I’m so glad I decided to write these posts about memoir writing. I learned so much from them – first while writing them, looking up information and organising my thoughts, and then from the lovely comments, which enriched my knowledge and provided much encouragement.

As promised, I have summarised below what I learned from this challenge.

A is for Are you sitting comfortably

Out of the many lovely, encouraging comments, I chose this one:

“Memory is the grist to our mill as writers.” David Rory

B is for Beginnings

“Just as with writing a novel you can begin at a dramatic or crucially important point in your life and then go back later to show what led up to that point. Look at the way other memoir writers have done it, but then decide what you feel is right for you.” Jean Davison

C is for Craft

Angela Brown and Rosalind Adam added to my list of qualities needed to write a memoir, making:

  • Memory
  • Detachment
  • Insight into the past
  • Story-telling
  • Humour
  • Ability to draw the reader in
  • Order
  • Logic
  • Understanding
  • Perseverance
  • Honesty
  • Self-belief

Nick Wilford gave me some great advice on writing the memoir:

“How about placing a memoir in a historical context, of what was happening at the time; even if the author was not directly involved in those events it helps to build atmosphere.”

D is for Detachment

“I actually wrote a journal for a while in third person, which made me detach myself from everyday experiences, I learnt a lot from doing that.” chicaderock

“I found it easier to gain a healthy detachment when doing the editing rather than the first draft…. I think my early drafts were a necessary part of the process, and then when I was ready to put on my editing hat, I was better able to step back and decide how to shape the material.” Jean Davison

E is for Empathy

There seems to be a new sort of spam comment, which can appear to be a real comment because it pastes a sentence or two on the subject of the post. I think that’s what this is, because it seems to be part of a sentence and because the website in the link no longer exists (although searching for the string didn’t bring up any results):

“empathy is yes, in the details. Not the telling.”

Nevertheless it makes an important point. The details create empathy: the quiver in his voice, the stain on her dress, the empty glass.

F is for Feelings

“If… you don’t know what your feelings were then ‘sad’, ‘confused’ or even ‘emotionless’ are still appropriate adjectives.” Ann

“I think that the writing itself does generate feelings…. My experience is that when I write about something difficult in the past, there can be two results: either I become depressed and stuck (cause I haven’t really worked through this thing yet) – in which case I wouldn’t let anybody else read it – or I write myself to a better place.” Krina

“I think the fact that you felt you had to suppress and block out your feelings speaks volumes in itself, if you can get that feeling across to your readers.” Gill Downs

“Extracting feelings can be a tricky task. I’ve found that the best way to recall the feelings or emotions from a particular time, free writing worked well. No standards of what to expect when I wrote, simply me, a pen, a piece of paper, or three, and the release of the scene in all its horrible grammatical glory.” ~Angela Brown

H is for Humour

“Humor is so important! It’s not fair to just be intense and not allow the reader a chance to catch their breath.” AJ

I is for Insight

“When writing my memoir, sometimes I had to ask myself, could I be certain that my memories of how I felt about an incident then weren’t getting mixed up with how I feel about it now? Not always easy (though my old diaries helped a lot). I suppose this is where insight is linked to detachment, truth, memory and other aspects of memoir writing.” Jean Davison

J is for Journey

As everyone remarked, our whole life is a journey and so is the writing of it. What wasn’t said here, but was said in other posts in different ways, is that they’re not return (round trip) journeys. For better or for worse, there is no passage back to the place we were before.

L is for List of good memoirs

Nagzilla, catdownunder and David Rory added to my list to make:

  • Frank McCourt: Angela’s Ashes
  • Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle
  • Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love
  • Alice Kaplan: French Lessons: A Memoir
  • Stephen King: On Writing
  • Barack Obama: Dreams from My Father
  • Jean Davison: The Dark Threads
  • Reva Mann: The Rabbi’s Daughter
  • John Grogan: Marley & Me
  • Jo Carroll: Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain (a travel memoir)
  • Jenny Lawson: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
  • A B Facey: A Fortunate Life
  • John Steinbeck: Journal of a Novel

M is for Memoir

The comments reflected the confusion about what a memoir is. It’s usually a part of a life as opposed to a whole-life autobiography. Some commenters also think a memoir gives the reader more freedom. As Pete Denton wrote:

“I think biographies are sometime very factual whereas a memoir is perhaps more open to creative license.

“When we were doing assignments in life writing we were encouraged to add details that were not necessarily true, but more artistic license. Paint the picture more like a story rather than be biographical.”

N is for Narrative voice

“I know that fiction is somewhat different but one does have to deal with the narrative voice in similar ways. I face these problems when I have to change from descriptive background or scene setting to present tense narrative of intimate moments or character building.
“The clunk danger is always there, too.
“I think one has to give the reader some credit for knowing what you are doing and allowing for these transitions. Most readers are able to sense how the writer is using their narrative and will be complicit in the style one chooses. They will do as theatre audiences do; they will suspend their disbelief if one carries them along in a well-paced narrative flow.
“I guess I’m saying, one can over think this process. The craft shouldn’t intrude; the art is in the hiding of the crafting. The narrator should be the reader’s friend and guide but should never bully or prod with too much crafting made visible.” David Rory

O is for Organisation

“I chose mainly chronological order starting with the point of entry into the mental health system and beginning of treatment, as this led into the main theme around which the book was focused. Later, I used some flashbacks to fill in background details about childhood and of what led up to going into hospital. I felt this worked best for what I was trying to do.” Jean Davison

P is for Proust

Royal Holloway Girl added to my list of Proust quotes:

“I think one of the most relevant things that he says (it isn’t clear how autobiographical his writing is) is how things in later life take you back to a certain point in earlier life.”

R is for Reunions for Reflective Research

Jean Davison, Royal Holloway Girl, Linda, Ann, Su-sieee! Mac, and Rachael ‘Honest’ Blair all commented on my reunion question, mostly advising not mentioning the memoir at first. Just finding things out from general chatter and leaving the memoir to emails later on. The general chatter part is harder for me than they probably realise, so I’m not sure about trying to follow this advice, but I’ll consider it.

S is for Secrets

“When I was working with kids we worked hard to help them understand that there’s a difference between ‘good secrets’ (what you’ve buying your mum for her birthday – I was rubbish at keeping those) and ‘bad secrets’ (anything that makes you uncomfortable, frightened, etc. – and most children keep these, regrettably.)

“As an adult, I’d also distinguish between things that are secret (because someone would be hurt if it were disclosed) and those that are private (anything I choose to keep to myself for my own reasons, but don’t hurt anyone.)” Jo Carroll

T is for Title, Topic, Theme and Takeaways

“Themes are also important because they help you in the marketing process. Check out the series of guest posts that I’ve got on the topic of Themes and Premise.” My Rite of Passage

W is for Why? And Wearing White

“Songs do and did often speak directly to me. When writing my memoir I put in song lyrics which spoke to me about what I was going through at the time. Sometimes a song wasn’t exactly meant to be about those things but for me it fit well with my thoughts, feelings and the events I was experiencing. But when my memoir was accepted for publication I had to take the lyrics out because it was either too hard, or too expensive, to get the copyright permissions.” Jean Davison

X is for X-ray

“This is something that needs careful thought. Are we ready for the exposure? Do we want it? Why? I think it’s important to examine our motives for writing, or more importantly for seeking publication of, a memoir before going ahead and trying for publication.” Jean Davison

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During the challenge, I visited several blogs whose authors were also doing the challenge, and read about song lyrics, recipes, animals, life in a Spanish village and more. I wish I’d had time to visit more blogs.

A huge thank you to everyone who commented here. You encouraged me to continue and taught me so much. Hopefully, this will lead to something like this:

My Memoir

But hopefully with a more exciting title and cover!

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Proust quotes

Memoir Writing

This post is one of 26 I am writing for the A-Z Challenge on the subject of writing a memoir. I’m not an expert in writing memoirs, but I’m exploring the topic with thoughts about writing one, and am happy to share the fruits of my exploration.

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Marcel Proust had a lot to say. Here are some relevant comments:

“Our memory is like a shop in the window of which is exposed now one, now another photograph of the same person. And as a rule the most recent exhibit remains for some time the only one to be seen.”

“We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes.”

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

“There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory.” Not only in youth….

“That translucent alabaster of our memories.”

“The moments of the past do not remain still; they retain in our memory the motion which drew them towards the future, towards a future which has itself become the past, and draw us on in their train.”

Note: I love to read your comments, especially when they’re attached to the right post. Please remember the Comment link is at the top of this post.

I’d always thought not much happens in my home town as far as literary events go, but this month has been quite a revelation.

First, there was the excellent two-day seminar I wrote about here.

Then there was the Kisufim Writers’ Conference, of which I attended one session, a discussion about memory in literature.

And now, there’s the biennial International Book Fair, which I attended yesterday and where I heard three interesting talks/discussions. The first was a discussion of the works of the Israeli author, Leah Goldberg. The second was a talk by an Israeli author whose name I didn’t catch. I enjoyed hearing about his path to becoming an author and why he writes what he writes. “I don’t know why,” he said several times, but that didn’t stop him from saying plenty on the subject.

Thirdly, in a large, packed hall that I was lucky to get into as many were turned away, I heard the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks. He is an excellent speaker. He kept the audience enthralled with anecdotes, while holding on to his message: not assimilation and not segregation. We have something to give to the world and can do it proudly.

What did this have to do with literature? Lord Sacks has written fifteen books. At least, I think that’s what they said, although here I see he’s written twenty-four. That’s quite an achievement!

So it seems Jerusalem isn’t such a literary backwater after all.