Our four-week memoir class at Lower Providence Community Library ended last night with read around. We read a scene from our memoirs-in-progress and in the reading found that our stories resonated and the power of the written word – and finding an audience – connects us in a way like no other.
A life that may not be viewed as “extraordinary,” nevertheless, always proves interesting and elucidating, if told with care and skill . . . humor behind the grim confrontation with death; the realization that ‘friends’ aren’t always who we thought they were; power and corruption destroy the lives of innocent children; it’s never too late to take a risk and get back ‘on stage’ and pursue our dreams and passions . . . a sampling of stories and themes brought to our read around on a warm November night in a library tucked away in a wooded enclave.
The vibrant interest in memoir and the memoir 'movement' represents a collaborative community in a very isolating world. For me, it’s about sharing talents, expertise and teaching strategies to help others write their stories; not about egos and making money.
As a teacher I’ve drawn on many resources, as well as my own experiences and lesson plans. One of the reasons I’m blogging my memoir curriculum is so others can use it if they want in their own classes and writing groups.
This group of men and women reflected on the writing process last night; a process, they agreed, was often fraught with hesitation because some memories may be too painful to pursue . . . while others represent a pathway back to the past, an insight into what made that moment so compelling and a turning point.
It’s easy to put off the writing, to procrastinate. As our class writing ‘deadline’ approached, several writers found themselves penning a piece just a day or even a couple hours before the class. The ‘takeaway’ – writing takes discipline and means picking up pen, opening the laptop and confronting the blank page.
Among the many things we discovered about the craft of writing:
- Reflection is the memoirist’s ‘job’.
- Voice is unique to the narrator.
- Details – names, ages, colors, sights, sounds and smells - enhance the writing and invite the reader into our story.
- Lively and true dialogue is a must in making a scene/relationship come alive.
- Show, don't tell. Create a portrait of one person and it helps us see through the crowd of faces.
- Vignettes work as long as presented throughout the memoir with a unifying theme or thread.
- The takeaway at the end of a scene or vignette ties the piece together. It's the lesson we proffer to our reader.
- As a way to avoid ‘sidetrips’and lack of focus, the writer must keep referring back to that all-important question: What is my story about?
We also discussed the importance of a quiet and sacred writing space. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to others who otherwise demand our time and attention even if we need to hang a sign on our door that says, do not enter, do not disturb.
Although time did not permit me to go into a discussion on publishing, I did provide a handout on the merits of independent publishing vs. traditional publishing. The question of timeliness arose and, yes, some memoirs are poised to “take off” with an eye toward current political and social situations of the day.
I concluded our class by reading from Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir: “Just picking up pen makes you part of a tradition of writers that dates thousands of years back and includes Homer and Toni Morrison and cave artists sketching buffalo.”
None of us can ever know how our writing, our scribbling, might touch or change another. As writers we are making this world – one person, one page at a time – a better place. I thank each of you for that gift.
Your thoughts and comments are most welcomed.