OVERCOMING FUNK AND STARTING YOUR MEMOIR

20 Sep

Emmett’s vest — done!

IN A FUNK

It’s been more than two weeks since I last wrote.  What’s going on?

Too busy finishing the little baby vest?  As you can see, it DID get done.

Have I been too busy with “stuff” for my daughter’s wedding?  Too busy camping on the Metolius River and listening to great folk music in Sisters?  I did add a page to this blog about my illness.  That was writing, but I kept putting off writing this post.

I know myself after all these writing years, and I see a pattern:  After a major rejection, it takes me a while to regroup.  When I pull out my writing spirit and look at it, I see it’s squashed flat.  And like those Chinese papers that you drop into a glass of water, it needs to slowly unfurl and plump itself back into shape.

My book.  My time, my energy were all in that book that was rejected.  Besides that, the story says something important to kids.  About families.  Privacy.  Sorrow.  Hope.  Courage.   All of it — good stuff — rejected.

Self-publishing it is still an option, but right now, I need to find myself, my writing self, again.

How do I do that?

GO EASY

  • I’ve been trying to treat myself — smell the roses that are on my coffee table.
  • Acknowledge that I’m grieving.  Whine a little. (or a lot.)
  • Diddle around on the computer.  Okay, that means playing quite a few games of Mahjong solitaire, but before I leave my desk, I try to write a few stupid sentences in my journal.  Gently now.  I’ve left the Wordperfect file open so I can get to it easily.  I even left the cursor set on the next sentence.  I’ll write a little something.  Maybe I’ll call it “practicing typing skills.”
  • In the meantime, I should probably tidy up my office.  Who can possibly work in here anyway, in this mess?
  • While I’m at it, maybe tackle the utility room?
  • Time heals.
  • The most important thing:  I must keep writing.  Anything at all.

MEMOIR:  PLEASE WRITE IT ABOUT YOURSELF

Writers in my classes, and most recently, a friend last week in Sisters, have told me they want to write a memoir — about a parent.  About a daughter.  About a grandmother.  Their eyes glow with excitement.  What a life that person had, they tell me.  It will make a great book.

I beg to differ.

Please consider writing about YOU!  YOUR life.

It’s the story only YOU can tell.

Let’s turn this idea around and imagine that YOUR son or daughter has decided to write your story.  “Gee, Mom, your life is inspiring.  I want to write it.”   A compliment.  But at the same time, an affront.  How can they possibly know the things you know– the deep-inside things, like the smell of the hollyhock dolls you made, the touch of your grandma’s hand on your forehead, the softness of the bunnies that were in the backyard pen, the agony of wearing a homemade dress to the prom.

WRITE YOUR OWN STORY!  Don’t put it off for your children or anyone else to botch up.

As you write your own story, chances are your own parents, your grandparents will be part of it.  In that way their lives will be captured, but through an honest, more valid viewpoint.

Yours.

How to get started?

WRITING PROMPTS FOR STARTING MEMOIR

THE MAP EXERCISE

Taken from Bill Roorbach’s book, Writing Life Stories, a book I highly recommend.

Make a map of the earliest neighborhood you can remember.  Add the streets, the neighbors, the hiding place, the scary neighbor.  Name these; be specific.  Or make a map of your house — your bedroom, the kitchen, any part of the house where important things happened.

If you’re like me, your map will be a sketchy thing.  The main thing is that you’re opening a memory drawer and rummaging around in it.  One memory after another is bound to pop up.  Start writing about these with as many specific and sensory details as possible.  Go back and add more smells, tastes, sounds to these.  Capture the emotion of the event, if possible, by giving us a bit about the light, the darkness, the weather, the way your stomach felt.

Remember, if you’re writing about an event, you can begin with the action of it.  We usually don’t need all the background and all the intro.  Just begin with something happening.  Get to it.

YOUR LIFE — EVERY FIVE YEARS

On the left side of a paper, list the years of your life in five-year periods.  0-5, 6-10, etc.  Try to recall a major event in your life for each five-years.  For example, at age 9, I got my first bike.  Independence!  How sweet it was!

LOCATE THE TURNING POINTS

When did your life take its turns?  What events forced you to move out of your usual rhythms.  What set you back?  What helped you grow?  Write about these — and again, just give us the actions, the people who were there, what they were doing.  Imagine that you are capturing a pivotal moment in a snapshot on your camera.  Who else was there?  Where exactly did it happen?  Was there weather?  Furniture or props.  What were people wearing.  What did their faces look like?

Photos are limited, however, so you’ll need to enhance your imaginary photo with details of smells and tastes and sounds.  Write, write, write.

Don’t worry about polishing any of these.  They are great jumping off places, however, for what you may eventually want to write and polish.  Save them, get them out every now and then and see what other memories come to you.  Write those down.  Are you getting pages and pages of writing done?  Yes, you are.

And that’s how it all begins.

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6 Responses to “OVERCOMING FUNK AND STARTING YOUR MEMOIR”

  1. Ann Marie Etheridge September 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    I am guessing that I may be about 60- 70% of completion into my memoir. And when I get “stuck”, I look over these great suggestions (which I received in one of your classes), and inevitably, something triggers for me to get me going again. Good stuff, Ann. Thank you.

    • annewarrensmith September 25, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Almost three-fourths done! Good for you. Did you ever find that Jon Franklin book on plotting (Writing For Story)? Also, Is there a particular prompt that you go back to more than once? If so, what is it?

  2. Becky Hickox September 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    Oh Anne–my funk has lasted far too long. I keep telling myself to fish or cut bait. Writing isn’t exactly essential to my life, but the people it has brought into my world are. I think I should probably START some projects (writing and otherwise). A new crochet project (after many years of no needlework) might be exactly what I need to get back to really working on writing.

    Becky

    • annewarrensmith October 2, 2012 at 10:27 am #

      By the time you read this, I imagine you’ve begun . . . something! There’s something about the fingers moving, sorting, creating a beautiful new object out of yarns or fabrics, that is very much like creating characters and plots, and going back into memories to make sense of a life.

  3. Lynn Bain October 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Yes! I agree…do something creative, anything, to get the juices flowing. Your adorable baby sweater, Anne, is an expression of love, I know, but also plotting, blocking, styling 🙂 And isn’t it nice to finish a project that is actually FINISHED!?
    Writing, to me, can feel never-ending – there’s always more editing/polishing that could be done.

    I like the idea of mapping a childhood neighborhood. I’m going to try it. It already sparks some memories, just thinking about it!
    thanks for the tips!

    • annewarrensmith October 14, 2012 at 10:43 am #

      Eudory Welty said: A place that ever was lived in is like a fire that never goes out.

      The sparks, the coals, forever smolder. All we need to do is uncover, add oxygen, and lo! Did you do it? Map your childhood haunts? I say that word “haunts” advisedly. Something about October and Halloween that reminds us of certain places in the neighborhood.

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