Sunday, October 10, 2021

Writing Memoir - Six Questions that block the process

Some of the questions my students ask reveal the reason they have not begun writing about their lives.

  • Where do I begin?
  • How can I possibly put everything in my long life into a book?
  • How do I write about things that happened before I was born?
  • Can I write unflattering truth about my family?
  • What kinds of things should I write about?
  • Why should I write about myself?
Monteen, my cousin and her brother, Charlie

My cousin, Monteen, was her family's historian. When she was well into her nineties, she wrote about the Charlie Council family that lived in Palmetto, Florida in the book, Profiles and pedigrees: The descendants of Thomas Charles Council (1858-1911)
I published this book in 1998.  Monteen wrote one chapter in the book and enlightened the reader to what life was like in the 1920s and beyond in south Georgia and Florida during the Great Depression. When I suggested she write more about her family and her life, she said she didn't know how to begin and she said there was too much to write. She never did write that memoir.

Memoir is not the same as an autobiography. 
An autobiography tells the entire life of a writer, from birth to the time he publishes his book. Celebrities and political figures write autobiographies.

In memoirs, we write only the memories that add to the theme of our life story. We don't remember every single thing that has happened to us, but we do remember those events that made an impression. Why did those memories stay with us?  
If you want to write about your life, read memoirs and take note of how they are written, where do they begin, how much of the author's life do they write in the book? A person can write a number of memoirs about her life. She might want to write about a certain happening that affected her all during her college life. 

She might want to write about why she cried every day at school when she was in elementary school. Perhaps she doesn't know why, but in writing about those years, she will open her mind to what was happening at home, at school, how she felt then, and why she was unhappy. 

Part of a good memoir is in the facts, but part is also reflections on those facts. In writing, we disclose to our readers how we felt then and how we feel now. Maybe what we learn will be helpful to those who read our stories. How we begin and how we end are as important as what comes between. Read some memoirs and see how they began and how they ended. 

"Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what was written by earlier masters. Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learn by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing that I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it. I write entirely by ear and read everything aloud before letting it go out in the world."     William Zinsser

If you want to write memoirs, read good books.

Best memoirs are character-driven and are written in scenes.

Angela's Ashes - by Frank McCourt is character-driven

The Glass Castle – by Jeannette Wall is character-driven 

Traveling Mercies - by Anne Lamott

Writing Your Life Story by Kelley Notaras

I would love to know your favorite authors and your favorite memoirs. What did you like about the books?


www.riceandbeall.blogspot.com 

Writing Life Stories














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