Writing

The Making of a Memoir

The Making of a Memoir.

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Identifying your Memoir Audience

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One of the first things you learn in a writing class is the importance of identifying your audience. Who are your readers, and why will they want to read your work? What are you hoping for them to take away from your project, and how will you craft your message to meet their needs?

Some audiences are easier to identify than others. For instance, consumer ad copy will speak to a targeted audience depending on the product being advertised. YA dystopian literature will have its own audience as well. Memoir? Well, that can be a bit tricky.

I wasn’t very far into outlining my memoir when I realized identifying my audience wasn’t going to be as easy as I had first assumed. My story could appeal to a variety of people and age groups. I sought the advice of my friend, Robin Stanley, a professional coach and writer you can visit at http://www.robinstanley.org.

She gave me the most wonderful advice – to create the image of a reader in my mind, and write to them. So, that’s exactly what I did.

Of course, me being me, I couldn’t keep it simple ;p

My “reader” is Lizzie. She lives in New England, and whenever I see her in my mind’s eye, she’s settled in an over-sized chair, sipping a warm mug of cocoa while watching a gentle snow fall out the window. She’s in jeans and a Henley – purple, and she’s wearing striped socks. She’s holding my book against her propped up knee while her other leg is stretched out, foot skimming an old, dark hardwood floor.

When I write, I write to Lizzie. And, for the most part, it works 🙂

How about you? Do you write for someone in particular?

The Making of a Memoir

ImageAs some of you may know, I’ve been working on a memoir for the last 2 years or so. While I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5 or 6 years old, I never intended to write a memoir. I thought they were reserved for celebrities or renowned movers and shakers — great minds, innovators, etc. You know, people who’ve made a contribution to the arts or humanity in general.

I am not a celebrity, nor am I a “mover-and-shaker.” I’m just a woman who was a girl with a story to tell.

I’ve written most of my life, writing my first short story in maybe the first grade. I like stories of all kinds, as long as they’re good stories.

When I began writing my memoir, I was actually elbows deep in another project that had completely captured my heart – a fantasy trilogy. Then, I got the call that my mother had been diagnosed with Leukemia, and my mind drifted back in time, flitting in and out of memories that mama had always meant to write down, but didn’t. I decided I would write them down for her, and quickly realized that I wasn’t able to write her story. I had to write my story, and by telling about my life, I would be able to share her life in mine.

So, I set about writing. Joy, pain, suffering, victories, loss, and change.

It has been difficult. I relive moments of my childhood through my grown up filter, and I’m overcome with respect, compassion and understanding for my family that I couldn’t see before. I see my mother’s actions now as a mother myself, and so many things make more sense. I value the journey, and attempt to honor the past.

But, I doubt.

I doubt my talents and skill. I doubt the value of my words, the significance of my endeavor. Will it offer anything to the world, to my readers? Will I do justice to the past? Will I honor my mother?

Then, a friend asked me a simple question. Why are you writing this memoir? You’re wanting to make a contribution, right?

Yes. A contribution.

It may not be published. It may not be praised. It may not receive a Pulitzer.

But all those things are reactions to my work that are out of my control. My job is to create and give. A part of myself, my history, experience DNA – this is what my experience was, and this was my reaction. Maybe it will help you if I share it. Maybe I can contribute to your life.

An offering. A gift.

Do you have something to contribute? Have you been hesitating? Do you doubt?

Remember that there is a purity to a gift given without expectation. When we do our best and offer the world a bit of ourselves unselfishly, good things happen. How can they not?

Be encouraged. Embrace the journey and the things you learn along the way. As you give, you grow, and isn’t that part of the joy?

 

Sometimes it’s best to just walk away.

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Have you ever gone on a trip with a beloved friend only to find yourself desperately looking for a way out halfway through the journey? Then, when it’s all over, you get home, fall back into your normal routine and after a little break you are missing your friend again? Writing can be a lot like that sometimes.

For the past year, I have been working on a memoir project that has been difficult at times. Rather than breezing through on the flight of my imagination (as I would on a fiction piece), I’ve had to sift through memories and emotions, picking and choosing what I share, but processing everything again, in my own way. Looking back at my childhood through the filter of my older and somewhat wiser eyes, has been an educating experience. Some things have been lost, and some have been gained. It has been an opportunity to glean the beauty from the chaff of the past, and for that I am thankful and even appreciative. But, even as I completed the first draft, there came a point where I had just had enough. My heart and my brain were hurting, missing the past and identifying points in time that if I could just reach back and change…well, you know how that goes. Simply put, I had grown weary of my companion, despite the worthiness of the journey. But, I am stubborn, and was determined to see my project straight through. In true fashion of my personality, I was determined to keep digging until I hit water, no matter how badly I needed a break.

Fortunately for me, two of my friends, unbeknownst to one another, challenged me with a change of scenery. A change of pace. “Why don’t you take a break from chasing a Pulitzer, and just have a bit of fun for a while,” they said. “Why don’t you work on something else? Something lighter?” they said. At first, I didn’t like the idea. I had a project to finish. I was a terrier with a bone hidden deep in the ground, and it’s hard for me to let go, even temporarily. But, the idea of a breath of fresh air, to take flight on the zephyr once again, called to me in sweet whispers of possibility.

So, a few weeks ago, I collected my memoir manuscript and tucked it away with a kiss and a promise and started working on a short story, which I hope to have done and posted on Amazon in a week or so.

And guess what? I have started to miss my memoir. I am starting to look forward to reuniting with it, revisiting those precious memories and doing my best to bring them back to life. We just needed a little time apart.

That’s the way it is with some things in life, not just manuscripts and memories. Have you hit a wall in your journey? You might consider a scenic detour. It does wonders for the heart and soul 🙂

Top 5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

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You have a project due, but the page is blank, the pen feels awkward in your fingers, and your laptop hums mockingly in sleep mode. You’ve got nothin’, nada, zip, zilch, zero.  You know the feeling. It churns in your stomach, makes your head spin, and turns your thoughts to vapor. Writer’s Block strikes again, stripping you of all sense and musing, casting you down in a spiral of deadline despair.

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there probably more times than we’d like to admit. Here are a few things that might help pull you out of the darkness and into the light.

1. Take a few minutes to read, well, anything. Give your mind a break and introduce some fresh ideas into the mix. Writing an article on the toxicity of South American plant specimens? For goodness’ sake, go read some Walt Whitman.

2. Go for a walk. The fresh air will nourish your brain, and you just might be inspired by your senses.

3. Call a friend. Seriously, have a good chat, and hopefully a few laughs. The change of pace and mental stimulation of a good conversation can work wonders!

4. Eat something. Odds are, you’ve been wrestling with words for a while. Take a break and have some light, healthy refreshment. It might just be the boost you need.

5. I’ve saved the best for last. It’s my fail-safe go to in times of trouble. Ready for it? Okay – here it is…write anyway. Yep. Take your pen, keyboard or lucky green #2 pencil in hand and write. Something. Anything. It can be your grocery list or the Preamble to the Constitution. Get your fingers moving. Get words out. It might hurt, it might not make sense, and it might make you want to scream or cry. But, do it anyways. I promise, you’ll break through.

Soldier on!

Ethics in Writing

If you do a Google search on Ethics in Writing, you are likely to find a lot of articles on the “P” word – plagiarism. It seems that, in general, we writers like to hold one another accountable, and are ferociously protective of our own thoughts and ideas. Our works are, after all, our babies. But, I would like to carry this discussion of moral responsibility a bit further. To what degree, then, are we ethically bound to our readers?

We all know the first rule of writing is to consider your audience – we couch our words in a way that we think will be the most appealing to them. We want our readers to take in what we have to say. We want them to be moved, to be influenced in some way that is for the better, at least in our opinion. But, to be honest, much of our writing is about ourselves. It’s about what we want to say. What we want to sell. What we want to express, or what we want to change.

It can be tempting to get on our soapboxes, pushing our own agenda – especially when we’re hoping to persuade our reader. But, consider this. In taking in our words, the reader has literally invited us into his or her heart and mind.  This is a great privilege and a great responsibility. Do not take advantage of this sacred trust. Let them come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions. Can we still write with passion? Absolutely! Can we still change the world? You know it! Can we still touch a life? Of course.

Just remember that our writing should present itself as an offering, not as a mandate.  This is a prime value area of influence – write smart, write responsible.

Stay classy, my friends.

The Second Most Important Thing to Know about Writing

Writing 101, Freshman Comp, Secrets to Writing the Great American Novel – they’ll all tell you the most important thing to consider when writing is your audience.  The phrase, “know your audience” has been drummed into our minds until it left a permanent mark. And, it’s true. The most important aspect of writing is to know who you’re writing for, right? But, what would you consider to be rule #2?  I’ll tell you what I think…

Important Thing #2: Know your Product

What are you offering your audience? If you’re a copywriter, it is probably a product or a service. If you’re a journalist, it’s information. If you’re a novelist, it’s an idea or a feeling.

Get to know your product. Spend time with it – whatever it may be. Do you want your audience to buy the latest breakfast cereal, do you want them to be inspired to support a cause? Or, do you want to move them – perhaps change the way they think or feel about something important to you?

I learned a long time ago, in an earlier retail career, that it’s much easier to sell something if you know the product. And, it’s much, MUCH easier if you like the product. If you believe what you’re telling the prospective customer (reader), then it’s more likely that they will too.

I make it a personal rule to get to know a new project as much as possible. If I’m writing ad copy for a book launch, I read the book. I Google the author and attempt to hunt them down on Pinterest and Facebook. It’s not creepy. It’s called professional research. It lends an authority to your voice as a writer that, I believe, you can’t get any other way. And, your audience can spot a fake. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should they?

I know we all have deadlines, and some are more crazy than others. But, if you do the best you can with what you can, even just a little time taken to educate yourself will be well worth the effort. Your writing will be of a higher quality, your message will be clearer, and your audience will believe you.