Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 5: Write Every Day

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 5: Write Every Day
In the middle of the pack here with Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing and commentary from a panel of experts, this rule is one you hear a lot: write every day! The idea is to make writing a habit, not a chore and not even necessarily goal-driven.
Fiction writer John Dufresne advises following this rule. “Writers write,” he says. “Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” Dufresne feels that if you’re a true writer, the daily routine of writing will come naturally to you and, if it doesn’t, you can’t really force it. “The good news,” he continues, “is that…your writing…goes on while you’re out in the world. Carry a pen and a notebook; gather evidence….The notebook becomes a repository and a source of material….Writing, you realize, engenders more writing.”
Novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell disagrees. He explains that he used to set a daily word quota for himself, but there were days that life took over and he simply ended up doing something all day that left no time for writing. He’d get angry and disappointed at himself. Then he changed his daily quota to a weekly quota. “That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up,” he says. “I write a little extra on the other days.” Bell also has found it valuable to take off one day a week and one week a year from writing. He comes back reenergized and adds, “Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.”
I’m with Bell on this point. This is a lot like dieting. If you set very strict rules around your long-term goal, failing just once to obey them can derail you from your project altogether. And here on Write My Memoirs, you may not be “a writer.” Your memoir may be the only lengthy manuscript you’ll every write. So give yourself a break. I think a weekly word or page quota is a great idea, but writing every day? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and probably unrealistic. I want you to stick with your memoir, so set realistic goals.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

In the middle of the pack here with Writer’s Digest’s 10 rules of writing and commentary from a panel of experts, this rule is one you hear a lot: write every day! The idea is to make writing a habit, not a chore and not even necessarily goal-driven.

Fiction writer John Dufresne advises following this rule. “Writers write,” he says. “Writing is work. And you go to work every day. It’s not a choice. If you don’t punch in, you lose your job.” Dufresne feels that if you’re a true writer, the daily routine of writing will come naturally to you and, if it doesn’t, you can’t really force it. “The good news,” he continues, “is that…your writing…goes on while you’re out in the world. Carry a pen and a notebook; gather evidence….The notebook becomes a repository and a source of material….Writing, you realize, engenders more writing.”

Novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell disagrees. He explains that he used to set a daily word quota for himself, but there were days that life took over and he simply ended up doing something all day that left no time for writing. He’d get angry and disappointed at himself. Then he changed his daily quota to a weekly quota. “That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up,” he says. “I write a little extra on the other days.” Bell also has found it valuable to take off one day a week and one week a year from writing. He comes back reenergized and adds, “Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.”

I’m with Bell on this point. This is a lot like dieting. If you set very strict rules around your long-term goal, failing just once to obey them can derail you from your project altogether. And here on Write My Memoirs, you may not be “a writer.” Your memoir may be the only lengthy manuscript you’ll every write. So give yourself a break. I think a weekly word or page quota is a great idea, but writing every day? That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and probably unrealistic. I want you to stick with your memoir, so set realistic goals.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 4: Write Very Rough First Drafts

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 4: Write Very Rough First Drafts
Continuing with Writer’s Digest 10 writing rules, as you can see at the top of this blog, I changed Rule 4 from “Write Shitty First Drafts” in order to make our blog title a little less, well, shitty.
Author and Pulitzer Prize nominee John Smolens recommends following this rule as long as you never let anyone else read your first draft. Writing is a lonely occupation, Smolens observes. You’re on your own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Writing a first draft, he says, lets you “see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do before you discover what you can do. And with revision and a little patience, no one will ever know that your first draft existed.”
Providing the opposing view, fiction writer and teacher Nancy Kress rebels in much the same way I did—against the word “shitty.” She does more or less agree with the rule’s intent of advising writers to power through a first draft without regard to how much may need to be fixed as you get farther into your story. “Relax and let it flow,” she says. “Trust that your voice, imagination and sense of character will be present from the first paragraph on. Then, in the second draft, sure, you can a) rewrite everything that doesn’t fit your final concept, b) change any word choices that need refining and c) research details you neglected while you were so caught up in writing this exciting tale. A mess can be fixed. Shit is just waste. And a first draft is never wasted.”
On this rule, really the two panel members agree; Kress just quibbles with the terminology. And I agree as well. Getting yourself to sit down and write is hard enough. Expecting the first draft to be usable will serve only to make you procrastinate writing your memoir—perhaps forever. Have no fear with that first draft, because you’ll change it and polish it. Once you have something in writing, the tweaking comes more easily.

Continuing with Writer’s Digest ‘s 10 writing rules, as you can see at the top of this blog, I changed Rule 4 from “Write Shitty First Drafts” in order to make our blog title a little less, well, shitty.

Author and Pulitzer Prize nominee John Smolens recommends following this rule as long as you never let anyone else read your first draft. Writing is a lonely occupation, Smolens observes. You’re on your own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Writing a first draft, he says, lets you “see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do before you discover what you can do. And with revision and a little patience, no one will ever know that your first draft existed.”

Providing the opposing view, fiction writer and teacher Nancy Kress rebels in much the same way I did—against the word “shitty.” She does more or less agree with the rule’s intent of advising writers to power through a first draft without regard to how much may need to be fixed as you get farther into your story. “Relax and let it flow,” she says. “Trust that your voice, imagination and sense of character will be present from the first paragraph on. Then, in the second draft, sure, you can a) rewrite everything that doesn’t fit your final concept, b) change any word choices that need refining and c) research details you neglected while you were so caught up in writing this exciting tale. A mess can be fixed. Shit is just waste. And a first draft is never wasted.”

On this rule, really the two panel members agree; Kress just quibbles with the terminology. And I agree as well. Getting yourself to sit down and write is hard enough. Expecting the first draft to be usable will serve only to make you procrastinate writing your memoir—perhaps forever. Have no fear with that first draft, because you’ll change it and polish it. Once you have something in writing, the tweaking comes more easily.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 3: Show, Don’t Tell

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 3: Show, Don’t Tell
Reviewing the Writer’s Digest list of 10 writing rules, we come to Rule 3—“show, don’t tell,” advice you’ve probably received from an English teacher at some point in your schooling. It’s an important rule, which author Natalie Goldberg recommends following. Goldberg provides an informative example to illustrate the difference between how a timid student might fulfill the typical “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” assignment when compared with a fearless writer. The former would tell, Goldberg says, writing something along the lines of, “I had a good time. It was very interesting and fun.” The bold describer would show, not tell. Regretting her own timidity, Goldberg wonders how much her teacher would have preferred if she’d shown instead of told and written the truth: “My mother dyed her hair red, smoked Marlboros, while my sister and I played Parcheesi on the back porch, sitting on the cool cement. My father ate an early dinner of steak and iceberg lettuce each night before he left to tend bar until 5 a.m.”
That’s the difference between telling and showing, and you can see why showing makes for a vastly more interesting memoir. But what happens when you want to reveal what’s going on in your mind? There’s no action to describe, but it’s critical to your memoir to share your thoughts about a situation. Literary agent Donald Maas address this, maintaining there is an effective way to keep the reader interested while conveying, for example, “ the intuition out of nowhere, for no solid reason, that she’s going to leave me.”
Maas’s solution? “The trick to telling is to base your passage in emotions. Less obvious emotions are good. Contrasting emotions are better. Conflicting emotions are best. If moving beneath the surface, in subtext, then you’re cooking. Fold into these feelings whatever outward details are at hand in the moment.” I agree with Goldberg that showing beats telling every time, but I also agree with Maas that when telling is your only available choice you can include a bit of candid emotional turmoil and still keep your readers engaged.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Reviewing the Writer’s Digest list of 10 writing rules, we come to Rule 3—“show, don’t tell,” advice you’ve probably received from an English teacher at some point in your schooling. It’s an important rule, which author Natalie Goldberg recommends following. Goldberg provides an informative example to illustrate the difference between how a timid student might fulfill the typical “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” assignment when compared with a fearless writer. The former would tell, Goldberg says, writing something along the lines of, “I had a good time. It was very interesting and fun.” The bold describer would show, not tell. Regretting her own timidity, Goldberg wonders how much her teacher would have preferred if she’d shown instead of told and written the truth: “My mother dyed her hair red, smoked Marlboros, while my sister and I played Parcheesi on the back porch, sitting on the cool cement. My father ate an early dinner of steak and iceberg lettuce each night before he left to tend bar until 5 a.m.”

That’s the difference between telling and showing, and you can see why showing makes for a vastly more interesting memoir. But what happens when you want to reveal what’s going on in your mind? There’s no action to describe, but it’s critical to  your memoir to share your thoughts about a situation. Literary agent Donald Maas addresses this, maintaining there is an effective way to keep the reader interested while conveying, for example, “ the intuition out of nowhere, for no solid reason, that she’s going to leave me.”

Maas’s solution? “The trick to telling is to base your passage in emotions. Less obvious emotions are good. Contrasting emotions are better. Conflicting emotions are best. If moving beneath the surface, in subtext, then you’re cooking. Fold into these feelings whatever outward details are at hand in the moment.” I agree with Goldberg that showing beats telling every time, but I also agree with Maas that, when telling is your only available choice, you can include a bit of candid emotional turmoil and still keep your readers engaged.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1
On these diminishing fall days, we’re analyzing 10 writing rules, one by one, as they apply to memoir writers. The rules are listed on WritersDigest.com, and we’re up to Rule 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1. Yay or nay?
Follow the rule, advises author Jerry B. Jenkins. As a reader, Jenkins says on the Writer’s Digest site, “I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout. I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, ‘I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …’ Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?” Further, Jenkins asks, “Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, ‘When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye’?”
However, author Steve Almond recommends breaking this rule—especially if you’re a new writer. He views the rule as a landmine writers fall into; in an attempt to hook the reader, writers jump into the middle of a vignette and offer the reader no backstory whatsoever. The reader becomes confused and, responding in direct opposition to the writer’s intent, gives up on the book within the first chapter.
While I solidly side with Jenkins that a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest, I agree with Almond that you can’t go too far into a random vignette before you begin giving it context. I urge memoir writers to find something more fascinating as a first sentence than “I was born in St. Louis during World War II.” Even if that’s the first fact you provide, throw in some more information to give it some oomph: “My birth came as a welcome event to my family not only because of the healthy baby boy delivered that day at a St. Louis hospital shortly after the United States entered World War II, but also because having a child come into the world excused my father from reporting for duty to the U.S. Navy for two full weeks.”
We’ll tackle rule #3 next week!
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

On these diminishing fall days, we’re analyzing 10 writing rules, one by one, as they apply to memoir writers. The rules are listed on WritersDigest.com, and we’re up to:

Rule 2: Hook Your Readers on Page 1. Yay or nay?

Follow the rule, advises author Jerry B. Jenkins. As a reader, Jenkins says on the Writer’s Digest site, “I want to be engaged from the first sentence and held throughout. I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, ‘I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …’ Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?” Further, Jenkins asks, “Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, ‘When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye’?”

However, author Steve Almond recommends breaking this rule—especially if you’re a new writer. He views the rule as a landmine writers fall into; in an attempt to hook the reader, writers jump into the middle of a vignette and offer the reader no backstory whatsoever. The reader becomes confused and, responding in direct opposition to the writer’s intent, gives up on the book within the first chapter.

While I solidly side with Jenkins that a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest, I agree with Almond that you can’t go too far into a random vignette before you begin giving it context. I urge memoir writers to find something more fascinating as a first sentence than “I was born in St. Louis during World War II.” Even if that’s the first fact you provide, throw in some more information to give it some oomph: “My birth came as a welcome event to my family not only because of the healthy baby boy delivered that day at a St. Louis hospital shortly after the United States entered World War II, but also because having a child come into the world excused my father from reporting for duty to the U.S. Navy for two full weeks.”

We’ll tackle rule #3 next week!

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 1: Write What You Know

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 1: Write What You Know
From now until about Christmastime, I’m going to be exploring 10 conventional rules of writing, one rule each week. I’m taking these rules from an interesting Writer’s Digest request of some highly respected writers and writing observers to share their opinions of the rules. For each rule, a “follow it” and a “break it” is expressed, and I will put those insights into context for all of your writing memoirs here on the Write My Memoirs site.
Rule 1: Write What You Know.
Literary agent Donald Maass and author Natalie Goldberg square off on this one. Maass goes for the “follow it” recommendation, saying, “Writing what you know means finding what is extraordinary in that which is ordinary and, conversely, discovering what is universal, meaningful and human in that which is uncommon.” Maas notes that it is not necessary to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. “You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing,” he says. “Hey, you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”
Goldberg begs to differ, claiming that we all know only a small amount of what there is to know in the world and, further, your imagination enriches your writing. “We should not limit ourselves,” Goldberg maintains. “We should stretch ourselves beyond our borders. You may know your neighborhood, but what lurks beyond the familiar, safe streets?”
For memoir writers, there’s not much choice here. Mostly, when it comes to the writing-what-you-know rule, you’ll want to “follow it.” I do encourage you to do some fact-checking, research your ancestry and ask a lot of questions to people close to you in order to confirm your memories. Still, when you’re documenting your own impressions of your life, by definition you’re writing what you know.
Check back next time for rule #2!

From now until about Christmastime, I’m going to be exploring 10 conventional rules of writing, one rule each week. I’m taking these rules from an interesting Writer’s Digest request of some highly respected writers and writing observers to share their opinions of the rules. For each rule, a “follow it” and a “break it” is expressed, and I will put those insights into context for all of you writing memoirs here on the Write My Memoirs site.

Rule 1: Write What You Know.

Literary agent Donald Maass and author Natalie Goldberg square off on this one. Maass goes for the “follow it” recommendation, saying, “Writing what you know means finding what is extraordinary in that which is ordinary and, conversely, discovering what is universal, meaningful and human in that which is uncommon.” Maas notes that it is not necessary to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. “You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing,” he says. “Hey, you can always research what you don’t know. But you can’t fake what’s in your heart. Say what matters. That’s writing what you know.”

Goldberg begs to differ, claiming that we all know only a small amount of what there is to know in the world and, further, your imagination enriches your writing. “We should not limit ourselves,” Goldberg maintains. “We should stretch ourselves beyond our borders. You may know your neighborhood, but what lurks beyond the familiar, safe streets?”

For memoir writers, there’s not much choice here. Mostly, when it comes to the writing-what-you-know rule, you’ll want to “follow it.” I do encourage you to do some fact-checking, research your ancestry and ask a lot of questions to people close to you in order to confirm your memories. Still, when you’re documenting your own impressions of your life, by definition you’re writing what you know.

Check back next time for rule #2!

Memoir Structure Help Is Online This Month

Memoir Structure Help Is Online This Month
If you’re stuck and can’t organize your memoir or develop a cohesive structure that fits for your particular life story, you might want to take an October 25 teleseminar offered by the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW). You are required to join NAMW at the regular annual fee of $149 in order to participate in the seminar, called “Are You Struggling with Your Memoir Structure?” (Write My Memoirs is not associated in any way with NAMW.) The seminar is conducted by Judy L. Mandel, author of Replacement Child—A Memoir.
Whether you take the seminar or not, within the course description are hints about what to think about as you begin writing:
How to look objectively at your story structure
Deciding what to leave in and what to leave out of your book
What is your memoir ABOUT?
The seminar aims to provide participants with “clearer ideas about how to think about your memoir structure and learn how to make decisions about the structure that can work for your story.”
You can do a lot of this on your own. You don’t need a theme to your memoir, but it helps to have a direction and a purpose. What will be your memoir’s “takeaway”? That is, what do you want readers to conclude about you, learn from your experiences or view you perhaps differently from the way they thought of you before reading your story? What order do you want them to read about your life? Addressing these questions before you start can make it easier for you to create your chapters and include all the relevant facts and thoughts without overwhelming the reader with extraneous information.
http://www.namw.org/2013/09/are-you-struggling-with-your-memoir-structure/

If you’re stuck and can’t organize your memoir or develop a cohesive structure that fits for your particular life story, you might want to take an October 25 teleseminar offered by the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW). You are required to join NAMW at the regular annual fee of $149 in order to participate in the seminar, called “Are You Struggling with Your Memoir Structure?” (Write My Memoirs is not associated in any way with NAMW.) The seminar is conducted by Judy L. Mandel, author of Replacement Child—A Memoir.

Whether you take the seminar or not, within the course description are hints about what to think about as you begin writing:

  • How to look objectively at your story structure
  • Deciding what to leave in and what to leave out of your book
  • What is your memoir ABOUT?

The seminar aims to provide participants with “clearer ideas about how to think about your memoir structure and learn how to make decisions about the structure that can work for your story.”

You can do a lot of this on your own. You don’t need a theme to your memoir, but it helps to have a direction and a purpose. What will be your memoir’s “takeaway”? That is, what do you want readers to conclude about you, learn from your experiences or view you perhaps differently from the way they thought of you before reading your story? In what order do you want them to read about your life? Addressing these questions before you start can make it easier for you to create your chapters and include all the relevant facts and thoughts without overwhelming the reader with extraneous information.

Three Mini-Memoirs Model Effective Writing

Three Mini-Memoirs Model Effective Writing
Redwood Writers is a group of California writers who support each other’s writing efforts. The group holds writing contests throughout the year and has posted the top three winners of its 2013 Memoir Contest online. These mini-memoirs are a quick read and can provide inspiration in your own memoir writing:
First Place: The Egg Slicer by Simona Carini. This winning entry provides a model for crafting a chapter about what seems like a very minor aspect of your life. Carini skillfully uses something small—her affection for her mother’s egg slicer—to communicate much about her relationship with her mother, her grief upon her mother’s death and her process of finding her own voice at the feet of a daunting authority figure.
Second Place: Crimes of Passion by Jan Edwards. The second-place finisher gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of the occasional shoplifter. The author is boldly honest, neither apologizing nor analyzing beyond matter-of-factly reporting her own rationalizing. The writing keeps the reader engaged, and we want to know whether the behavior continues past the end of the vignette.
Third Place: Gulf Stream by Elspeth Benton. Sharing some blurry childhood memories, the author combines those seemingly accurate memories with speculation and questions. She’s skilled in turning her lack of information about her mother and grandfather into an interesting story. By exploring the motivations and behavior of people so directly connected to her, she’s implicitly looking inward as well, trying to define who she is in light of where she came from.
All three winners are good at focusing on just a couple of points in time in order to convey the passage of many years. You experience your life’s occurrences both as they happen and later when you remember them.
http://redwoodwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/EggSlicerMemoir2-3.pdf
http://redwoodwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/Crimes-of-Passion-light-edit-21.pdf
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Redwood Writers is a group of California writers who support each other’s writing efforts. The group holds writing contests throughout the year and has posted online the top three winners of its 2013 Memoir Contest. These mini-memoirs are a quick read and can provide inspiration for your own memoir writing:

First Place: The Egg Slicer by Simona Carini. This winning entry provides a model for crafting a chapter about what seems like a very minor aspect of your life. Carini skillfully uses something small—her affection for her mother’s egg slicer—to communicate much about her relationship with her mother, her grief upon her mother’s death and her process of finding her own voice at the feet of a daunting authority figure.

Second Place: Crimes of Passion by Jan Edwards. The second-place finisher gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of the occasional shoplifter. The author is boldly honest, neither apologizing nor analyzing beyond matter-of-factly reporting her own rationalizing. The writing keeps the reader engaged, and we want to know whether the behavior continues past the end of the vignette.

Third Place: Gulf Stream by Elspeth Benton. Sharing some blurry childhood memories, the author combines those seemingly accurate memories with speculation and questions. She’s skilled in turning her lack of information about her mother and grandfather into an interesting story. By exploring the motivations and behavior of people so directly connected to her, she’s implicitly looking inward as well, trying to define who she is in light of where she came from.

All three winners are good at focusing on just a couple of points in time in order to convey the passage of many years. You experience your life’s occurrences both as they happen and later when you remember them.

TV Genealogy Show Strikes a Chord

TV Genealogy Show Strikes a Chord
As you write your memoir, you may seek information reaching back several generations. Or perhaps after writing a first memoir focusing on your life as you recall it, you will decide to develop a second, research-based book that documents your heritage.
If that topic interests you, you’re probably already a member of ancestry.com, tracing your roots and discovering fascinating information about the generations that preceded you. I suggest you also check out the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” This show was on NBC for three seasons, and after it was canceled it was picked up by TLC, which is now running a full season. Each episode follows the journey as a celebrity traces his or her ancestry, uncovering all sorts of interesting material. In the process, viewers learn how to go about a thorough genealogy search. The producers help the celebrities, of course, whereas you’re on your own! They do use ancestry.com to pull up documents, but they also meet with genealogists and view photos and paperwork in person. Perhaps you wouldn’t have as much access to these experts as the producers of a television show, but the professionals seem genuinely interested in enlightening descendants about relatives whose accomplishments have gone largely acknowledged. By the way, the TV show has a spinoff book of the same name.
If you do any sort of genealogical search and turn up interesting history, please email us at WriteMyMemoirs about it, and we will share here it on the blog.
http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are
http://www.amazon.com/Who-You-Think-Are-Essential/dp/0143118919s

As you write your memoir, you may seek information reaching back several generations. Or perhaps after writing a first memoir focusing on your life as you recall it, you will decide to develop a second, research-based book that documents your heritage.

If that topic interests you, you’re probably already a member of ancestry.com, tracing your roots and discovering fascinating information about the generations that preceded you. I suggest you also check out the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” This show was on NBC for three seasons, and after it was canceled it was picked up by TLC, which is now running a full season. Each episode follows the journey as a celebrity traces his or her ancestry, uncovering all sorts of interesting material. In the process, viewers learn how to go about a thorough genealogy search. The producers help the celebrities, of course, whereas you’re on your own! They do use ancestry.com to pull up documents, but the celebrities also meet with genealogists and view photos and paperwork in person. Perhaps you wouldn’t have as much access to these experts as the producers of a television show, but the professionals seem genuinely interested in enlightening descendants about relatives whose accomplishments have gone largely unacknowledged. By the way, the TV show has a spinoff book of the same name.

If you do any sort of genealogical search and turn up interesting history, please email us at WriteMyMemoirs about it, and we will share here it on the blog.

Memoirs Keep Your Memories Alive

Memoirs Keep Your Memories Alive
“Too often memories die with their owner, and too often time surprises us by running out.”
With this last installment of our summer-long series discussing William Zinsser’s essay, “How to Write a Memoir,” I want to focus just on that sentence, which may be the most pivotal thought in the essay. Life goes by quickly. One day you’re busy establishing your career, raising a family, enjoying your mid-life routine, and in no time all of that is in the past. By then you’re busy with other things—grandchildren, hobbies, perhaps still working—and you still have no solid blocks of time to sit down and write a memoir.
But the alternative to not finding the time to write a memoir is that you never write one, and all of those experiences you lived and emotions you felt never make their way out of your head to inspire the generations that follow. Even for your own benefit, you never take the opportunity to review your life in a substantive, organized way that can give you insight into the lessons you’ve learned and the contributions you’ve made just by living your life.
It does take a commitment—and, hardest of all, it takes getting started—to craft your story, something you can point to as your own tale of the little stories that combined to turn you into who you are today. Write your story before time runs out, before life writes your last chapter for you without having any input from the protagonist: you. Do it today.
http://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo

“Too often memories die with their owner, and too often time surprises us by running out.”

With this last installment of our summer-long series discussing William Zinsser’s essay, “How to Write a Memoir,” I want to focus just on that sentence, which may be the most pivotal thought in the essay. Life goes by quickly. One day you’re busy establishing your career, raising a family, enjoying your mid-life routine, and then you wake up and all of that is in the past. By then you’re busy with other things—grandchildren, hobbies, perhaps working—and you still have no solid blocks of time to sit down and write a memoir.

But the alternative to not finding the time to write a memoir is that you never write one, and all of those experiences you lived and emotions you felt never make their way out of your head to inspire and inform the generations that follow. You grow old never having taken the opportunity to review your life in a substantive, organized way that can give you insight into the lessons you’ve learned and the contributions you’ve made.

It does take a commitment—and, hardest of all, it takes getting started—to craft your story, something you can point to as your own perspective of the little chapters that combined to turn you into who you are today. Write your story before time runs out, before life writes your last chapter for you without having any input from the protagonist: you. Do it today.

Your Memoir as a Collection of Short Stories

Still focusing on the essay, “How to Write a Memoir” by William Zinsser, let’s discuss one of the essay’s central themes—gathering up all of your life’s major stories. When you think of your memoir in that way, it’s easier to structure. Tackle one story at a time just as you lived one episode at a time, and when you’re finished you will have described an entire life. It’s also more interesting to the reader than going through year by year and giving a laundry list of your schools, romances, workplaces and favorite foods.

In the essay, Zinsser advises, “Your biggest stories will often have less to do with their subject than with their significance—not what you did in a certain situation, but how that situation affected you and shaped the person you became.” So consider the person you are and how you would want your great-great-grandchildren to think of you. Then think back to your life’s stories that developed that person.

We’re all a product of our time, so include colorful anecdotes that help the reader envision the setting. Perhaps you’ll describe your dad’s car or the outfit your mother wore to church or bicycling by yourself all over the countryside at a young age. If you feel that your birth order helped to shape you, write about your interactions with your siblings and parents. If the army changed your outlook, recall a couple of pivotal stories from that time rather than detailing everywhere you went. If you had to choose one influence that really helped to define you, what would it be? Keep that influence in mind as you write.

We’re all a product of our time, so include colorful anecdotes that help the reader envision the setting. Perhaps you’ll describe your dad’s car or the outfit your mother wore to church or bicycling by yourself all over the countryside at a young age. If you feel that your birth order helped to shape you, write about your interactions with your siblings and parents. If the army changed your outlook, recall a couple of pivotal stories from that time rather than detailing everywhere you went. If you had to choose one influence that really helped to define you, what would it be? Keep that influence in mind as you write.
p://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo