, Again in a Heartbeat.