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
- Insight into the past
- Ability to draw the reader in
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
- 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
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:
But hopefully with a more exciting title and cover!