For the last two years, I’ve been teaching several different memoir classes with my colleague, Brooke Warner, in our Write Your Memoir in Six Months programs.
The Glass Castle will be the third class in our bestselling memoir series, following Wild and Eat, Pray, Love.
Tuesdays, April 22-May 13, 2014, from 4-5pm PT/7-8pm ET
To Register, please go here.
To start, join us for our free webinar on April 15, looking at what made The Glass Castle strike such a nerve with readers everywhere. We will examine the universal themes, outside-the-box reasons why this book was a success, and the question of writing deep, dark truths, and how and why memoir that’s transformational touches readers at their core.
1-Month Intro Course
Class 1. April 22 Memory & Writing Dark Truths
• Writing scene as memories.
• How to write trauma, and through trauma and difficult memories.
• What it means to write dispassionately, and why it’s important.
• An exploration of truth and how the reader perceives the truth.
Class 2. April 29 Structure & Takeaway
• The difference between scene and vignette.
• How Jeannette Walls got away with writing a book of vignettes—the secret is in the narrative arc.
• How takeaway is handled through another person’s insights—in this case Jeannette’s mother
• The consequences of pulling the reader out of the fictive dream.
Class 3. May 6 Voice of Innocence vs. Voice of Experience
• How Jeannette Walls handles both voices.
• Showing the issues of the family through different narrative voices.
• “Showing” versus “telling,” and how it’s especially important when dealing with trauma and hard or negative memories.
• The power of showing through the child’s perspective—and how to make this work.
Class 4. May 13 Themes
• Why Jeannette Walls’s themes made her book a bestseller.
• The power of metaphor to drive a theme home.
• Why universal themes strike a nerve and how to pay attention to your themes.
• Why “through-threads” are part of the equation, and how to integrate through-threads into your own memoir.
Our spring 2013 class, “The Craft of Memoir,” was our most successful class yet. We are offering a sample here of Class #2 about SCENES & TRANSACTIONS. You can download it here, or you can buy the whole course.
DOWNLOAD OUR FREE CALL—SCENE & TRANSITION IN WILD
• Mapping your scenes through transitions.
• How to use transitions to keep your reader contained.
• Making use of line breaks.
• How scaffolding can help you better understand transitions.
The Craft of Memoir: Wild as a Guide to Becoming a Better Writer
Linda Joy and Brooke both fell in love with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild when we read it, and we immediately saw its value as a teaching tool for all of the skills the author brings to the memoir. Strayed uses what’s called a framed structure, meaning that she writes the story of her life, but uses her limited time on the Pacific Crest Trail as a means to contain her story. In this class we’ll showcase some of the things Strayed does brilliantly—structure, transitions, flashbacks vs. memory, and reflection—so that you can begin to use all of these skills in your own writing.
CHECK OUT OUR FULL COURSE—Write Your Memoir in Six Months. The new course starts in June, 2014. The goal is to help you get 60,000 words written in six months, and teach you the skills and offer the structure to complete a first draft of your memoir.
Free Webinar! The 3 Building Blocks You Need to Write Your Memoir
February 25 at 4pm PT/5pm MT/6pm CT/7pm ET
Memoir writers need support both to write their truths and memories, as well as with how to begin and how to craft their story. In this free webinar, Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner, coaches in the Write Your Memoir in 6 Months program, explore the building blocks you need to get started and build out your memoir into a full book.
Join us to learn how to:
1. Sketch out the main ideas of your memoir—and why you are writing it.
2. Identify the themes in your memoir—and the universal message.
3. Figure out the most important craft decisions you need to make when writing your memoir.
SIGN UP FOR THE FREE WEBINAR!
Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Myers
Brooke Warner is the founder of Warner Coaching Inc. and the publisher of She Writes Press, a new hybrid publishing option for women writers. Brooke is passionate about books and helping writers finish their books AND get published. Brooke has been in the publishing industry for thirteen years, including seven-and-a-half years as the Executive Editor of Seal Press. She’s the author of What’s Your Book? A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You from Idea to Published Author (She Writes Press, 2012), a project she completed in six months.
Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., MFT, is the President and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, Instructor at Writers Digest,and Huffington Post Blogger.Linda is the author of The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, Becoming Whole, and the award-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother, which won the BAPIA Gold Medal prize. Her workbook Journey of Memoir was published by She Writes Press. Linda has won prizes for fiction, memoir, and poetry. She offers workshops nationally, and offers memoir coaching, manuscript evaluation, and speaks on truth in memoir, writing a family memoir, healing through memoir writing, and how to begin–and finish–your memoir.
Writing a memoir is like finding yourself on a journey: you thought you knew where you were going, but eventually you are lost! We all experience several stages that lead up to your journey: As you pack your suitcase, you think about the thrilling and interesting moments you will encounter. And as you start your journey, you are still excited and moving forward with great energy. Then reality sets in. Life still presents challenges. And it is this way when we write our memoir.
A couple of years ago, I visited France and was thrilled to be in Paris again with its iconic symbols–the Eiffel Tower, the parks and museums. The charming coffee houses. Then I made my way to the southern mountains where Cezanne and Van Gogh used to paint. I encountered the usual challenges–the suitcase was too heavy to lift up stairs, I was crushed in the Metro by sweaty people, and I got lost many dozens of times on tiny country lanes! There were highs and lows, moments of exhaustion and exhilaration. The imaginings of how the journey would be when I packed my suitcase collided with the real journey, and it changed me—for the better. My story changed, and I experienced France in a brand new way.
So it is when we write a memoir. We begin by filling our suitcase with memories of people and events that we are eager to celebrate and share. Even if our story is dark, we’re sure that we can handle it. We have been journaling for a long time, and we think we know what we want to write. Eagerly, we launch into our writing, capturing images and moments, writing and remembering. We even feel brave enough to tell people we’re writing a book!
Then the doubts creep in, “I’m not sure what I wrote is the truth. My sister says I make things up.”
“Gee, I don’t want to reveal x and y and z. It’s too personal. I can’t have people knowing all those things about me.”
Or you read a bunch of famous memoirs and realize that you can’t write all that well. Suddenly it’s really too big a job, this memoir project, even though you love it. You agonize and even try to leave it behind like an overfull suitcase until it begins to take on a life of its own as it tugs at your heart.
There’s another scenario: You’ve started 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’re stuck in the middle of your book.
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. This is the way the journey goes! There are three major stages in writing a memoir. The first is the eager beginning, which I call “freewriting.” Then there’s the” muddy middle,” where themes, stories, and memories begin to build into a larger story–you can feel a bit out of control here just as I did when I got lost 10 times. The muddy middle is the biggest part of the journey, and the largest section of the book. Brooke Warner and I talk about this journey model in our course Write Your Memoir in Six Months.
In the last stage you’ve found your stride, the journey has changed you, and you’re grateful for the discoveries and the epiphanies. It is not the same journey-book that you imagined. You are different. The writing becomes your teacher, your mentor. Dr. James Pennebaker, the psychologist who researched the healing power of writing, said, “Story is a way of knowledge.” When you write a memoir, you discover your story. I write about these stages in my book Journey of Memoir–The Three Stages of Memoir Writing.
It’s a journey worth taking. Pack your suitcase now.
Nine tips for your trip:
- Understand that writing your memoir is a longer journey than you imagined. Be patient.
- Take good care of yourself on the journey. Set a schedule, make a map.
- Allow the writing process to guide you; accept the underside of what you planned to write, the darker stories and images, the memories that squeeze in. They have something to teach you.
- Trust in your creative muse and the excitement you felt when you began your journey. Allow this energy to urge you forward.
- Invite your unconscious to help you write and remember. Put your writing under your pillow. Before sleeping, ask your unconscious mind to help you. I did this, and it worked!
- Know that you will write the same story repeatedly but it will shape shift, it will evolve with each version.
- Accept that you will find your muddy middle, and that you’ll get stuck and lost. Keep going anyway. You’ll find your way out of the muddy middle if you just keep writing!
- Writing your life is like entering a labyrinth. You need to find the threads that will lead you out. It’s there somewhere, and you need to stay long enough for it to reveal itself. It’s a little like magic!
- Write, listen, be still, and invite. Your story wants to be found and shared with the world.
To learn more about memoir writing, subscribe to this blog. Join me on the Write Your Memoir in Six Months site where you can download ten free memoir writing lessons. Sign up for our free newsletter at the National Association of Memoir Writers.
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I spoke with Victoria Costello, author of A Lethal Inheritance at the National Association of Memoir Writers member teleseminar. about the legacy of mental illness.
Those of us who come from families with hidden or diagnosed mental illness feel “Other,” the ghosts of our legacies chasing us in our dreams, making us shrink down in our waking life.
In my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother, I talk about beautiful women who have a pattern of leaving their children behind, beautiful women who scream and rage irrationally, but who are just thought of as eccentric or different. As a child, of course this is “just the way it is.” After my mother’s terminal diagnosis of cancer, she tormented the nurses so much that her doctor ordered a psychiatric evaluation. That’s when she was diagnosed as Bi-Polar, that’s when behavior that was cruel, irrational, and off-the-wall finally got a name.
In her informative and teeth-clenching memoir, Victoria does a brave thing: she combines her considerable scientific research about the causes and treatments of mental illness—the history of and the current state of treatment—with her own family’s case study—the story of herself and her children. She makes an excellent point with this book—that no matter how much we know or how smart we are, there are mysterious forces in life that blindside us, that bring us to our knees. Mental illness does that to families, and worse—it’s often a hidden illness shrouded in ignorance, guilt, and shame, and often a secret even from the sufferers themselves.
As ubiquitous as mental illness is in our society, too often diagnoses are incorrect or non-existent when, if properly understood, lives could be saved and immense suffering prevented. Since funding has consistently been cut for programs that include treatment for the mentally ill, too often treatment even for adolescents is non-existent, leaving people to fall upon impossible conditions—living on the street and/or families trying to help someone who is beyond their help or expertise. And for families like Victoria’s, once the child is of age, the parents no longer have any power to insist on medication or treatment, even if it were available. Since the teen years are when children are more vulnerable to the onset of mental illness, it stands to reason that the child might not be out of danger when they become of age and have to make their own decisions. One of the frustrating aspects of trying to deal with the mentally ill is that they believe that they are either fine or all-powerful, when in fact their thinking and perceiving are distorted. What a nightmare for any family member.
A Lethal Inheritance also points us toward the need to understand and research the genetic and genealogical backgrounds in our own families. In her family as in mine, mental illness, mostly undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, has planted seeds in later generations, the societal, biological, genetic, and psychological factors all aligned for a perfect storm. Victoria’s book is easy to read, despite the intensity of the material. Perhaps it’s because she weaves the cool-headed research in with her often painful story. It’s a success story too—told by someone who knows the journey and can help you on yours.
Is this subject part of your story in some way?
Have you ever looked into your family legacy and found secrets that explain things? What was that like for you?
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