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With my recent down time, I’ve been doing some thinking since I am not doing too much else. I’m thinking writing is a lot like cooking. Now for those of you who know me well, this may seem like a strange comparison considering that I dislike cooking and am rather fond of writing. Allow me to explain.
My husband and I have a blended family of six. Our mixture of his and hers children creates a unique schedule for many meal times. Some nights it’s just the two of us and other nights, we are feeding six. Over the years, meal time caused a certain level of angst for me. Trying to make sure I created meals that were healthy, that pleased everyone, and that were within budget were a challenge. I have never enjoyed cooking but trying to tackle this task made it more daunting. I fretted over meal planning, shopping, preparation, all of it.
As time as passed, I have started to worry less about covering all these bases. I began to focus on creating meals that were a little more fun and different and thought less about trying to please the masses.
And this is why I think cooking is like writing. So often, we are encouraged to write in a genre or style that we are not passionate about or simply have no interest in. As writers, we are sometimes pushed to try a new category because it is what’s “new” and “popular” but when it comes down to it, we may not care a bit about it.
I love writing children’s stories and short stories. I am also working on my memoir about my battle with heart disease. My focus is narrow and I am okay with that. I could try to write paranormal or horror but I promise, it would not worth anyone’s time. I think it is better to stick with what makes you happy. In my case, I write because I enjoy it rather than it being my job. Since I have that luxury, I can be picky. And as for the cooking, I fortunately married a fantastic chef!
* * * * *
Karen Guccione-Englert fell in love with words at an early age and now shares her love of reading with students at Orchard Farm Elementary. Outside of the classroom, she primarily writes children’s stories and short stories. Karen enjoys entering a variety of writing competitions to practice and refine her craft. In addition, she is an active member of Go Red for Women with the St. Louis chapter of the American Heart Association. Karen resides in St. Peters, Missouri with her husband, four children, and loveable pug.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
For today's post I'd like to explore the second suggestion from Art Journal Class, My Favorite Tips: Write about a cherished object.The first time I tried this prompt, I ended up writing about a seashell that belonged to my grandmother. She told me it was from the Gulf of Mexico--a place as foreign as Mars to me--and I used to spend hours holding it to my ear to "hear the ocean." Although I have no idea what happened to the original shell, I do have one very much like it: dark brown, gray, and cream stripes on a swirly, spiral sort of mini-conch (I don't know how else to describe it, apologies to the marine biologists out there!). Regardless of my inability to scientifically categorize the shell, writing about it, and then drawing an accompanying picture into my journal released a flood of memories that in their turn became further journal entries. It also reconnected me to a time that was very special in my life and one that I'm sure contributed to me being the writer I am today.It doesn't really matter how you approach this exercise. You might want to choose an object first and then write about it, followed with a drawing or a collage of the object; or you could choose to first write about a specific memory that brings to mind an object you want to illustrate. Have fun with your choice of mediums: colored pencil, watercolor paints, crayons, or even a photograph you then photocopy and alter in some way with pencils or paint--it all works. Don't forget to add playful embellishments to your page(s): fabric swatches, scraps of lace or trim, glitter glue, feathers, buttons, pressed flowers or leaves--use whatever appeals to you and helps re-live the memory. There's no such thing as a right way to do this!Some ideas for objects to spark written and illustrated memories can include:
An interesting switch to this exercise is to write about an object you dislike or that bothers you on some level. For instance:
- A favorite item of clothing: dress, shirt, shoes, hat, etc.
- Your first car.
- First pet (not exactly an object, but you know what I mean).
- A favorite book, especially one from childhood
- A treasured piece of jewelry--the one you love regardless of monetary value.
- A vacation souvenir.
- A photograph.
- A tree or plant in your garden.
- Childhood toy.
- A family heirloom.
- An item from childhood that you could only play with or hold on special occasions.
- Holiday decorations.
- A religious or sacred item.
- A random item quickly selected from your shelf. It reminds you of -- ?
Working through negative emotions can often turn into your best and most enlightening journaling sessions. And who knows, it may also bring you to an entirely new perspective on both the object and the memories surrounding it.I find that aiming for at least 500-1000 words is a good goal for this exercise; it's enough to really sink into the subject. However, once you've written your piece, you might not want to keep absolutely all of it. You may want to grab your scissors and cut (or tear) out your best or most important lines, and then paste them into your drawing to create a collage. Another technique is to take those lines and turn them into a found poem--rearranging your thoughts and adding more lines as they occur to you. And if you'd prefer total privacy along with some instant artwork, stacked journaling is always an exciting approach to fully express yourself.Tip of the Day: Wherever you are right now, pick up the object nearest to you. How does it make you feel? Why is it in your life? Where's it from? What does it remind you of? It doesn't matter how small or insignificant the item is--just explore and write down your feelings. Use this as a practice session, although it could very well turn into just the right piece to add to your art journal.
- A detested item of clothing you were forced to wear, e.g., a school uniform or an unflattering bridesmaid dress.
- A gift you didn't want. But had to accept.
- A piece of clutter you want to get rid of, but can't.
- A broken appliance still hanging around.
- Housework tools: mops, brooms, sponges, buckets, ugh.
- Most disliked food.
- Something owned by a person who gets on your nerves.
- An item owned by that same person that you wish was yours (especially when you think they don't deserve it, LOL! Getting deep here....)
- Weeds or dead plants in your garden.
- Your worst photo--ever.
Merry Christmas, everyone! With just one week left 'til New Year's Eve ... can you believe it? So what did 2012 bring for you? For me it was a mixture of creativity, big changes, and a whole lot of fun, starting with:
That's a lot--more than enough, I think--for one year's worth of memories. 2012 has been a fantastic year for me, and I hope the same is true for you. Drop me a line and let me know some of your favorite moments!Tip of the Day: As a journaling exercise for next year, make a practice every evening of writing down 12 things that made the day special for you in some way: for instance, accomplishments both large and small; important insights that arrived unexpectedly; a line from a book that caught your imagination. Remember to not judge, just write.
- Publishing my Gothic romance novel, Overtaken in both paperback and Kindle editions.
- Creating the book trailer for Overtaken.
- I sold my house (a miracle in this current market).
- Moved into a rental condo--and I love it. No maintenance. No gardening. No "what if I want to sell it?"
- My day job moved into spacious new premises.
- Although I had a great little studio at my old house, I now have a new space three times bigger.
- I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and reached my 50K goal!
- Took a fantastic 3-day screenwriting seminar aka "screenwriting boot camp" and learned that writing a screenplay is just as difficult as I thought it was, LOL.
- I also took a 6-week oil pastel class and found my true north. I absolutely adore oil pastels now--especially Sennelier brand.
- Went camping in an RV for the very first time--and found out I love RVs. Will have to do this one again very soon.
- Prepared two manuscripts for 2013 submission: my nonfiction book, A Pet Owner's Book of Days, and a new novel, The Abyssal Plain.
- Kept up with this blog and had two fantastic giveaways. Big congratulations to my winners!
And soon I will sit and read again and hope that all I meant to say, all I need to say, is here, and here clearly.
Thank you, Lauren Marino and Susan Barnes of Gotham for seeing this book through.
Yes, even memoir writers need a plot.
There is nothing more frustrating than to read a memoir that is simply a litany of events -- episodes that happen to the memoirist -- this happens and then this happens and then this happens. This is especially depressing when the writer has wonderful voice and insight into a moving period in history.
No matter how unique the writer's voice, without a plot, a reader's interest eventually begins wanes. Even a significant historical turning point loses its luster and impact without conflict, tension and suspense.
I'm especially cranky about one memoir in particular right now but can point to many others. For instance, Carole King's memoir falls flat and in the end the reader is left to wonder what all the events in her life really add up to. Rather than transformed by the dramatic action in her life, her life seems more messed up at the end of the memoir than when she began.
Most readers long to be uplifted by the stories they read.
My advice? Before you spend money on a great cover and layout, publicity and marketing your story, study the craft of writing first. Just because the events happened to you does not mean that they will move and entertain and enlighten your reader.
To familiarize yourself with the Universal Story and basic plot tips and tricks:
1) Read The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (The companion workbook is coming this summer and available for pre-order now ~~ The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories)
2) Watch the Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? on YouTube. A directory of all the steps to the series is to the right of this post. 27-step tutorial on Youtube
3 Watch the Monday Morning Plot Book Group Series on YouTube. A directory the book examples and plot elements discussed is to the left of this post.
Over the course of ten minutes yesterday, 130 photographs were taken of the Penn campus by a classroom of students and their teacher. That's 130 brand new photos—pictures that will never be taken again—not precisely, not ever. The clouds won't whip that wide again, that pedestrian won't ignore that sign so unknowingly again, that man standing in the corner watching himself be watched by a camera has already disappeared.
And that's the point, when we're writing memoir—or at least that's part of the point. No picture like this one. No day like yesterday. No one like us.
How to write it all down, then, and how to make it matter?
By: Martha Alderson, M.A.,
Blog: Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers
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Character Emotional Development
, Dramatic Action
, Memoir writing
, Thematic Significance
, Character Emotional Development
, Dramatic Action
, Memoir writing
, Thematic Significance
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One of the most fascinating aspects of being a plot coach for writers is learning about other writers' writing process.
Usually, I find that writers have a preference for communicating their projects through one plotline initially over the other three plotlines --- character emotional development, dramatic action, and thematic significance.
Most writers divide into one of two groups -- developing characters versus developing action. However, every so often I find a writer who approaches a story through the thematic significance or deeper meaning of the piece. Recently, I worked with a writer who not only excelled in thematic significance, she was drowning in it.
Sara, I'll call her, is a memoirist. Throughout the plot phone consultation, Sara’s fears of not being able to do what she had set out to do constantly interrupted the flow. Her self-doubts about her abilities and worthiness were doing to her what they do to all of us -- stall, cripple, and damage the writing process more than any lack in actual writing abilities.
To protect herself from her fears, Sara stayed in her head. She seemed incapable of bringing the story down into her body. As difficult as it was to get her to consider the dramatic action needed in her story, she was oblivious to developing the characters. Sara had spent years intellectualizing her memoir. She had never written a word.
Sara had strong beliefs she was determined to bring forward, points to prove, judgments to render. When given the chance to stay in the intellectual, Sara's voice grew strident. I sensed she had to force herself to bite back true anger. Yet, her bitterness was the very emotion preventing her from actually ever writing her story. To get around her anger about the unfairness of the establishment, I kept asking her to consider the protagonist's (her) transformation and what actions got her there.
We finished the consultation after more than three hours with a good plot planner in place. However, I worry about whether or not she’ll ever get beyond her self-doubts and anger to actually get out of her head and write the story. I hope so. The story has merit. We’ll see….
*FYI: For a technique to determine what parts of your life to include and which to cut in your memoir, go to http://www.blockbusterplots.com and click on Memoir Writers.)
**FYI: Sure, lots of natural-born storytellers excel at all three approaches to writing at once. But, for the rest of us, a firm understanding of our strengths and weaknesses can help us achieve balance in creating our stories.
I have a test for writers to determine whether they are a character-driven writer versus a dramatic action-driven writer on http://www.blockbusterplots.com/test.html
Ask yourself if you prefer to develop the character and break down at coming up with conflict, tension, and suspenseful dramatic action? Or, are you great at creating breakneck excitement on the page, but come up short when it comes to character?
Do you live through your mind and like to intellectualize about life? You could be best at developing thematic significance.
Are you active and live through movement and your body? You could be best at developing dramatic action.
Are you spiritually driven -- this does not mean religious, but spiritual? You could be best at character emotional development.
I'm personally excited about an upcoming plot consultation with a well-respected veteran writer and photographer of some 50 years for most of the top news agencies and magazines in the country and the world.
From the early info I require about the character (for a memoir writer that is the writer himself) and theme, I sense this writer is interested in using his action-packed background of intrigue and danger to illuminate his flaws and fears and thus give meaning and significance to his life.
Memoir writing at its best shares the writer's past with the reader in order to entertain, enlighten, motivate, and/or make sense of life itself.
One of my personal favorites is Daily Coyote
by Shreve Stockton.
Have you read it? Did you like it? Any memoirs you recommend?
Anxious to leave a legacy, more and more baby boomers are turning to writing their memoirs or the next Great American Novel. For some, the story reveals itself effortlessly. Others have difficulty raising the veil for clarity. In the second case, I often find the problem lies in having lived a vast and rich life. What to put in and what to leave out becomes the dilemma.
In order to bring a story to fullness, a writer searches for the underlying sttucture that will best demonstrate some sort of meaning. As far as I'm concerned, there are three ways to do this.
1) Write what you are drawn to write and see what you end up with
2) Pre-plot scenes and ideas on the Universal Story form, alert for the moments that could constitute a major Crisis which in turn creates a jumping off place for the crowning glory of the work ~ the Climax.
3) Write what you are drawn to write and, at the same time, plot out scenes and ideas, keeping in mind the Universal Story form.
A scene does not warrant staying in a story merely because "it happened that way."
A good writer also knows that in order for a certain passage or sentence or character or plot turn to be in a story is not because of the beauty of the writing or the cleverness in the plotting or the depth of the characters, although these things are critical in captivating the reader. A good writer knows that each line and each element in each and every scene belongs there because it has a definite purpose in providing an overall meaning to the piece.
The only scenes that belong in a piece are the ones that best show how a character responds to the challenges, conflicts, tension, and suspense in one's own life as they move closer to transformation, and that contribute to the overall meaning of the story.
A dear, dear friend asked me what I thought of an editor's comments regarding her latest book. Having been told that the book did not have a wide enough appeal to a general audience but rather more valued by family and friends who could fill in the gaps, my friend turned to me.
First let me say that my friend is a terrific writer -- she has a wonderful way with words and though this latest book comes closer to a true story than her first book -- a collection of short stories -- I agree with the editor.
Without having dropped the veil on her own personal story and the deeper story of her relationships, the reader never has a chance to see how she is changed by the journey she undertakes in the story. Instead of more closely concentrating on her inner evolution, she focused on the outside. And, by keeping herself at a distance, the reader in the end is robbed of the true joy of reading -- identification.
Universal appeal comes through the character -- the inner plot, not though the dramatic action -- the outer plot. The protagonist (in a memoir, that means you, the author) drives the story and the allows for an emotional involvement on the part of the reader.
Yes, my friend wrote herself in such a way that she comes across strong and both empathetic and sympathetic. However, without a clear goal and an clearly identified inner problem that gets solved, the reader is left to fill in the gaps.
Key elements in the character inner plot:
1) The protagonist must grow throughout the story in a believable and meaningful way.
2) Protagonist goal = must be specific. The goal is what motivates the character and is what allows the reader to gauge when the character comes closer to goal and when she is thrust further away. What does the character want and why?
2) The character must reveal themselves to the reader. This can be accomplished through dialogue and descriptions, and through the actions she takes. In whichever way the writer finds to "show" the character, the character's emotion must be included = Character Emotional Development.
3) The secondary and minor characters act as real people who offer comparisons and contrasts to the main character, thus expanding the readers' understanding of the protagonist and of the overall theme itself.
4) Is the character struggling against herself and an external antagonist? Whether an inner demon or flaw and / or an external antagonist, we must understand the obstacles in the way of the protagonist achieving her goal to more fully appreciate the growth she ultimately makes.
What do universal themes have to do with memoir writing? If you are serious about writing a memoir, you need to not only tell your story, but have a story that others can relate to as well.
In Annette Fix' article on WOW, Memoir Writing: Drawing From Your Life to Create Your Story, she says, "You need to decide who your target audience is and what message you want to leave them with when they reach the end of the book. If you find that you have no 'point' to your story, it may be best to consider binding some copies for family members as a legacy or as an addition to your family's genealogy collection. If your intent is to see your memoir in the trade marketplace, you need to have a universal theme to which your readers can relate."
Here is a list of universal themes you can incorporate in your memoir: (in alphabetical order)
Adjusting to a New Life
Appreciation of Nature
Caring for the Environment
Coming of Age
Coping with Loss
Courage and Honor
Customs and Traditions
Dealing with Handicaps
Death and Dying
Effects of War
Good vs. Evil
Living in Today's Society
Morals & Values
Sense of Community
Sense of Self
Separation and Loss
Taking a Stand
By incorporating one or more of these themes into your memoir you'll gain a universal connection to your reader. And that's the power of personal memoir.
& Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and the author of the prize-winning memoir Don't Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment. Her new book The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story was released in January 2010 through Jossey Bass publishers.
Linda has been a therapist in Berkeley for the last thirty years, and received her MFA at Mills College.
Through her workshops, online coaching, and speaking engagements, Linda integrates the principles of healing and creativity in presenting the powerful healing process of writing true stories. Her first book, Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story, was used as a text by therapists, ministers, and writing coaches, and was a finalist in ForeWord magazine's 2008 Book of the Year Award. Linda's prize-winning nonfiction and poetry has been published in various literary journals. Her novel excerpt, Secret Music, a novel about the Kindertransport, music, and redemption was a finalist in the San Francisco Writing Conference contest.
Linda is past-president of The California Writers Club, Marin branch, and former vice-president of the Women's National Book Association, and has served on the board of Story Circle Network.
Find out more about Linda by visiting her websites:
The Power of Memoir: Writing Your Healing Story
By Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.The Power of Memoir
is a groundbreaking book that presents an innovative step-by-step program using memoir writing on the journey of emotional and physical healing. By drawing on the eight steps outlined in The Power of Memoir
, you'll learn how to choose the significant milestones in your life and weave together your personal story. You'll discover how writing your truths and shaping your narrative propel you toward a life-changing transformation. The Power of Memoir
offers the tools you need to heal the pain of the past and create a better present and a brighter future.
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (January 2010)
ISBN: 0470508361Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of Linda Joy Myers's book The Power of Memoir
to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end. We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment.Interview by Jodi Webb
My tiny house is filled with books and also with bookshelves, but even so, every few months I'm at the local public library, handing in stacks of books for which I've not been able to make enough room. The one shelf that never gets relieved is the shelf pictured here, beyond my desk in my office. It's where I keep my poetry and nature books (or some of them), as well as the memoirs that I teach. We learn a lot about ourselves, I think, when we consider which books we're willing to part with.
For my part I sense a yearning—deep, unschooled—to return to the full-length nonfiction form. As a reader, certainly. As a writer, perhaps.
"In the writing of memoirs, as in the production of shows, too much caution causes the audience to nod and think of other channels." Gerald Clarke.
The writer in us desires to share where we've been, what we've learned, our thoughts on life, love, forgiveness, strength and the art of being human. We pick up the pen and...suddenly all our experiences seem dull and lifeless. Good news, Melanie Faith is coming to the rescue with her class The Art Of Truth: Writing Your Life Into Short Creative Essays
which begins Friday, June 25th, 2010
. There is still time to enroll in this exciting class; please visit our classroom page
Melanie Faith is a poet, educator, photographer and returning WOW! workshop instructor. We had a nice chat this week about her upcoming class:
Welcome Melanie! We're excited to have you as a returning instructor here at WOW! Workshop and Classes. This time you will be teaching a course in creative essay writing. Would you please elaborate on what exactly is a creative essay? How is this different from other forms of memoir?
Melanie: Thanks. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with WOW! writers and staff in the three other writing courses I've taught, and I'm excited about this new essay writing class! I would be happy to elaborate on the creative essay. While both memoir and creative essays are based on the life experiences of the author herself, memoirs tend to be linear and ordered in sequential time periods, whereas creative essays (sometimes referred to as the "creative nonfiction" essay genre) may jump backwards or forwards through time or omit certain eras or details entirely, choosing to focus a spotlight on one particular theme or one particular experience. In general, creative essays are shorter in length, but still integrate many of the fascinating literary techniques of memoir as well as fiction and poetic techniques, too--such as a focus on setting along with rich and resonant imagery. In the class, students will use various prompts to inspire five individual essays of under a thousand words each for supportive and constructive feedback and suggestions each week. I will also provide three professionally-written and published personal essays each week as examples of the variety of essay styles and techniques which students may study to note what other essayists have done and then incorporate into their own drafts.
I see, so creative essay is more artistic than the average auto-biographical account of one's life experiences.
What is the benefit to learning the art of creative essay? What skills will students learn that can be applied to other areas?
Students will delve into memories (and in many cases unearth details they'd long forgotten) and have the chance to set those moments onto page. For many writers who dream of one day telling their own stories in their own ways but find it difficult to begin, completing an essay can be a huge accomplishment. Whether wanting to note the
Blog: WOW! Women on Writing Blog (The Muffin)
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Memoir DVD Class
, Matilda Butler
, Kendra Bonnett
, Memoir writing
, Robyn Chausse
, Memoir classes
, Memoir Publishing
, Women's Memoirs: Helping Every Woman Tell Her Story
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In case you haven’t noticed, memoirs are hot right now. From self-help gurus to genealogy sites to love stories—it’s all about the memoir.
Today, I am very excited to introduce you Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett, co-creators of a wonderful website called Women’s Memoirs.
Ladies, welcome to The Muffin! When I first found your website I was so excited. The site is beautiful, easy to navigate and absolutely full of information, products and offers. What is the story behind the creation of Women’s Memoirs?
Kendra Bonnett: Robyn. Thanks for the invitation to join you today. I’m going to turn over your first question to Matilda since she started us on the path to working in the memoir genre.
Matilda Butler: Hi Robyn. I’m pleased to be talking with you. Women’s Memoirs is the outgrowth of my experience interviewing more than 100 women for what became our award-winning collective memoir called Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story that Kendra and I co-authored. The interviews with the women became a life-altering experience for me. We laughed together; we cried together. These women’s stories touched my life. I became so involved in their narratives that I dreamed about these women almost nightly. Some told me parts of their lives they had never shared with anyone. At the end of these long and intense interviews, so many of the women said a variation of, “Thank you, I never took the time to look at my life before. Now I can see what I was doing and I can change as I move forward.”
For the first time, I realized how important it is to tell our stories.
I’m trained as a researcher and like to say that I started work on the collective memoir as a social scientist and ended as a memoir coach. Although I had been involved in women’s issues for much of my career, helping women tell their life stories once again reshaped my professional focus.
I knew that if I wanted to reach women with information about how to write a memoir, I needed a website. The current site, which is actually its third incarnation, is a blog. That has helped us be able to cover many topics on a regular basis -- much easier than in an earlier version where we had to make changes and additions in html code.
I get the feeling that Women’s Memoirs has a mission; would you like to share a little about that?
Kendra: I’m glad that our passion comes through in our website and in the information we provide. Our mission is simple, yet decidedly grand. We want to help every woman tell her story. Women’s life stories have been, and in many cases continue to be, shortchanged and undervalued. We offer women the tools and support that it takes to write their memoirs. Some women, of course, want to write for themselves or for their families. A life story should be captured, considered and shared, even if the message goes no farther than a daughter or grandchild.
For that matter, the very act of capturing the story is beneficial as it often helps the writer resolve issues and heal. It’s important
Much buzz on a few of the author/writers' groups I'm a part of is understanding the difference among a biography, an autobiography and a memoir. I know we chat about this occasionally, and recently dedicated an entire issue on personal writing on WOW, but I thought it would be great to talk about it here on The Muffin too!
I know we have a few memoir writers on here--myself included--but what exactly is a memoir? What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? What's the deal with biographies? And can you really write more than one memoir? Hopefully with today's post, and any comments/discussion generated from it, we can take these questions down one by one.
Let's describe each of these kinds of personal books. In the most general way I can, here's how I define each of them:
- Biographies: These are books that authors write about other people. They can be 'unauthorized' or 'authorized'. When it's an 'authorized' biography, the subject of the book usually knows about it and is aware the author is interviewing people in his/her circle but usually doesn't contribute in any way. He/she doesn't do anything to help with the writing of the book but isn't exactly putting together a law suit either. The 'unauthorized' biographies are the ones we hear about that sometimes make the headlines with negative press or result in lawsuits. The author neither has permission to write the book nor speaks to people close to the subject but, more, relies on what they find in research, their own knowledge or their own opinions of/experiences with the subject. I'm not a huge fan of biographies simply because you really aren't 100% sure if the information is accurate or true. I've read a couple that I enjoyed and trusted the sources but these reads should always be read with a grain of salt. And if you're writing one, just be sure you have reliable sources, accurate information and tell the story as spot on as you can.
- Autobiographies: These are personal stories an author writes about her(him)self. They most often span your lifetime, sometimes even generations before your life began if it pertains to who you become. Autobiographies are usually written near the end of the life's journey or after a certain significant events that the author wants to share. I find these books to be more general than the memoir (see below) because they cover a much broader span of time and there is much more information shared. And because you are writing it, the source is a little more reliable than in the biography (well...hopefully!).
- Memoir: I call these personal reads, "Slices of Life." Unlike the autobiographies that cover an entire life's journey, memoirs cover only a tiny part of that journey. They can focus on a a span of a few years or on a specific time along the journey or even just focus on a specific subject or issue. And, yes, you can write more than one because your life's journey is made up of several 'slices' that when pieced together make your entire story! So far, I've written two, with two more on the way!
In addition to the above points, the one thing you have to remember when writing any
of these kinds of stories is that they are still stories. That means that even though you're writing about true life events, you have to tell the stories in such a way that is still entertaining for readers. Because let's face it, even though each of us may have a story to tell it may not be as interesting to readers as it is to us. So my main tip is to craft the personal story in the same way you
As many of you know, I've written two memoirs (so far!). One is about the painful early years in trying to figure out how to help my daughter, Jaimie (Not Just Spirited: A Mom's Sensational Journey With SPD). The other is about my childhood being raised by a mother with untreated bipolar disorder and alcoholism (White Elephants). Even though I'm narrating these stories, they aren't only my stories to tell. What I mean is, there are others directly or indirectly involved in the telling of the stories---and some of them aren't excited with me sharing them. Sound familiar all you memoir and personal story writers out there?
I didn't find as much of that when Not Just Spirited came out but very much so with White Elephants. In fact, I was actually advised by many people to create a fictional version of the story so that it would be more...'warmly accepted'. I've never been afraid to talk about things that may seem taboo to others but after the story came out, I panicked.
What would my family and friends in the book think?
This is actually a very common thing that many writers face, not just those of us writing memoirs addressing serious issues. Alot of people really don't like their business out there for the world to read whether the story is fun, happy, terrifying, goofy or serious. And one of the most popular questions I'm asked in interviews is, "What did/does ______ think of what you wrote?" I guess I just deal with that because certain stories need to be told a specific way. That doesn't mean I disregarded what so-and-so would think of what I'd written but more remembering that I could still tell my story while being respectful of so-and-so's feelings. We're talked about this several times in recent issues of WOW as well as here on The Muffin but let's talk about the three different ways you can share a story:
(1) Fictional: As I mentioned above this was how I was told to write White Elephants. Here you'd simply tell your story through fictional characters. This is the 'safest' way to tell a personal story because you can hide behind the characters you create, altering the setting, location and other things that would make it recognizable to those involved (or at least veil it so they won't feel threatened).
(2) 'Based on a True Story': Hollywood tells stories this way all of the time. The story or events are true but names, characters, location, etc. have been changed so it's standing on the fence between 'fiction' and 'real'. Again, this helps veil certain things (or people) but you can actually say the story (or events) really happened...to someone.
(3) Memoir: This is the route I went. You tell the story. The whole naked truth with all the people, events and/or issues invovled--the good, bad and ugly. This is the most difficult for others involved with your story because you're naming names. There are things you can do, though, to make it a bit easier:
- Talk to those involved. Tell them you're writing this story and ask how they'd feel. Some people won't care, others may not want to be involved. For those who don't want to be involved, try working around that