We are excited to have Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, as our teleseminar guest April 27. Marion teaches memoir writing everywhere and offers important points to help us on our memoir journey. Here is Marion’s blog post on writing memoir.
WHO ARE YOU? If you are writing memoir, it’s important to know the answer to that question. I can tell you from experience that not knowing the answer to it has resulted in way too many days that found me cleaning my kitchen instead of writing. And that should never happen to you.
Memoir is about territory, and you have to walk its borders and understand those boundaries. What are those borders? Your areas of expertise. And just what are those? There are many more than you might imagine.
I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a writer and a dog owner. I sail, I own a home, and I garden. I recently cared for a friend as he died. These are only a few of my areas of expertise, and I try to write from each of them, one at a time, each time I sit down to work.
I can even argue that many of the areas of expertise can be further broken down and made smaller. For instance, everyone knows that within motherhood are many chambers of a tender heart. For instance, we are the family doctor, and even that role breaks down into the sub-specialties of ER doc, psychiatrist, blood-spatter analyst (aha! He cut his finger here, and left the bloody towel here, on the floor. I see), chemist (as in stain-removing specialist: See blood spatter), etc.
I’m writing about this issue here because learning to walk the perimeter of your areas of expertise may very well be the hardest of all lessons when writing memoir.
As a teacher of memoir writing, I always advise writers to shun the one-big-book-that-begins-with-the-birth-of-a-great-great grandfather-and-ends-with-what-you-had-today-for-lunch mentality in favor of this idea of territory and areas of expertise. When you do, you’ll discover that you’ve got lots of separate ground to cover, and that the realization is as liberating as a strong cup of caffeine.
Consider the work of the late, great Caroline Knapp. She understood this idea of territory, and wrote two best-selling memoirs. Had she lived a longer life, I predict there would have been many more. Her first book, Drinking: A Love Story, tells about her alcohol use. And when it came time to write her next book, she took on another area of expertise, that of her relationship with her dogs, and wrote the marvelous, A Pack of Two, also a best-seller.
What she understood is a lesson for us all: Separate out your areas of expertise, she reminds us. When you do, memoir becomes something you can handle and shape rather than one big freight train chasing you into your untidy kitchen.
What are your areas of expertise?
Identify them and write from one of them at a time, and let that kitchen clean itself.