Memoir and Writing From Memory
Recently I was asked to produce a piece from memory. In preparation for a memoir piece there was a discussion and instruction on writing from memory. There's a great text out there available to writers called "StoryCraft" by Jack Hart. It's an invaluable resource for any writing, fiction, non-fiction, short story, novel. The book, a book I wish I'd have when I started writing has given great insight into how to keep a story moving, even when there is no movement within a story.
StoryCraft covers that one might consider dull at first look, verb usage and type, place/setting etc. But, the way in which it is presented and the examples given are pearls of wisdom that should be passed down.
Back now to that piece I was asked to produce. The piece is on "Place", a place from memory, a place that you could write about and evoke from the reader the same feeling you had or have for it. Be it happy, scary, sad etc. I thought "sure, I can do that" and proceeded to bang out a less than quality piece of work in an hour. Sitting and reading the work I knew I had to refer back to StoryCraft and really dig in. To give movement to a static setting, to give emotion in the description of the walls, give scent to the air within and allow my reader(s) to feel that which I felt from my past. Revisiting, no, reliving the moments in that place were not pleasant, but they have much to teach when trying to relay it to others.
For your amusement or education in what an early version of this type of writing looks like I share with you the following, a mere excerpt of early work in this piece.
"Residing in the dime a dozen, be it a double wide or single, new or old metal boxes lined up along little more than single lane of pavement. Only enough room to park a small car between each, sometimes even less. A variety of colors, some putrescently bright, though most wore shades of old tin cans or rusted browns as metallurgic skin. The one on the end, next to the fence where the manure odor from cattle landed harshly against its outer wall was no different, not special."
Practice. Write from memory, just free write then go back and read, alter, add and change. Better yet, grab a copy of StoryCraft, read it then go back and look at your writing. The lessons are there, bold and bright for anyone to have.
I'm a fiction writer, the stories in my head play like movies. The characters are people I hold conversations with, just not aloud in public. The places in my head are real, they have weight and substance, odor and glare, heat and taste. These are the worlds I write in, the ones I've made up or the ones I've altered from their reality. Fiction, it's what I'm comfortable with.
I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Amy Ettinger, a journalist and author. She spoke about the journey and how her new #CreativeNonFiction book "Sweet Spot - An Ice Cream Binge Across America" came to fruition. Her obsession with ice cream is real, tangible. She speaks as if it was a childhood friend, it holds strong memories and meaning for her. From her obsession she formed this book that is part memoir, part history, part character driven vignette. Her book took her from the west coast to the east, and all parts in between. She spoke to Jerry of Ben & Jerry's, went to the singular college in the United States where most ice cream producers learned their trade, and tasted a variety of ice creams, gelatos and frozen custards. In addition she spoke about those ice creams that were in her words "challenging" , I cannot imagine what it took to try the oyster or foie gras flavors.
Amy spoke about the thread that held the book together throughout, and it was the obsession with ice cream, not just hers but ours collectively, in the U.S. I look forward to reading through her book and getting a better sense of #CreativeNonFiction , what it takes and what it looks like.
I went in to a local Starbucks, a favorite place to write for “White Noise”. It’s a busy place on some days and getting one of the better seats along the wall with a little bistro table and sitting on the bench is always a nice thing.
This particular day I went in mid-morning, hoping to get in an hour or two of Chai Latte and writing. No surprise that when I walked in all the seats that I like were taken. I ordered my Chai, and a little snack then sat at a large table to wait for a spot to clear. I noticed one of the odd-ball regulars here, she tends to hog an entire end of the area, or take the largest table and “hold court”. She’s harmless, but is one of those people that if you want to work you really don’t appreciate her next to you. She’s also a loud mouth, I’d never thought of her as mean or anything, just she likes to be the center of attention. I should have figured out with these traits she thinks of herself as a Queen Bee, but I didn’t. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. So, I’m sitting at my big table, I’m pretty short and this seat at the table leaves my feet hanging in air. The odd lady is over near one end, taking up a lot of space on the single bench that runs against the wall where all the bistro tables are. She gets up to get a coffee, and the man next to her leaves, he happens to be at a wood tope table that sits a little higher than I am comfortable at, but it’s what’s open. I grab my stuff and start toward the table, sadly it’s the only one available. I decide to just put in the earbuds and let it all go to white noise around me. I’m in a good mood, For a change I’ve got a little time and am looking forward to writing. A couple steps after getting up this woman's voice from behind me says in a nasal annoyed tone “oh you’re not, you’ve got to be kidding!”. I ignore her, scoot in to the available table. This annoying queen bee then confronts me in a holier than thou tone “I was waiting for that table, I have all my stuff on the bench here, it’s really not right”. Now mind you, she's already taking up a large area of the bench and has a bistro table where she's set up.
So we exchange words, she is acidic in tone and I reply in kind then plug in my earbuds and begin. She continues to berate me, but I ignore. Someone she knows comes in thankfully and they start talking. When they finish she tells the person her drama about how I stole her seat. I decide I’d just respond again in kind, did so and went back to my work. It’s days like these I wish I had horrible body odor so that I could sit and stew right next to her.
I told her once, in a firm but nice manner that all it would have taken was a kind word and she could have had the table I’m at and I’d take one of the two little bistro tables that she was inhabiting. She decided to continue to be vile and nasty, so I just plugged back in and worked. Originally I was going to just stay for an hour, perhaps two. Now I’m going to stay as long as possible to annoy her.
Sometimes it just takes one nice word and you can get what you want. Be prepared if you don’t extend courtesy though, as someone might annoy you just because.
The one good thing to come out of the drama the crazy lady insisted upon is that I now have a new character, a villain to work with…
I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I’ve failed too many times at far too lofty goals. Write everyday, lose weight, exercise, eat right, restrict television viewing, save money, commute etc. Resolutions seem out of reach for me, and I often hear others complain that their resolutions fall away after a month, a week or sometimes within a day. This year I've decided upon something different, instead of a resolution I’ve decided to adopt a word. Just one word which takes into consideration my challenges as a writer and shoves them aside (like that last piece of chocolate cake if I were to take on a New Year resolution).
Here's the idea; that word, that one word is what I'll put in my head when I get up in the morning. It will apply to my writing effort, my attitude about what I produce and my craft as a whole.
As an emerging writer I don’t put in the effort that I could. I think that because I’m “older” or started later that my writing will not measure up. I also find it difficult to make my writing a priority. As a spouse and parent I often put myself last, I’m sure others have the difficulty of priortizing their writing over thier “to-do” lists. Then there is the issue of “failure”, fearing when a submission goes out and doesn’t get a positive response or acceptance - it may feel like the effort was worthless, a failure. Lastly, there’s opposition. I think that there are those who believe I should be doing other things, that writing isn’t a worthy pursuit at my age, or stage in my life. But I have to ask myself, what is important to me, to my creative ‘self’.
Starting on January 1, 2018 the word I will adopt is perseverance which is defined as: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.
So maybe, if you're not so good at keeping your resolutions perhaps you too can try to adopt one. Just. One. Word.
What’s will your word be?
Never Diminish Your Success. Simple, right?
Well emerging (and successful/published) writers often feel this way. The voice inside your head nags you with questions. “What if this is the only good thing I’ll ever write”, “What if they find out I’m really not that talented”, “What if I was just lucky this time”. I recognize these, do you? I have imposter syndrome, I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of it, but I will not let it rule me.
In 2017 I’d beaten out several other writers for a Fellowship, one that I thought I’d had no chance at even being competitive for. I sent in two works, one fiction and one creative non-fiction. I had only a single work published to date and it was in a college (that I attended) literary magazine. I’d taken that piece and worked on it for another year on and off, then sent it in applying for the fellowship, hoping only that the judges would be kind enough to send me some constructive feedback. When I received the email that I’d not only won, but each one of my pieces was chosen by different judges as the winner I was in disbelief.
I ended up accepting the fellowship and traveling to Martha’s Vineyard for a week. There I sat with Academics, published authors and poets, people who have podcasts on creative writing and are employed as writers in some fashion. From the first moment that we went around the room and introduced ourselves I thought I shouldn’t be there. I thought they’d made a mistake somewhere along the line and just couldn't take it back. I thought that my talent did not meet the standards in the room. I was the imposter, the odd man out. The (very kind) director of the retreat could see this, he even told me up front that I was suffering from this syndrome. I gladly agreed and tried not to take up too much of his time, which in itself is one of the many signs of imposter syndrome.
It’s only recently that I have decided that I was not in fact an imposter. I finally figured out that the work I had submitted was not only worthy of the award but it had been some of my best work to date. I could still admit to myself though, easily, that I had a lot to learn. I only wish I’d have told myself that while I was attending the workshops and readings, while had the opportunity to work with poets and authors. I wish I’d have paused and recognized this while I was there instead of being distracted by all the wonderful writers and their works and thinking that my work didn’t hold up.
Finally figuring out that no matter where you are in the process, that’s where you growth is. There is no way to be an imposter in the process of growth, in the process of educating yourself in your passion, be it writing or something else. There is no being an imposter on your own field of play and on your own terms.
I’m hoping that my lesson is something you as a writer will think about and take to heart. What was that lesson? The lesson learned here was: Never Diminish Your Success.