This memoir how-to post is all about you. Your memoir goals. Your writing journey. Those chasms-without-a-bridge and 600-pound-gorillas standing in your way.
It’s a quick and simple quiz, designed to give you added insight into where you want to go, and a few ideas about what might help you get there.
I’d love to hear about your insights, your progress – and your hurdles! I hope you’ll share your experience, thoughts, and questions on our “just for memoir writers” Facebook page (@WriteYourMemoir), and connect up with other memoir folks going through the same things!
1. What made you want to write a memoir?
2. Are there one or two stories you most want to tell, or a lifetime of stories?
3. How much have you written on your memoir so far?
4. What’s been your biggest writing hurdle? Where have you gotten stuck?
5. If your fairy godmother tapped you on the shoulder and gave you three wishes, what things would you wish for that would help you write your memoir?
6. What do you do right now to encourage yourself to write?
7. Would the accountability and regular feedback of a writer’s group be helpful to you? If so, have you checked for an online class or a group near you?
8. Have you read any how-to-write-a-memoir books for help or encouragement? If so, what tips or ideas did you take away that were most helpful?
9. What is your end-result hope for your memoir? Who do you want to read it, and what do you hope it will mean to your family or the world?
10. If you had to name one thing that would help you the most to finish your memoir, what would it be?
That’s your memoir post for this month! Love to hear your feedback.
There are certainly plenty of ways to describe the Great Coronavirus Experience. “Unprecedented” springs to mind. There’s also Stressful. Lonely. Depressing. Ugh.
But flip that “half-empty” glass around and the times we’re living through are also pretty darn exciting: Medical advances at super-nova speed. Heart-warming fits, too – neighbors looking out for neighbors, strangers helping strangers. And how about inspiring – legions of doctors, nurses, truck drivers, cashiers and cops, working around the clock to keep us safe, fed, and healthy.
I don’t know about you, but thinking that way makes my glass feel pretty darn full.
It’s certainly a time in our lives we’ll never forget. We truly are “living through history.”
Unexpected as this has been, it’s a teach-able moment for all of us. It’s also a teach-able moment for those who’ll come after us. That means your memoir is a great vehicle to share not only experiences, but lessons, too.
What can you share to help the next generation – and the next – understand what living through this unprecedented time has been like? What have you learned? And even more important, what advice can you give them about how to cope?
Here are three Writing Prompts to get you started:
1. What little thing that you can’t enjoy right now do you miss the most? Maybe it’s going out to breakfast with your spouse. Maybe it’s telling jokes with the guys at work, now that everyone’s not working. Or perhaps it’s hugging a grandchild (okay, that’s a big thing, actually!)
2. What have you learned from not having those things? Maybe you’ve realized it wasn’t actually going out to breakfast that you miss; it’s sitting there holding hands. Maybe it’s not the jokes at work that were so important, it was the sense of camaraderie. Did you discover anything surprising by having those simple things disappear?
3.And now the million-dollar question: What’s helping you to cope, and might help others someday? Do you remind yourself “this too shall pass”? Does it help to turn off the TV and immerse yourself in a silly novel? What work-arounds and substitutes have you found? (Scrambling an egg at home and putting a flower on the dining table to recreate “breakfast out”? Skyping with a grandchild? Emailing jokes to the guys at work?)
What’s been the greatest source of help and support for you in these trying times? And who’s helped “fill your glass” and brought a smile to your face?
There you go — your Memoir Tips for the month!
Here’s to lifting spirits and sharing YOUR wisdom!
Stay in touch! Drop us a line on Facebook and let us know how your memoir is going, or ask your memoir questions! And feel free to SHARE this newsletter.
New beginnings? We’ve all had them. In fact, life is always starting anew, it seems. And not just when we’re young!
Maybe you recently retired – and a whole new vista has opened up: Time to travel. Time to sew or read. Time to just explore what you can do and who you might be without the confines of a job.
And think back: Going off to college, or clocking in that first day of a new job. The birth of a child. Getting married and jumping off into a whole new life as a couple. Or how about a big move? To a new town, a new place, or a new house. Yes, those were all fresh starts, too!
Take a minute to remember all new beginnings you’ve had your life. (You’ll probably find it’s a long list!) Who were you, back then? What were you excited about as you started something new? What fears did you have? Did things turn out as you expected? Or did the river of “real life” sweep you off to somewhere totally unexpected?
This month, I wanted to share three fun writing prompts
to get you thinking (and hopefully writing) about your own fresh starts in life!
Remember a time when you found yourself in a new physical space. What did you do to embrace this change? What steps did you take to get comfortable and make this fresh place yours? How did you personalize your dorm room or your first apartment? Did you plant anything special in the yard at your first home? What did you hang on the wall at a new job? Did you bring a special mug to work or add a favorite picture to your desk?
Now think about the ways you have personalized your space at home right now – things that make you feel especially good to look at; things that remind you of what you love and who you are. Maybe it’s plants or family photos. Maybe it’s an antique that used to belonged to someone special. Perhaps it’s a favorite pen or coffee cup for your desk. Or simply shells you picked up on the beach. What do those things say about you? How do they reflect what you care about?
Finally, share what you’ve learned from the transitions and “new beginnings” in your life. Maybe you found that taking things slow made the transition much more manageable. Or perhaps you adored the adventure of jumping in with both feet and figuring things out as you went. What would you tell a child or a grandchild who was fearful of starting something new? And what stories are you eager to share about one of your most memorable new beginnings?
There you go! Your Memoir prompts for this month!
Hope you’ve enjoyed them. Please drop me a line on Facebook
and keep me posted on how your memoir is going!
Want to get more accomplished? Check out our new booklet, The Power of Lists! It’s a quick Kindle read. Check it out right here.
Imagine being just a few yards away from the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001. Hearing the first of two planes fly directly over your head. Running for your life as pieces of concrete and other building materials rained down around you.
Author Jodi Graber Pratt takes you there, in her new memoir: In Its Shadow: A 9/11 Memoir. It’s anguishing to feel it yourself, through Jodi’s clear prose. But it’s also a surprisingly hopeful book. Because from her own struggles to make sense of such a life-altering experience, Jodi asks us to think about what we as a country can learn from the 9/11 tragedy — and how we can build on America’s most positive traits and values.
Jodi kindly agreed to share her memoir-writing journey with other would-be memoir writers here! Hope it’s fuel for your fire — to encourage you to finish your own memoir!
1. What was process you went through to write a book about your experiences? Did you start journaling about the experience right away?
Actually, I didn’t intend to write a book initially. It wasn’t until a couple of years after 9/11 that I started writing about it, as therapy to help me reclaim full-function of my brain. At first, it was just random flashes that I tried to capture, which helped me start to process the experience. Over the course of several years, they evolved into a journal. Then the journal became an example of my writing style for a writing seminar instructor, who encouraged me to develop it into a book for publication.
2. What hurdles did you face in writing your book, and how did you overcome them? Was the experience itself something that was hard to write about, at first? What kept you from quitting when it got hard?
Initially, trying to allow the memories to come to the surface was difficult; I had been beating them down so viciously for the first two years, they were shy in exposing themselves again. And I didn’t have a regular writing schedule; career and personal obligations did not allow for much uninterrupted quiet time. That’s partly the reason it took so long to get to the journal stage; it was often months between quality writing sessions.
But writing comes naturally to me; when asked to communicate, I’d rather write than talk. That’s not to say the perfect words fall in precisely the right order as soon as my fingers touch the keypad; I usually find myself writing and rewriting many drafts before I’m satisfied to share a draft with anyone, even for a first review. But I enjoy the process, so I never felt like quitting. Nevertheless, I often felt very frustrated that I couldn’t write faster. I was anxious to get to that stage where I started feeling good about it.
3. Did you have a specific reader in mind for your book? Are you taking any specific marketing steps to reach your readers that could be helpful for other writers to think about?
I didn’t have a specific audience in mind at first; it was just for me, to help me – finally! – process what I had witnessed and come to terms with it. Once it had become a journal and I decided I was going to share it with friends and family, I wanted it to be as accurate and honest as I could possibly make it. I wanted the reader to be able to feel like they had been in my shoes, experiencing it first-hand. I was pleased when some of my beta-reader comments included, “Your experience is now indelibly linked with mine,” “I was right there with you,” and “It had me in tears but I couldn’t stop reading.” That told me I had found the right words.
Since this is my first writing effort, I’m only now developing my author’s platform,” which I’m learning is extremely important. As a more introverted person, my approach leans heavily on written opportunities (e.g., blogging, trying to reach influential people for reviews that can be “flaunted” for PR purposes, applying to award programs (with fingers crossed), trying to place op-ed pieces, doing book giveaways). And reaching out to my state and federal public servants is definitely on my short list for marketing purposes. I hope to help to contribute to the effort to raise awareness of the importance of voting mindfully, looking for ethical, wise and capable candidates who understand and value our founding ideals and will model how to fulfill them, both domestically and nationally. And, of course, make it a priority to cast your own vote, no matter what the polls are saying.
4. You’ve said that you hope your book contributes to a discussion of ways to “nourish both prosperity and morality for all.” How is your book a vehicle for that?
In recent decades, I believe we have returned to old, aristocratic economic models, where only a small fraction of the population enjoys great wealth and the benefits that come with it. At the same time, less and less of our combined profits “trickle down” to the hundreds of millions of people whose efforts – while individually small – together keep this country among the most creative, productive and successful in the world.
Our founders have left so us much information to learn from. On this issue, my favorite (so far) is Benjamin Franklin, born into a poor family (15th of 17 children from his father) in the early 1700s. He had to work hard to become successful. And when he felt he had earned “enough,” he turned his excess resources to encouraging and enabling others, and investing his time and money in improving America socially and politically. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he held himself accountable for his mistakes and took responsibility for them (e.g., recognizing and providing for an illegitimate child). Sharing generously from his bounty made him no less able to enjoy the comforts of life until his death.
That’s a great model for American Capitalism. I believe our most privileged citizens should be expected to share a portion of their bounty with society. Each generation needs to be responsible to prepare for the next, always nurturing and encouraging talent no matter where in society it exists, giving it wide berth to fully develop for the benefit of all society.
5. What do you hope readers will take away from your book the most?
No matter how “civilized” and past barbarism we think we are, the veil between peace and disaster is razor-thin. The only thing protecting us is the vigilance, dedication, intelligence, wisdom and vision of our leaders. When our government loses its focus on its most important function – to keep America safe and at peace, within itself and with all other nations – the “American Experiment” (i.e., our democratic system) fails.
We choose our leaders through our votes and our voices. We are responsible to select the best, brightest, most wise, most disciplined and most ethical individuals among us to represent and serve us, and we must hold them accountable to honor our trust in them.
6. What advice can you give other memoir writers? What helped you that might be surprising, for example?
Naps. Learn the value of taking naps. When I’ve been struggling with particularly challenging section for a while that I just can’t seem to get a handle on, I take a nap. When I wake up, a clear direction usually pops into my mind. I think it has something to do with releasing the “creative” part of our brains from the filtering of the “logical” part of our brains,which happens through sleep. This book represents a huge number of naps!
So there you go! Hope Jodi’s kind words encourage you to finish your own memoir!
Ever hit a long-winded passage and turn the page, hoping the story would pick up later? I see a few hands out there.
This month, I wanted to share three quick writing tips to avoid page-turning-reader syndrome and let your writing sing!
(1) Look for “padding” you don’t need.
An easy place to start: those extraneous, repetitive, extra, unnecessary, duplicative, redundant and overused words. (See what I just did there?) Yeah. You don’t need every single one. Get out the pruning shears and chop away.
Here’s a great example of a slightly different kind of “padding”:
“Her mouth was parched, and a slow fever seemed to kindle in her blood, and creeping slowly through every sluggish vein, touched the torpid tide with stinging fire. Her languid eyes gleamed with a fierce light…”
Oh dear. No, it’s not a passage from a modern romance. This was an 1865 writer. A very breathless 1865 writer. And it’s a great example of what happens when you lean too hard on adjectives to paint your scene.
Moral of the story: watch out for “adjective addiction.” So, how would it read without all those adjectives?
“A fever seemed to kindle in her blood, and creeping through every vein, touched her with fire. Her eyes gleamed…”
Still a bit on the dramatic side. But way better!
(2) Vary your sentence structure.
It’s easy to fall into a “same-same” sentence pattern. But changing up the sentence structure can make things a lot more fun for your reader.
Like some examples of different ways to craft the same sentence? Here you go:
My mother loved baking cookies.
December was the time of year when the aroma of cookies always permeated our house.
Cookies? We had them all. From shortbread to chocolate chip, lemon bars to oatmeal, butter cookies to gingersnaps.
Bonus tip: Unless you’re doing technical writing or striving for formality, don’t get hung up on using complete sentences. I know, I know. It’s what we learned in school, right? But for less-formal writing, short and pithy works just fine. (Check out that third bullet point above, for an example).
(3) Chop overly-long sentence into pieces.
If you really want to know why overly-long sentences don’t work and how they frustrate your reader, how obnoxious it can be to get to the very end of a sentence and have no idea where the thought actually began, and why most editors reach for their red pencil frequently to separate long, wordy sentences into two, three, or even four different parts, just think about how your attention quite naturally wandered away when you were forced to wade through a word-salad mess — like this ridiculously convoluted sentence.
Okay, I did that one on purpose. How about this real-life example (from 1865 again):
“The opportunity was offered him in July, 1862, at Boonesville, by an old class-mate at West Point, and one who subsequently won, under Bragg and Forrest, a character for belligerency similar to that now enjoyed by Sheridan.”
Huh? That requires some real work on the reader’s part to parse out the meaning! Chop that run-on stinker into two sentences and it might read like this:
“In July, 1862, an old class-mate from West Point offered him an opportunity at Boonesville. That same class-mate would later serve under Bragg and Forrest, winning himself a reputation for belligerency similar to that of Sheridan.”
Unpacking those two ideas into separate sentences makes them easier for your reader to digest. (Extra bonus credit for anyone who noticed that the rewrite also shifted from passive to active voice! That helped, too.)
So there you go. Hope these three simple ideas help your memoir writing sing!
And now I’d like to hear from you: What questions do you have about memoir writing? Where are you getting stuck? Drop a line and let me know.
It’s easy to think of our memoir as just our own story. But how many other paths crossed yours to make you who you are today? Probably thousands and thousands!
In this pool table game of life, we’ve all taken hits from a few random cue balls. Our trajectory has been disrupted by unexpected forces that coaxed us, prodded us, or simply whacked us off the table for a little while.
Not all of those forces were benign. But some were encounters with people who made us better.
Maybe those inspirational forces were your parents. Or perhaps your biggest inspiration was long-gone historic figure, or a celebrity you never met in real life.
But we never, ever forget our heroes. Role models with stories so compelling we aspired to be like them. People who challenged us to reach higher, be better, try harder.
It could have been a movie star; a saint; a surfer; a favorite teacher.
But when you ask yourself, Who inspired you? chances are someone’s face immediately came to mind!
So here’s a memoir tip: Don’t forget to mention those special forces that altered your trajectory. The heroes and heroines who inspired you can add a fascinating dimension to your memoir!
A FEW MEMOIR WRITING PROMPTS:
* How old were you when you first felt inspired by this person? How did their path happen to cross yours?
* What form did “inspiration” take for you? What about this person did you want to emulate?
* What might have happened if you’d never had their encouragement or inspiring example to follow? How did your life trajectory change as a result?
* What have you done (or might do in the future) to “pay it forward” and inspire someone else?
That’s it for this month!
Let us know how your writing is going! Leave us a post on Facebook: @WriteYourMemoir
Serendipity gives me goosebumps. Just as I was about to write this post about “food memories,” I stumbled on a terrific example of this exact form of family-history writing.
“From Billee’s Kitchen” is a great, simple collection of not only recipes but memories. Compiled in pdf form by Melissa Corn Finlay, it honors her grandmother, Billee Barton Corn. And you can read it for free, here! It’s packed with Billee’s favorite recipes, from Shrimp Victoria and desserts to die for, and great family photos. But best of all, it includes Melissa’s memories of her grandmother.
Born in 1918, Billee used to keep a jar of bacon drippings on her stove. (Sound like anyone you knew?) She went to bed every night with a Louis L’Amour novel in her hand. Granddaughter Melissa got sips of Billee’s favorite nighttime beverage (Dr. Pepper over ice) as she joined Grandma under the puffy down comforter. And Melissa can still recall the tantalizing smells of her grandmother’s apricot “fried pies.” Special memories indeed!
So, what fascinating nuggets of family history and memoir material might be lurking in your kitchen? And how can you easily preserve and share them?
Start by pulling out that old card file or family cookbook, and thumb through the recipes. What dishes were your parents’ favorites? And what do they say about your family’s travels or the way things were?
What special culinary treasures have been handed down from long-gone relatives? I treasure my great-grandmother’s recipe for Burnt Sugar Cake just because it’s a legacy. And I love the visual image of my great-aunt’s recipe for Deep Dish Peach Cobbler, scrawled in her own spidery handwriting. How fun to know that these special treats once graced their tables, too, and how rewarding to pass the recipes along to future generations!
What memories do certain recipes bring back for you? I still remember the welcome smell of my dad’s Beans Bretonne simmering in the oven — a family favorite — as I walked in the back door after school. (In case you want to try it, here’s his recipe — with some hilarious comments from my sister.)
And you might even find surprises tucked away in that old cookbook or filing box! As I was writing this story, I discovered a long-forgotten collection of old newspaper clippings in the back of our family recipe box. Domestic goddess that she was, my mother had tucked them away in the 1960s, preparing to be the perfect party hostess.
Sharing food-and-family memories doesn’t have to be a huge production. Make it easy on yourself! You might simply copy those old family recipes and bind the pages together, or paste individual recipes into a small scrapbook, as my sisters did (see below). If you’d like to “pretty it up” as Melissa did in her family recipe book, just create a Word document with images, then convert that to a pdf for sharing.
Okay, that’s your Memoir Writing take-away for today: Let favorite family recipes prompt your memories of both food and family!
And of course I’d love to hear what stories you remember.
’Tis the season (or soon will be) for gift-giving. And don’t forget those upcoming New Year’s Resolutions. (Hope yours will include writing!)
Whether you’re thinking about a gift for a fellow writer, or perhaps a motivational gift for yourself, here are sixfun gift ideas. And keep reading to the end for three helpful writing tips to keep your inspiration level high through the holidays!
* * * * * * *
Notebooks to Take Everywhere: Every writer needs a handy notebook to keep them at all times — because you never know when inspiration will strike! Check out hundreds of artist-created notebooks on Threadless.com – including this charming “PalmPlants” design. From silly to crazy to just plain beautiful, grab your favorite for between $10 to $20 bucks. Or if nothing strikes your fancy, upload a design and create your own notebook! (Wouldn’t that make a great holiday gift, too!)
Preserving Memories: Gaylord.com offers tons of archival supplies that make great gifts for memoirists. They even devote a special section of their website to products for preserving family history. The Gaylord website includes helpful free tips and how-to videos, too. Just one gift possibility: their embossed leatherette photo album.
Pens & Ink:
Love the feel of a great pen? Ink & Volt is just one site offering beautiful writing implements for every taste and budget – including fountain pens ranging from $18 to over $150. Doesn’t the “Pilot” pen, shown below, look like something writer Erle Stanley Gardner would have used for his Perry Mason novels!?
Calendars for Writers:Okay, you could buy a traditional “writer’s calendar” from Writer’s Digest. Or you could make your own! Here are five free calendar templates, courtesy of Lemon Thistle. (You can’t get better than free, right?) In addition to a spot for notes on the side, this one also includes a prominent box at the top for your goal. Great concept.
A Memoir to Read by the Fire: Amazon is full of memoirs to read. And there’s nothing like a great example as a teaching tool. Choose a memoir to read this holiday season — not only as something to enjoy, but as a sample to learn from and help you improve your own craft.
A couple of possibilities: “Reminiscence: Life of a Country Doctor,” by Carl Matlock, about medicine in a small town back in the days when doctors made housecalls. (Here’s our AmazonAssociates link to find the book).
Then there’s “My Stars Are Still Shining” by Amina Warsuma, about her journey from the streets of Harlem to a career as an international fashion model. (Here’s our AmazonAssociates link for the book). As she puts it: “I have felt throughout my life that people were my greatest asset as they suddenly appeared and disappeared in my life. I have wondered for years why I came in contact with wonderful and not-so-wonderful people. As I reflect back, there is a lesson I learned from each significant encounter and involvement.” Bet you can relate!
Getting From Stuck to Finished:
And, of course (bit of shameless self-promotion here), our own “Writing a Memoir” book about the craft of memoir-writing makes a great holiday gift, too. Hope you’ll consider gifting a copy to someone you know who’s working on their life story! (Find the book here with our AmazonAssociates link).
And here are 3 Memoir Writing Tips!
These cold winter days are a great time to stay indoors and write, right? Try these three Keep-Going Tips — just for memoir writers!
1. Picture Your Hero: Choose someone who’s already written a memoir similar to the one you’re hoping to write. (Perhaps it’s the person whose memoir you picked to read, above!) Post their photo or a picture of their book right over your computer. Remember: If they can do it, you can do it, too!
2. Narrow Your Lens: A wide-angle lens is a great tool for photography. But it can be overwhelming as an approach for memoir. Instead of trying to figure out how to jam your entire life into book form, choose just one event, one place, or one person to write about next. How to pick just one? Your heart probably already knows what you most want to write about. Or, if you’re still stumped, jot down ten possible ideas as quickly as you can and throw them in a hat – then close your eyes and pick one. (The “quickly” part makes sure you don’t over-think this step.) Extra bonus from this exercise: Now you have nine more ideas just waiting for you!
3. Talk It Out: Sometimes we’re just not ready to start writing. Sometimes we need to talk about what we’re going to write, first. My theory: talking out loud and writing words down on paper use different parts of the brain. But once you can sayout loud what you’re excited about writing, it unleashes new energy. Find a friend; take them to lunch; and describe what you’re working on and what you hope to write about next. You might be amazed at the fresh inspiration you come home with to sit down and write!
Well, that’s it for this month!
Please keep me posted how your writing is going!
And if you’d like to get more memoir tips every month, you can sign up for our free Memoir Writing newsletter here — and get a free Scheduling Tool, too!