Writer’s Journal_10: Writing Past the Pain in Memoirs

Even though it is often painful to write my memoir, I have found that writing about the pain has allowed me to push past some of the pain. The end result is an understanding that didn’t exist when I started. And so the memoir morphs. It changes in tone the longer I work on it. It is my therapy–a gift I give to myself, a lesson I learn for myself. And therefore, it sticks. I’ve arrived by myself at realizations I’ve navigated to by myself. In the future, when I’ve forgotten these lessons, I’ll read my own words and will not be able to refute them and the sanctity of what I have come to know. I can trust myself to know myself best, to believe my own guidance on what I have found to be true for me.


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Writer’s Journal_9: Digging Deep for Meaning in Memoirs

If my memoirs were only a capture of the facts and events as they’ve happened, I’d be able to publish one of my books this year and likely the other one next year.

But writing memoir is not about just chronicling facts and events. Writing memoir is about recalling and interpreting facts and events into something meaningful.

Yes, the events of our lives happened. BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

“What it means” is the whole point of writing memoir. For many of us who write or read memoirs, it is what drives us to write our own and to voraciously read someone else’s. We don’t want to regurgitate the facts or read someone else’s regurgitated facts. We want to piece together the clues of our own lives and determine what it all means. We want to read someone else’s clues and see what they believe it all means compared to what we may think it all means.

The best memoirs, in my opinion, are the ones that dig deepest, the ones that are difficult to write and often difficult to read because of what they uncover. I’m trying to stay mindful of this as I pace back and forth today, digging deeper . . . deeper still.


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Writer’s Journal_8: Third Draft is Just the Start of the Art

For some fiction or memoir writers, a third draft might be a final draft. For me, however, my third draft of memoir #1 is still a lump of wet clay–mostly centered, spinning on the wheel, but awaiting the artist’s hand to shape it into something beautiful. No pressure (cha, right!).

This is real life and it’s taking a while for the nuances in my story to emerge, for the patterns of my life to be revealed to me through my own relentless investigation. The patterns will help me to weave a deeper story, and a deeper story is where the art lives.


Copyright @ 2016 AccidentalWriter.wordpress.com | All rights reserved.

Writer’s Journal_7: Crap

I stare at the sullen face staring back at me in the mirror . . . I look like crap. I’m only a week into what will be a month-long marathon of rewriting and editing, and already I look like a vampire. The artificial blue-white light of the moon and my computer screen are reflected in the darkening blue circles creeping out from under the corners of my eyes.

Memoir #1 looks like crap to me at times, too, depending on what else I allow to influence me. Today, it is an article in a writing magazine about plot points, about successful fiction books having a tantalizing crisis, climax, and closing. I’m writing a memoir, not an autobiography, so it must moonlight as fiction–not that it be fabricated, but that it borrow from useful, successful storytelling techniques. I fret at times with this memoir, because life doesn’t always follow a neat crisis-climax-closing structure. Sometimes, it is crisis, climax, crisis, climax, crisis, climax, and eventually a closing of some sort (before the next crisis and climax muddy the mix again). Almost as often as day turns into night and back into day, I change my decision of where memoir #1 will begin and end.

I feel drained, like I want to trash this book. I wonder how I’ll make it through the next three or four weeks like this.

In response to my downward spiral, I make a command decision to stop writing and editing, to escape the draining blue-white of the computer and instead bask in the replenishing yellow-bright of the sun. I set up a lounge chair in the backyard and lay my sick body down so it can soak in as many rays as I imagine might replenish a body with Vitamin D and positive energy. After 15 minutes, I pick up the writing magazine again. This time, I find something between the lines that gives me hope for my memoir.

When I return to my cave in the house, a quick examination in the mirror shows I still look like crap, but when I return to the blue-white screen, my memoir looks considerably better than I do. Maybe there is hope after all.


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Writer’s Journal_6: Starting at the End

Memoirs seem more challenging to me than fiction. In fiction, a writer can design an alluring opening, a smash ending, and then set to the task of writing all the interesting stuff in between. But in memoirs, as in life, aside from being born and dying, beginnings and endings aren’t as clear.

In memoirs, we often don’t know where our particular sub-story began. That’s what we pay a psychologist many decades of analysis for, if we’re so lucky to be able to afford one. Often, we don’t know where the end is either. Because when we’re living life, the ‘end’ never really happens. In the process of living, we blur the lines between the end of one story in our life and the beginning of the next.

It’s the very reason, I now have TWO memoirs in progress. Not because I love torturing myself with two major projects at once, but because they’re closely related, sharing the same backstory, so it’s difficult to decipher where one ends and the other begins. I constantly flip-flop between the two projects, jotting down notes, moving a piece from one into the other and back again.

This morning, I stared at my first memoir, hoping to tackle the third draft, trying to nail down a beginning and an end. At best, I still only have a vague idea of the beginning, but I did settle in on an ending that just might work. I’ve used this approach many times before . . . even if I don’t know exactly what scene will be the last in the story, I at least have an idea of the “take-away”–the “lessons learned” that I hope the reader will ponder as they close the book cover. This, I know, is the most important part of the book, the part that drives the entire story. Today, the ending was an excellent place to start.


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Writer’s Journal_5: Distraction

There’s a reason the work doesn’t get done when I say it will: distraction.

Yesterday, it was a glance at an essay contest advertisement, with a hefty payout for the winner and publication in a national magazine. I dropped my memoir writing in a heartbeat and set to the task of whipping out something that I thought might fit the theme.

The words and concept came easily. I liked what I had written. It was good. With additional cutting, lifting, creating, finessing, it could be great.

Today, I picked up on it again. Bound. Determined. I checked the advertisement again. Originality–Check. Creativity–Check. Use of language–Check. Adherence to theme–Check.

Then I pulled myself back from the micro-view and took a look at the macro-view. Wait a second, now. Will this magazine’s editors see my subject matter as a fit for their magazine?

No. No they won’t. Why did I not see this from the start?

Because I got distracted. By prize money. By the thought of being published again.

So, I’m back to the memoir. And stashed away in my file folder is a decent personal essay about a difficult life lesson that boiled down to “my efforts weren’t wasted,” which ironically is the theme of today’s life lesson . . . that none of my efforts related to writing are wasted. Every time I put together something meant for someone else’s eyes, it commands me to write my best. Winning a contest is great, but I’m also winning whenever I’m writing under pressure, because it elevates my writing to higher heights. Whether I win a contest or not, I win whenever I pressure myself to write my best.


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Writer’s Journal_4: Planning or Pantsing?

Once I finished first-drafting the bulk of my fourth chapter, I sat back and stared at the screen. Now what?

I had gotten past that point, that easy point where I had deposited the fury of words stirring in my belly onto the page. Writing by the seat of my pants had taken me as far as it could go. Before I could write . . . one . . .  more . . .  word, I needed a plan.

So, without much choice, I wasted spent an entire day laying out a timeline of events I intended to cover and then working through a story outline as best I could.

The timeline was helpful and essential. It would seem a no-brainer to tackle a memoir just as you experienced it, but if you don’t decide ahead of time what the dozen or so major events are of the whole, you spend too much time writing too much about–and, therefore, drawing too much attention to–the less compelling stuff.

The story outline was critical. What am I most passionate about that has led me to want to write this book? What is it I want to convey as the take-away lesson or theme? What characters will I bother to mention by name (because only they are critical to the story)? What is the premise of the protagonist (me!) relative to her major flaw (oh, I have so many!) and to the theme? And what are my true story events I’ll try to overlay upon the major story points of any story (hook, backstory, trigger, crisis, struggle, epiphany, plan, climax, ending).

So, yes, I’ve wasted spent an entire day doing something other the one thing I wanted to do, write!, but considering how far off the path I could have wandered without a plan, I think I’m now better off.

Today, without reservation, I write.


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Writer’s Journal_3: Addiction

Most days I’m just feeding my addiction.

I’m rather obsessive now. Consumed by it.

I’m back to three blogs again. Really? I tried this once before and failed. I simply can’t keep a steady pace on all three at once. Clearly, this glaring fact doesn’t matter. I’m back in the saddle.

I’m bouncing around between blogs, memoirs, and short stories, trying to score big on the writer’s pinball machine I insist on playing. Still not sure what scoring big means. Adding to my word count? Adding to how many pieces get published? Adding to my chances of writing something that isn’t pure rubbish and has value beyond what it does to me?

I’ll keep playing. I’m an addict. An addict for these words that keep lining up waiting for me to inject another into the game.


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Writer’s Journal_2: Published

Just after I finished writing a chapter today for my second memoir, I checked my email and found a bit of good news . . . one of my short stories made it into a feel-good Chicken Soup for the Soul book, coming out this fall. This is good news, for it places upon my head the crowning title of “published author.”

“Barely,” some may say. But for me, this feels like chicken soup heated up to exactly the right temperature . . . good for what ails my writer’s mind. I feel better already.  Mmmmm . . .


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Writer’s Journal_1: Starting a Project

I made a decision this morning re: that 75,000 2nd-draft memoir I wrote last summer. It will sit and wait . . . wait for “it’s time”–whatever that is. I can feel that it’s not ready to be born yet.

Instead of forcing it into completion, I’m moving on to a second memoir, really the part 2 of the first. I’ll see where it leads me, whether when, all said and done, the cart will come before the horse . . . or whether the horse will come at all.

I have to put my trust in the process. In my gut, I feel I really have no other choice. I give myself 30 days, writing every day to complete the first draft.


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