Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Memoir’

Tips for Writing Memoir (to make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Memoir, Writing Nonfiction on May 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir that reads like fiction is tricky.

This requires taking real life experiences and fitting them into the story arc of beginning, middle and end when life typically is episodic without story structure.

There, however, may be episodes of life that work within the arc when you, the main or point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.

The requirements for writing memoir:

Writing a memoir requires you to make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions. You have to face yourself and think about what matters to you, what affects you, what hurts and helps you and why you are who you are.

You look back on your past self/selves and, through the process, come to a different understanding of why you did what you did or what you were thinking at the time.

The self reflection, description and analysis may break you as you put yourself into words and see what you were avoiding when you were just living and trying to deal with whatever life put in your path.

As you take yourself apart to find the words and then the story, try to remember the emotions, events, contents and the feel of scenes from your life. Think about what people weren’t saying. What does their non-spoken dialog, such as body language, gestures and facial expressions, say? What do your non-spoken parts want to tell, not just others but yourself?

Beside the emotional affect that writing about the self may have on you, also consider the reader.

Here’s some more advice for writing memoir:

• Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail. Don’t assemble a scattered collection of scenes and vignettes that don’t create a cohesive and complete story.
• Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail. Trust your memory to recount the gist and emotional truth of your experience to write the scene and see if there are any recurring images, phrases, themes or metaphors. Use these to dig deeper.
• Track the action that drives your story and ask what the story is that you’re trying to tell. Begin as close to the climax as possible to find the driving narrative that moves the arc.

Thinking of the reader is the last part of writing about the self, because it starts within as a seed that grows outward. Once you find that external place where the words go, then you can bring in others who are outside to give them a glimpse of your inside.

Tips for writing memoir

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir that reads like fiction is tricky.

This requires taking real life experiences and fitting them into the story arc of beginning, middle and end when life typically is episodic without story structure. There, however, may be episodes of life that work within the arc when you, the main or point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.

Writing a memoir requires you to make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions. You have to face yourself and think about what matters to you, what affects you, what hurts and helps you and why you are who you are.

You look back on your past self/selves and, through the process, come to a different understanding of why you did what you did or what you were thinking at the time.

The self reflection, description and analysis may break you as you put yourself into words and see what you were avoiding when you were just living and trying to deal with whatever life put in your path.

As you take yourself apart to find the words and then the story, try to remember the emotions, events, contents and the feel of scenes from your life. Think about what people weren’t saying. What does their non-spoken dialog, such as body language, gestures and facial expressions, say? What do your non-spoken parts want to tell, not just others but yourself?

Beside the emotional affect that writing about the self may have on you, also consider the reader.

• Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail. Don’t assemble a scattered collection of scenes and vignettes that don’t create a cohesive and complete story.
• Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail. Trust your memory to recount the gist and emotional truth of your experience to write the scene and see if there are any recurring images, phrases, themes or metaphors. Use these to dig deeper.
• Track the action that drives your story and ask what the story is that you’re trying to tell. Begin as close to the climax as possible to find the driving narrative that moves the arc.

Thinking of the reader is the last part of writing about the self, because it starts within as a seed that grows outward. Once you find that external place where the words go, then you can bring in others who are outside to give them a glimpse of your inside.

On How to Write Memoir

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on January 19, 2014 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir can be a tough assignment, because it takes digging into the self while also telling the truth of memory as accurately as possible.

The result is self-awareness, instead of wondering how the past did its damage or had its impact.

Memoirs typically follow a particular theme or main subject, but can have a couple of subplots, while also offering good storytelling.

Finding this theme may take hard work of remembering, researching and writing, because a person’s life doesn’t normally have a theme song or a statement. The events of life don’t line up nicely on index cards.

To find a theme or focus, identify the patterns of your experience and select what is relevant from your life story. Commit to telling the truth and to give full disclosure, because readers notice when something is missing. From this truth, develop an honest and complete story with a beginning, middle and end, not a string of “and then this happened.”

I find memoirs that are episodic to be frustrating, unless they are told in short story format. The episodes, when they are unlinked, take the reader on a bumpy roller coaster ride of meaninglessness without overall tension or conflict in the story’s unfolding. It’s back to the series of events and happenings.

Truth telling in memoir requires being authentic to what you remember and felt at the time. Let the reader know how you’ve changed and grown from your experiences, how you were affected physically and emotionally by those experiences and how you found meaning and insight from them.

When telling your story, start with a hook that compels the reader to want to read more and show them that you are taking them through a story with a clear direction. You’re not going to give them a random memory dump of incidences that have no connection.

One approach to drafting the story is making a timeline outlining the big events and any turning points in your life, avoiding tangents that go nowhere.

Identify who you are as a character, fleshing out your identity beyond the “I” who does this and that. Get beyond what happened to the inner life of “who am I?” Show your personality and establish a strong writer’s voice.

Finally, ask what you wanted and what prevented you from getting that. What were your setbacks and obstacles? How did you try to get what you wanted? And then write and rewrite until you have a story that no one else could write because it’s all you.

Writing about the “Me”

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on January 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

The easiest and most difficult subject I’ve written about is me.

This “me” shows up in many of my characters, so that several of my female protagonists have long, reddish-brown hair, are tall and thin, and, of course, possess the nerdy love of reading, writing and all things relating to books. They have jobs I’ve had or jobs that I can imagine liking. And they think about some of the things I like to ponder.

Yet, they aren’t me, because over time I’ve learned to become less autobiographical with my characters, essential for a writer who wants to write more than one or two stories.

I find writing about the “me” difficult anytime I think about or begin planning my memoir about growing up with learning disabilities.

A few years ago, I tried writing my memoir, but the result was terribly boring. There were a few interesting and lyrical parts, but the overall story proved repetitive and fell flat. There was no arc to the telling with only a scattering of memories alternated with a story about my difficult relationship with a Mama’s boy.

In my redo, I’ll have to relive things I’d rather forget. Unlike my last attempt, I won’t be able to gloss over the tough, painful stuff. That’s because readers notice the omissions, even if they are a matter of repressed, hard-to-reach memories.

My first memoir attempt had a huge gap, as does my memory of my childhood and adolescence and what really happened to make me socially awkward and afraid. My second attempt will tell a full story with character and plot arcs with a hook and all the elements of fiction in play.

It just will take discipline, courage and hope to get there.

See next week’s blog on how to write a memoir.