Welcome to the July 2012 newsletter for the National Association of Memoir Writers. I’d like to welcome all the new subscribers to this newsletter, and a hearty welcome to all new members. I’ve enjoyed meeting you on our recent teleseminars and Roundtable Discussions. I look forward to getting to know you and your work, and to learn what your needs are for your book or memoir project.
A Brief Sketch of London
This week I’m shaking the jet lag from the crevices of my mind having just arrived home from my trip to Bonnie England. I have yet to download the 420 photographs–except for the few I include here for your enjoyment. I’m still savoring memories of the excitement and aliveness of the people, the zip and pizzazz of London, filled with people from all over the world. In London, every corner alive with thousands of years of history, amazing architecture from the 12th century to modern Now.
I loved strolling with Brits and world travelers alike along the South Bank under the famous London Eye, watching Big Ben arise and boom its homage to time from across the famous Thames. It was a literary day, with a stop at the Globe theatre, built near the original location after the Globe of Shakespeare’s time burned down. Using thatch for roofs was a dangerous business.
Everywhere there are signs of the preparation for the Olympic games, which London is clearly proud to host. One of London’s most delightful characteristics is its cleanliness and the wonderful warmth and friendliness of everyone–always willing to help, to chat a bit, offering service with a smile or directions to the nearest Tube stop. And busy though it is, London feels spacious and welcoming. Multinational languages fill the streets as people brush by on the way to Trafalgar Square or to see Buckingham Palace. And even though the home language is “English” hearing the different dialects and accents is a bit like tasting the flavors of a complex sauce–from spicy to edgy to sweet.
As a writer, I enjoyed hearing the variety of ways that English was spoken, the layers of accents and intonations, like poetry in the air.
At the exhibit at the British library “Writing Britain,” I viewed 1,000 years of literature; saw original manuscripts of Charlotte Bronte and her sister Emily. No edits on the pages — just a beautiful flowing hand written by ink and quill. The exhibit displayed many other author’s original works—which makes you believe in editing. The pages were crossed out and scrawled on by hand, with margin notes. If George Orwell, JRR Tolkein, John Lennon, JK Rowling, and Charles Dickens need to edit to create their literature, then we writers need to be okay with it too! A high point: listening to John Lennon sing “In My Life” while looking at his original verses, captured while he was on a bus from his home town to Liverpool. Yes, it’s an autobiographical song, as is Penny Lane, scribbled on the same piece of paper. I gazed upon a beautiful small watercolor by JRR Tolkein–his vision of hobbitland, and original manuscripts by Charlotte and Emily Bronte–all written out in perfect script–no edits! The silent room was full of people enthralled with a thousand years of English literature–I felt in good company as we viewed the manuscripts.
Speaking of Editing…
Do any of you feel that you “should” write your pieces perfectly or nearly so? Do you compare your work to the finished and published books that you read? I hope you don’t–and my experience at the British library underscores the creative process for all of us.
It was exciting to see the original manuscripts of the great writers on ordinary paper in ordinary notebooks, from bound books to wire bound notebooks where I saw work in their own hands or manuscripts typed on typewriters, almost all with edits and cross outs. Nearly all the lines are crossed out by James Joyce for in red two pages of Ulysses. And George Orwell’s 1984, drafts of Lennon’s songs, Dickens’ novels. All were edited except for the Bronte sisters! I don’t know how they did it–their work was in longhand with quill and ink in lined books dated 1837, 1848. All we can do is admire that kind of magic and be assured that other writers DO edit, over and over again.
Nothing, not music, a painting, a song, poem, a story or a book comes out whole and complete–except for VERY occasional magic moments when it seems the Muse gifts us with a great paragraph or poem:) So be a master–and be willing, even eager, to edit your work multiple times. It’s a delicious part of being creative–to continue to develop, listen to, and tune into your work.
The Creative Process: Blogging Your Book
While we are on the subject of creativity, I’m eager to mention a great way to get your ideas, your book or stories done–and that’s through your blog. Our Roundtable Discussion guest for July 12th is Nina Amir. Nina is the author of a wonderful new book How to Blog Your Book. She’s a good writing friend of mine, and a wonderful guest full of information that she loves to share.
- Do you have a blog?
- What inspired you to start one?
- Are you putting your story on your blog?
Please join us to discuss your questions about blogging a memoir with us at our July 12 Roundtable. Read more about Nina and her discussion topics here and be sure to add your comments and questions to the blog post on the NAMW site.
Membership Teleseminar July 27: The Inspiration of Poetry in Memoir with Albert DeSilver
We’re so happy to have an amazing poet and memoir writer Albert DeSilver as our Member Teleseminar guest. Albert is the author of a lovely new memoir Beamish Boy.
From the Kirkus review:
“. . .A beautifully written memoir. . .poignant and inspirational, comical and terrifying!”
One of the highest compliments a piece of writing can receive is that it’s “poetic.” Whether we are talking about a novel, an essay, a screen play, or a memoir. We want our writing to shine, to be poetic—meaning, beautifully crafted, billowing with unexpected metaphors, infused with a gorgeous fluid rhythm, and peppered with mysterious twists of language! (Read more about Albert’s Teleseminar here! )
Poetry and my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother
My first stories about Blanche, my eighty-year-old great-grandmother, the lush world of an Iowa summer, my love for Oklahoma wheat fields, the powerful trains that brought and took away my parents were developed first in poetry. But after a while, I felt that the deepest truth and the parts of my story I needed to investigate more deeply were being lost between the lines. Through prose, I learned how to fill in the silences while also being able to use what I learned in poetry to create states of consciousness.
- Do you write poetry? When did you start writing poetry and what do you like about it compared to writing prose?
- What kind of poetry inspires you?
- Tell us what your favorite poets are and how you use poetry to help you write your memoir.
Seven Memoir Writing Tips—from Fragments to Story
Stories come from experience–physical and emotional encounters in our lives that affect us, mark us. It can be challenging to sort through these small moments, and the larger ones, and sometimes people are tempted to give up because of the enormity of trying to sort out stories, memories and moments.
Sorting through is like gathering puzzle pieces–you find the edges, the solid color area, and then find the patterns in the middle. After a while, it’s clear how the pieces connect.
You can do this in a variety of ways:
1. Jot down your memories in order of intensity of meaning–the moments that were “Big Moments” in your life.
2. List memories around a certain topic–school, parents, best friends, best experiences, heartbreak, lovers, houses.
3. Make a list of themes that your memoir might highlight. This is often a sentence. Here’s an example of theme my friend Kathy Pooler lists on her website, “I’m writing a memoir about the power of hope through my faith in God. Hope Matters.”
- My memoir Don’t Call Me Mother Breaking the Chain of Mother-Daughter Abandonment is about three generations of women who abandoned their daughters, and how I broke the chain of abandonment.
- Linda Hoye, an NAMW member and author of a new memoir has her theme in her title; “Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude.”
- Other themes include Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, about “my miserable Irish childhood,” he used to say, tongue in cheek. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild –Oprah’s new book pick for many good reasons–includes her theme in her subtitle “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
- For other memoir authors such as Sue William Silverman, Love Sick, Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life, Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle–can you define the themes of their books?
- Write the three or four most significant stories–without worrying about grammar and punctuation. As Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina said during many writing conferences, “Write what scares you, upsets you. Write from the fire in your belly.” This is a good way to jumpstart your memoir.
- List the 20 or so significant moments of your life and write each story one by one, without paying attention to the order. These are best written when you feel and know that story in your bones–your writing will reflect your emotional involvement.
- Write down the major “characters” in your life who are part of your memoir. List them and write character sketches.
- Set deadlines to get your stories done. Join a critique group, a writing group, or hire a coach to help you develop as a writer. Learning to write comes from many sources. See this link for recommended books, blog sites, and resources.
Remember, it takes courage to write a memoir, yes, to expose your inner life to the page–forget about an audience for a long time, but most of all, it takes perseverance. Once you have written a few stories, the inspiration to keep going will build and you will want to set your goals, find your writing time, and make writing a priority.
Fall 2012 Memoir Writing Workshops & Classes
Healing Memoir/Spiritual Autobiography Fall 2012 Workshop
September 18-November 13.
In this teleworkshop led by Linda Joy Myers, NAMW founder and president, writers receive positive and supportive feedback to vignettes or chapters. The group gathers on the phone each week at a set time to discuss the works submitted the previous week by email. Each person gives feedback to all the other group members—supportive feedback that helps the person keep writing while also learning about things that could be emphasized or changed.
The workshop setting invites writers to
1. Meet a deadline each week.
2. Develop their memoir to another level.
3. Challenge their writing style.
4. Dig deep into the truths they want to share.
5. Confront certain events in their lives through writing about them.
6. Get support for continuing to write their memoir and become a published author, if that is the desire.
7. Learn about the healing power of writing.
And provides an opportunity to:
1. Learn about writing skills and techniques.
2. Find out more about becoming a professional writer.
3. Gather with others who are writing memoir and learn from the group wisdom.
4. Have an experienced leader guide the group through the emotional challenges of memoir writing.
5. Learn about writing, publishing, and the special issues that memoir writers face.
Online Memoir Writing Classes with NAMW
The focus of a class is to offer techniques, information, and some writing exercises to help you practice your new techniques.
Two new classes in September/October:
Start Your Memoir Journey Now
Wednesdays, 4 PM PST/7 PM EST
September 5, 12, 19, 26
If you want to write a memoir, but don’t know where to begin, join us for this brief course to get you started. In this four-week course, Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner will help you identify how to start and what kind of memoir you are writing. We’ll look at your stuck places and offer some skills to achieve your dream of completing your memoir.
For more information or to sign up:
The Four Elements
90 minute teleclass
4 Mondays September 24, October 1, 8, 15
3 PM PST, 4 PM MST, 5 PM CST, 6 PM EST
To start a memoir, and just as importantly, to keep going, you must master the art of self-direction. This workshop will provide you the four essential elements to overcome resistance, and harness positive energy. Based on Jerry Waxler’s Four Elements of Self Help for Writers, the class will help you get to your chair and maintain focus and creativity while you’re there. Read more…
NAMW members: $99