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.
When we begin a journey, we’re excited. We pack our suitcase, imagining the moments to come. The thrill of our destination courses through us, spurring us on. We begin with high hopes for what we’ll encounter.
Recently, I went to France—first to Paris, then Lyon and the southern mountains where Cezanne and Van Gogh used to paint. It was of course a wonderful trip—the vision of the Eiffel Tower even better than my imagination, but there were challenges—the suitcase was too heavy to lift up stairs, the Metro was stuffed with TONS of people, and I got lost hundreds of times on tiny country lanes. There were moments of being exhausted, and others of being exhilarated. But the images I had when I packed my suitcase changed. The real journey was different, and it changed me.
So it is when we write a memoir. We begin putting in our suitcase the memories, people and events that we are eager to celebrate and remember. Even if our story is a dark one, we have a handle on it, we’ve been journaling and we know the basics of the story. We launch into our writing eagerly, capturing images and moments, freely writing, remembering and even doing research. We even feel brave enough to tell people we’re writing a book!
Then something happens. The doubts creep in, “I’m not sure what I wrote is the real truth. My sister says I made things up.” Or, “Gee, I don’t want to reveal x and y and z. It’s too personal. I don’t want people knowing all these things about me.” Or you read a bunch of other memoirs and realize that you can’t write all that well, you feel that it’s really too big a job, this memoir project. You decide to put it away for a while.
There’s another scenario: You’re starting to remember things, memories you thought you’d handled, you begin to reflect on the past in a new way, and start to write about it, but you feel sad, depressed or angry. You try to put it all aside, but you can’t. The writing doesn’t work. You are stuck in the middle of your book, you feel conflicted. You put the project away.
This is all good news. I know, it doesn’t sound like good news to you. You just want to get your memoir done, you want to brush away the doubts.
The good news is that you are in the middle of your memoir journey, and you’re doing fine. There are three major stages in writing a memoir. The first is the eager beginning, “downloading” as Jennifer Lauck calls it. Then the muddy middle, where themes, stories, and memories begin to build up into a larger story, one that you don’t have control of. The muddy middle is the biggest part of the journey, by the way.
The later stage is where you have found your stride, the journey has changed you, and you are grateful for the riches. It is not the same journey you imagined. You are different. The muddy middle becomes your teacher, your mentor. As Dr. James Pennebaker says, “Story is a way of knowledge.”
Some tips for your trip:
1. Accept that writing your memoir is a longer journey than you imagined. Be patient.
2. Take good care of yourself on the journey. Rest, set a schedule, make a map.
3. Allow the writing process to guide you, allow in the unwanted stories, images, and memories. They have something to teach you.
4. Trust in your creative muse, the excitement you felt when you began your journey. Allow it to urge you forward.
5. Invite your unconscious to help you write and remember.
6. Know that you will write the same story over and over again, but in a new way. Know that you will find the muddy middle, that you will get stuck and lost, but keep going.
7. You will find your way out of the muddy middle if you just keep writing!
Learn more about the trip at the National Association of Memoir Writers Telesummit—FREE all day phone conference on October 21. You get the audio of the whole day if you sign up! Learn from the journey of other memoir writers.
Memoir writing is really hot news day today on the internet, which makes me very happy! Writing well is a journey, and we need our mentors, guides, and wise wizards to guide us. Every day there is something new to learn, and wisdom bits from writers that spur us on our way.
Today in “Pubmission,” a blog on the writing life and publishing innovations, Dinty Moore, one of our guests at the National Association of Memoir Writers free all day conference, talks about the journey to become a writer and how publishing on the internet has changed the writer’s focus. He is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Brevity– a “journal of concise literary nonfiction”—which accepts works of up to 750 words.
Dinty guides students at the University of Ohio through the process of learning how to write, how to find their voice and learn to craft their work. He tells the interviewer at Pubmission Megan Lobsinger, one of his former students, that he urges his students to spend 90% of their time perfecting their writing and 10% on publishing concerns. Rightly so—the craft of writing is its own long term project, a lifelong learning that weaves tapestries of art, memory, creativity, and even frustration with the craft itself. It’s a process, a journey.
Dinty says, “I try to urge my writers to obsess about the craft of writing: how does the engine of narrative work? Writing is an art form, and thus some part of it remains a glorious mystery, but at the same time, there is much to be learned from trial and error, and much to be learned from careful consideration of the choices other writers have made.”
Having read two of Dinty Moore’s books—Between Panic and Desire, and The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, I want to tell everyone that we are in for a treat at the NAMW tele-conference. I look forward to speaking directly with Dinty on the subject of art, craft, memoir, and truth.
Please join me for a great day learning about how to write truth, whether it’s in memoir or fiction. When you sign up for the free Telesummit, you will receive an audio of the whole day’s presentations, which include Robin Hemley, Jennifer Lauck and a panel of young memoirists. Tell your friends!
Sing up here to receive the day long conference and free audios! http://www.namw.org/teleseminars/national-association-of-memoir-writers-announces-guest-speakers-for-fall-2011-day-long-memoir-writing-teleconference