As we discovered in last night’s memoir writing class, the blank page yields many interesting and wonderful surprises. What is in our heads is not always - or maybe hardly ever - what appears on the written page. Our stories take on a shape and life of their own.
Our assignment last week - list ten or twelve transformational or meaningful events in your life. We shared why some were selected and then in a 10-minute write, developed one of those events into a short scene or narrative.
What the writing revealed: the event offered insight into a turning point; for example, leaving home for college; a parent’s death; a child's moment of realization that someday we all die. The takeaway (lesson/realization) becomes the next quest.
This exercise gives the writer a starting point on a roadmap of where the memoir may take us and helps us hone in on that ‘compressed’ period of time in our lives that is the bigger story known as memoir.
"I didn’t mean to write this, but it’s just what came out on the page," a couple people said last night.
What we often believe to be the “truth” is not the whole truth. Writing about a meaningful or transformational event leads to magic . . . the “alchemy of writing”.
While we can’t change the past, we can go back to that moment and observe ourselves and others. It's a powerful elixir - memory and hindsight/insight.
When we talk about writing our life stories, we’re taking an important journey of self-discovery. We are ceding over restraints, inhibitions and “public face” as we sort through the “rubble” for our authentic and true story. What follows, hopefully, (and only when the time is right), is digging deep, being honest. This way, we ultimately free ourselves from judgment, shame and guilt. Although this information is not revelatory to experienced writers of memoir, it is to those just discovering the genre . . . they are filled with awe and wonder at the aha! moment that appears as if out of nowhere from pen to page.
We also learned last night that the elements of a good memoir are similar to, if not the same, as those found in any short story or other work of fiction. It is important to understand these elements:
- Point of View
And a narrative arc has a beginning, middle and end. As I explained, in my own memoir Again in a Heartbeat this took the form of one woman’s journey . . . from naïve illusions and expectations to disillusionment and anguish that nothing was going as planned, to acceptance and realization that her husband was irreplaceable . . . and despite great pain and loss she would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Other questions last night: How do I arrange my story? Does it need to be chronological? My answer; start at the beginning, or start at the end and work back to the beginning . . . allow the story to guide you.
- Believe in your creative muse.
- Take a risk, don’t be bound by any rules.
- Create a compelling narrative in your “voice” that inspires your readers.
- Tell your story with passion and conviction and honesty.
As much as they surprise each other, the men and women last night surprised themselves with what their writing revealed.
Listening to their stories, I am honored and deeply touched by their trust in sharing not only with me, but each other, their innermost thoughts and feelings – and somehow feeling more connected at the end of the evening.
Next week’s assignment: the BIG ONE that has stymied many a memoirist. In three or four sentences answer: What is my story about?
Your thoughts, comments and questions are most welcomed.