If you have been writing your memoir for a while, you know that it takes time, patience, and a workable process to get you to “The End.” And even that is just the beginning—of another round of rewrites, edits, and proofs until you hold your book in your hands.
I’m intrigued by what Marion Roach Smith says about all this in her book The Memoir Project, and I’m so pleased that she’s our guest at the April 27 Member Teleseminar at the National Association of Memoir Writers.
1. Marion has a unique approach: don’t do writing exercises—just write! I have mused about why this approach might be helpful, and at first I was surprised at the idea. We all write “for practice,” don’t we? We have our writing practice, our morning pages, and our journal. We steadfastly write the exercises in some of the writing books we love. But Marion makes a good point—many writers take SO long to get a piece or a book or even a blog post completed. Are they using that “magic juice” of creativity that we all have—measured out in spoons sometimes and other lucky times it’s a flood—while the project doesn’t get done?
I can understand what she’s saying: when I focus on a particular piece to complete, my writing process is different than if I’m musing, or doing less focused writing. We will talk about all this and more during the member teleseminar. The lesson here is: write your project, and focus.
2. I work with many people who run into tangles— the emotional kind rather than craft—when writing a memoir. All manner of “visitors” show up—from the inner critic, with its demeaning comments, to the outer critic clamoring with the (imagined) voices of family, to conflicts about truth and memory. The solution: keep a writing journal that will help you work through these tangles. My friend and colleague Amber Starfire is going to speak to us at our May 18 Teleseminar at NAMW about Journaling your Memoir—a technique that also focuses you to get your memoir done. Amber has many tips and prompts on her website Writing Through Life. Be sure to join us for both of these terrific teleseminars!
3. Share your work with other writers, take classes and workshops, and read, read, read to develop your craft. Every book can teach you more about writing. Read Sharon Lippincott’s post on the NAMW website on this topic A Great Writing Class for Free. Check out some of the recommend books on the National Association of Memoir Writers website.
Do writing exercises seem to help you, or do they feel like just practicing writing your book instead of ACTUALLY writing it?
When do you write in your journal–and is it ever about your book project, or just downloading your feelings about something. There are no rules for journal writing, so we often can feel more creative and free there.
What is your deadline for having your manuscript done? For having your book in your hands?
Learn more about the Memoir Teleseminar here.
Marion Roach Smith Author of The Memoir Project
We all know what fun it can be to attend a writing conference—but really—can it ever be too fun? Maybe!
I began the conference on the airplane while I chatted for three hours with my friend Amber Starfire, who is a colleague here in northern California. I know her through various events here and through her blog Writing Through Life. It turns out that three hours just got us started—you know how memoir writers are—we’re intimately curious about everyone’s lives!
The first day started off with coaching memoir writers and cheering them on with their projects, ideas, and books. That is so satisfying because you can feel the churning of the creative winds as they talk and finger their manuscript. I can see the spark in their eyes as they envision their work coming into fruition. Here is a photo of some of us coaches that morning.
Later that day Gail Straub, author of Returning to My Mother’s House—Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine, beguiled us with the keynote address—weaving beautiful words around the stages of the heroine’s journey—The Call, The Journey—where magic helpers and trials and tribulations ensue, The Descent, The Epiphany, and the Ascent. We all could identify with these aspects of life—and the journey to get published. She used her progress from book idea to published work as the framework to teach us about her heroine’s journey.
Afterward, fabulous dessert, and blessedly—bedtime!
The next day was bustling with four levels of workshops, chatting in the hallways, and another keynote address by Susan Lincoln, who taught us about toning to tune into the wisdom of our body-mind. I enjoyed all the workshops and was pleased to have a large turnout for my workshop: Writing the Spiritual Memoir. I used poems by TS Eliot and Mary Oliver to set the tone of open exploration, and led the writers to find their turning point moment, and write some of their spiritual memoir.
The last day had even more wonderful workshops and the inspiring keynote by Susan Tweit, who read from her beautiful book Walking Nature Home. She lost her husband and partner, Richard, this last year to cancer, and many of us had followed her journey on her blog and Facebook posts. That book was a love story—how she met Richard and the many things they shared—so what is before her now is a new memoir about the challenging journey of the last year, and losing the love of her life. I look forward to this book—Susan’s writing makes me stop, slow down, reflect, and tune into the small details of the world around me.
It was a bumpy ride back to California, but luckily I was listening to stories told by my friend Kate Farrell as we rocked along, which distracted me from the sweaty palms I might have gotten. When we passed from the windy air pockets of Arizona flying across the mighty Colorado River, everyone in the plane applauded the pilots—no more bucking bronco airplane! Thanks, Kate, for your rousing stories. You need to write about 10 memoirs!
What I Brought Home
A conference is more than the sum of its parts. It’s an adventure when we arrive—we’re open to whatever will come, and of course we don’t know what it will be. For me it was like coming home to see people that I see every conference, all the organizers, all the people who make it possible. I want to thank the Story Circle Board, especially Susan Albert, Pat LaPointe, and Peggy Moody, and so many others for a wonderful, warm, and welcoming place for women to gather with their passion for stories, their amazing and inspiring histories, and a love for the written word. I look forward to more opportunities to share, teach, and learn with this group!
I made new close friends, ate dinner at a lovely restaurant while the wild Texas wind tore at the tablecloths as I listened to the stories of women who grew up in the sixties, who had a vision for a world of peace, equality and creativity. I met my lovely assistant, Erica, who helps me so much with NAMW, and we got to have lunch and talk about our vision amid flowers and again, that Texas wind.
Erica and I at lunch in Austin
The wind speaks to me, as it always did as a child in Oklahoma, so what I bring home is a tender feeling for the Great Plains that birthed me, the wide open skies and the western ways that are so familiar to me. And I look forward to more writing, books, and outreach with everyone who shares my love of memoir.
Join me at future events at the National Association of Memoir Writers–we have a free newsletter and many free events.
- Think about your participation in conferences–what do you take home with you?
- Write for 10 minutes a day–it amazed me how much I wrote in such a short time during the workshops.
- Use your journal to help you practice character development, meaningful moments, and sensual details. I learned this from Amber Starfire’s workshop.
- List the conferences you want to attend this summer. Research cost and presenters. Sign up for a conference some time this year!
Kate Farrell, Amber Starfire, and Linda Joy Happy after a great conference