We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. ~Shirley Abbott
Workshop: 9 Sessions Starting January 16, 2014
Thursdays, 3 PM PST/6 PM EST
Included for free: a PDF of my workbook Journey of Memoir–The Three Stages of Memoir Writing
In this workshop, we silence the noise of everyday life and dig into memories, tune into writing our stories, and learn the skills needed to write a satisfying memoir—to get all the way to “The End.” This is a process writing workshop, where digging into your memories, finding the threads of what you remember and writing into what you need to say or explore is what it’s all about. We welcome your first draft, first thoughts in this workshop. To get a memoir done, we must do this early writing first. We enter into the doorway of memory with our writing, and let it flow out.
The group is a witness and a support to your writing and the stories you have to tell. This is not a critique group, it’s a supportive group of fellow seekers and writers who ask useful questions to help you get to the core of your stories and share their own process and raw drafts.
It’s important to write freely without worrying about your inner critic or being published yet—though that may be your ultimate goal. In order to get your memoir done, you need to feed your creative spirit, and have accountability to help get your stories on the page in a first draft.
How It Works
- Send that week’s story to your classmates through email.
- Workshop members read and write feedback through email—reflecting on what works, and offering feedback about what could be clarified.
- At class time, we gather by phone to talk about the stories—discussing what comes up as you write, your inner critic, doubts and dreams about your stories, and questions about structure. Find out in person on the call what you want to know from the group that will help you continue and develop your work.
- As the leader, I guide the group, offer writing tips, and teach techniques that help you keep writing and learn how to grow as a writer.
The workshop includes:
- Narrative structure–what it is and how to create it
- The form of a chapter–what’s needed in a chapter
- Writing scenes that bring your story alive on the page
- Weaving scenes and narration–the basic skills of story writing
- Grammar–how to enhance your use of language
- Memory–learn to flow with what you remember
- The inner critic and outer critics–how to quiet them so you can write
- Outlining vs. freewriting–tools that help you get your rough draft on the page
- Exploring layers of truth–the essence of memoir writing
- Family and psyche–the stuff of memoir
Eat, Pray Love
The Formulaic Memoir: What Made Eat, Pray, Love a Bestseller
Class dates: Tuesdays, 4 PM PST/7 PM EST (11/ 5, 11/12, 11/19, 11/26)
You can still sign up and get the audios for the whole course.
Eat, Pray, Love is a formulaic memoir that works. Elizabeth Gilbert structured her book around discovery across three cultures: pleasure (eating) in Italy; devotion (praying) in India; and a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence (loving) in Bali. In this class you will learn the skills Gilbert brings to this classic bestselling memoir, and discover for yourself how to make your own memoir shine by employing these craft techniques into your own writing.
Class 1. Why Formulaic Memoir Is So Popular with Agents and Editors
Nov 5 at 4pm PT/7pm ET
• What is a formulaic memoir?
• Narrative voice—what works and what doesn’t in Eat, Pray, Love.
• Writing a present-tense memoir.
• Setting up expectations—promise and delivery.
Class 2. Character Development
Nov 12 at 4pm PT/7pm ET
• Italy, India, and Bali as characters.
• Primary and secondary character development and examples.
• What we loved and didn’t love about Gilbert’s characters.
• The craft of character building.
Class 3. Outliers That Make for Good Reading
Nov 19 at 4pm PT/7pm ET
• Creating personal and global takeaways.
• Descriptions and scenes that paint a picture of Gilbert in each country.
• All about the facts—how to weave factoids and history into a memoir.
• Illustrating themes and how to do it seamlessly.
Class 4. The Transformative Journey
Nov 26 at 4pm PT/7pm ET
• How to walk your talk in your memoir.
• Planting and harvesting your story seeds in memoir.
• Holding the narrative arc—tightly!
• Through-threads, contained story lines, and fluid transitions.
To sign up please visit this link: http://writeyourbookinsixmonths.com/1-month-intros/eat-pray-love
One of my students was complaining the other day about plotting, creating structure, outlining, and all that left brain stuff. “I miss my freewriting!” she said.
We love the feeling when we are in flow. It’s like a drug, and it’s also the feeling of being exactly in the center of our creative energy, which is one reason we love to write. But if we only freewrite, we end up with bunches of pages that have nowhere to live. We get lost in the middle of our story and don’t know how to get out. It’s important to balance the freewriting with the effort to find structure for our story if we want to have our book done within the next decade.
Because a memoir is a full-length work, it takes a long time to write, and it’s a challenge to keep track of all that goes on in this longer form. We have to think and plan out how best to write the story that wants to come out, while keeping our passionate connection to the story at the same time. It’s important to keep your themes in mind, and the messages you want your reader to get from the whole book, and from each chapter.
Chapters are composed of scenes linked by reflection and the narrator’s guiding voice. The reason we write a memoir is because we have learned something through living the story we want to tell, and because of that, it can be hard to find objectivity in the writing. Our memories float around in our heads like a dream. When we write, we capture a thread of the dream but again, how do we make sense of these threads? How do they weave together to create a cohesive story?
Clearly, memoirists need to be able to switch hats and have both the skill to structure and the permission to let go and write. You need to give yourself permission to freewrite, muse, sketch your memories, and take notes. Your writing journal is the perfect place for that. Everything you write doesn’t need to be for your book. You have to unhook from “production” enough to get refreshed, revitalized, and inspired to keep going through your freewrites.
Theme, Message, and Scenes
The smallest structural element in writing your book is a scene, and the largest is your themes as shown across the arc of your narrative through the whole book. Knowing your themes and the messages you want your reader to glean from your chapters helps you locate the scenes that will illustrate these points. Woven throughout is the narrator’s reflection as you translate your inner world for the reader.
The purpose of your scenes is to bring the reader into your world—to feel it, walk in it, hear, feel, smell, and taste that world. The reader experiences your world through scene. Each scene will have a purpose and a message for being in the book—and it will be true. However, the scenes will be there not just because “it happened,” but because it furthers the purpose of the theme. It’s important to understand that though a scene occurs in a specific place and time, not all scenes have dialogue or contain more than one person. You can write a lovely scene using prose only, and sometimes that is the best way, rather than using dialogue that forces an explanation or exposition.
The theme may be stated in the subtitle of your book: Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, has a descriptive subtitle: “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
When we open the book, we expect to read a story about feeling lost, being found, we expect an inner journey, we imagine that we will be with a woman on a trail and join her on her hike. The book’s themes showcase the ways she was lost: her mother’s death, the break-up with her husband, the loss of self through drugs, the grieving process for her mother, husband, and childhood, no relationship with her father, and being literally lost on the trail.
She gradually found herself, and there are scenes where she finds her way, learns how to solve problems on the trail, meets people who help her. The act of choosing to be brave, to face herself, and silence, and possible danger are the through thread of the book. The structure of the book includes scenes in the present, flashbacks, memories, dreams, and reflection, and everything supports the themes of being lost and found.
Cheryl wrote her book based on journals she kept at the time, but she also had to do some skillful weaving of writing skills and techniques. Writing your memoir will mean that you will draw from fragments of memories, and you may need to do research so you can include accurate details. It’s also important to pay attention to the emotional arc of writing your story—keeping your spirits up.
You can combine the joy of writing with learning your structural techniques by selecting a scene and freewriting it, getting it out of you and onto the page. You don’t have to write your scenes in a particular order, but as you assemble your vignettes, you will see your story starting to come together. The more you write, the more you will get your reward!
And read, read, read memoirs to learn how other writers solve these problems.
The National Association of Memoir Writers is co-sponsoring a workshop with Cheryl Strayed June 1, 2013 in Petaluma, CA. Click the link to sign up for the great opportunity to work with Cheryl.
Learn from the New York Times bestseller about how to write a successful memoir!
Workshop Schedule (subject to change):
8:30 Continental Breakfast
9:15 Welcome and opening remarks.
10:00 Talk & First Writing Session
11:00 Sharing Q&A
2:00 Craft Talk & Second Writing Session
3:30 Sharing and discussion
4:00 Reading 4:30 Q&A
5:00 Book Signing & Close
At the NAMW Telesummit Friday starting at 10 AM PDT, I get to talk with several fantastic authors and teachers. Their books have shaped my thinking toward more creative choices, and pushed me toward using language to carve out even deeper truths. The experts I get to hang out with are Jennifer Lauck, author of Blackbird and three other amazing and deep memoirs, including her last book Found. Dinty W. Moore’s collection of memoir essays Between Panic and Desire show us how we can weave small pieces into a memoir, while Robin Hemley’s Nola is another kind of weaving that examines the nature of memory and the sources of “truth” –whatever that is. The topic of the Telesummit is Truth or Lie: On the Cusp of Memoir and Fiction, and also features a panel of young memoirists who couldn’t wait for people to die before they wrote about their lives! And the best news: it’s FREE to everyone. Just sign up at the link below.
Robin’s memoir asks: whose version of “truth” is “real.” Can we trust memory, or do we create our story based on emotional need or unconscious beliefs?
Quotes from Nola:
How can one be objective about one’s family? How can one resist the urge to edit, to become the family spin doctor?
…There is no real past, it’s all a daydream is seems, or an endless series of clues and discoveries…
…everyone’s life is a kind of detective story, every clue of our forebears’ lives, every decision, missed opportunity…are part of the solution to our own existence.
To read more about the Telesummit, go to the National Association of Memoir Writers to sign up. You will receive a link to the downloadable audio after the conference is over.
Robin will talk about “The Trouble with the Truth,” which is the troubling and challenging issue for all memoir and nonfiction writers. His introduction to the teleconference:
Any time we set down to write the truth of our lives we have to face the fact that there is no single truth to our lives. To make matters more complex we’re different people at different times in our lives and we show different faces to different people. The portrayal of an “authentic” self is something most memoir writers strive for, but there are always details we omit or exaggerate or forget, or hidden agendas even we aren’t aware of as we’re writing. While we don’t want to lie, we also have to understand that what we aspire to write is closer to art than a court room transcript. It’s not all about content. There are aesthetic concerns as well. Above all, you have to remember that once an event has passed, it’s gone forever and words can’t recreate the event. They can only create a semblance of the event.
We’re so lucky to be able to meet with people you normally have to pay hundreds of dollars to see, so join us for Free! See you there!
with Robin Hemley at the National Association of Memoir Writers Teleconference Oct. 21
As most of you know, one of the events I most enjoy putting together as president
of the National Association of Memoir Writers is our bi-annual Telesummit. This
Friday I’m spending 5 hours with authors I admire, whose works have changed me,
shaped my thinking toward more creative choices, pushing me toward using
language to carve out even deeper truths. Robin’s memoir Nola makes me ask the questions that he asks: whose version of “truth”
is “real.” Can we trust memory, or do we create our story based on emotional need or unconscious beliefs. His book Turning Your Life into Fiction is one of the best books I’ve read about story writing, all the angles to look at when drawing
from our lives to create a story.
Robin Hemley is going to talk with us about one of the most important issues in memoir writing Truth—how
to find it within us, and how reflect upon our personal truths and agendas as we write.
To read more about the Telesummit, go to the National Association of Memoir
Writers to sign up. You will receive a link to the 5 hour downloadable audio after the conference is over.
Robin has shared with us his outline for our discussion at the teleconference.
The Trouble with the Truth
Any time we set down to write the truth of our lives we have to face the fact that there is no
single truth to our lives. To make matters more complex we’re different people at different times in our lives and
we show different faces to different people. The portrayal of an “authentic” self is something most memoir writers
strive for, but there are always details we omit or exaggerate or forget, or hidden agendas even we aren’t aware of as we’re writing. While we don’t want to lie, we also have to understand that what we aspire to write is closer to art than a court room
transcript. It’s not all about content. There are aesthetic concerns as well. Above all, you have to remember
that once an event has passed, it’s gone forever and words can’t recreate the event. They can only create a semblance
of the event.
We will discuss
- Distance and the imagination
- Precision of language versus precision of memory
- Writing associatively rather than chronologically
- Including primary texts in your memoir
- Legal and ethical issues that arise whether you write
fiction or nonfiction
I’m eager to talk with Robin, and I hope you all will join us for this fabulous free conference!
Writing a memoir means digging deep into your soul—doesn’t it? Writing is a solitary act, right? Yes to all that. I’m the first one to tell my students to keep their work private for a while, though maybe you’ve decided to show it to your family.
Good luck with that, but it’s just the beginning of how you’ll be putting yourself and your writing out into the world. A memoir is different from journaling—you’re writing a story, not just writing from an internal place where you don’t have to create a world that makes sense.
The Basic Three Things Needed for a Good Memoir
You have to write so the reader understands you; as you get to the later stages of writing your memoir, you need to see it objectively, targeting your audience and your readers—who will someday become fans.
Your writing creates ripples in the world once you move out from your private writing space. As you probably know by now, your memoir needs to deliver
- New information to the reader—knowledge that alters the reader’s view of life.
- A new experience—which means feelings, insights, and ahas.
- These experiences need to be in story form—shaped for the reader—each chapter with a reason to be there, a point or a theme to be understood.
Beyond Writing—Finding Success with Marketing, Social Media, and Publicity
Penny Sansevieri, guest speaker for the National Association of Memoir Writers upcoming Telesummit says, “Memoir writing requires more than writing skills. To become a successful author, you need to understand how the media works and what you need to do yourself—no matter who your publisher is.”
This means thinking outside of your writing cubicle—and seeing yourself objectively, and learning how to present yourself and your work so others can benefit from what you have to say.
There are so many ways now to share your nuggets of wisdom—the internet is our best friend when it comes to getting the word out. Now social media helps us shape our message in sound bites or the well-known “elevator speech” that you learn to give at conferences to get the attention of agents and publishers.
In one sentence you say what your book is about. For instance, for Don’t Call Me Mother, I would say, “I was the last of three generations of mothers who abandoned their daughters. It’s a story of how I broke that pattern and found forgiveness for my mother.”
I had variations on that speech but it summed up the essence of the book. Another student is writing about how giving up her daughter for adoption changed her life-what she did to forgive herself and make amends with her daughter.
You have to think: what am I offering the reader that can help them in their lives? What is the overall theme and message of my book? This is the question you have to answer for each chapter as well.
If you’re like most writers, thinking about publicity and marketing is the last thing on your mind while you’re writing, but along the way you do need to start learning, taking workshops, reading about how to think about ways to sell yourself.
I’m looking forward to hearing Penny speak more about these skills at the NAMW Telesummit October 21—Truth or Lie: On the Cusp of Memoir and Fiction. Sign up here.
Join me there for a great day. It’s Free for all.