Three Reasons I Could Stop Writing Memoir But Won’t

Timely read, given that I have recently put my third-draft-in-progress memoir on the side (yet again). Deeper still I need to go. There is no end to the layers I’m undoing with each draft . . . that alone is a tremendous challenge. But by far, the bigger challenge is believing in myself, in my need to write this story, and in my rightful place among other memoir writers who attempt the same.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz ronitBy Ronit Feinglass Plank

I had been writing fiction and wanted to try nonfiction, so I began with personal essays. I didn’t think memoir was for me; in fact I was deliberately avoiding it. I didn’t see a reason to revisit the facts of my confusing childhood and thought memoir wouldn’t be as challenging as creating a world from scratch and putting characters in it. To tell my own story, the story I knew by heart, seemed almost too easy.

I could not have been more wrong. I was about to discover that looking at something you think you know pretty well with fresh eyes and trying to understand it in a new way is definitely not easy. I did try writing several personal essays but the history of how I grew up kept barging in, taking up more and more space. It seemed part of me really wanted to…

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You’re Invited to a Party! My Short Story Published in Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Angels and Miracles

Hello, My Faithful Followers!

My short story called “The Desk” is being debuted in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles book, AVAILABLE TOMORROW, November 1, 2016, at a book store near you! (Or online, of course! Here–> at AMAZON)

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I’m beyond excited about being part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul family now. It’s truly an honor.

This particular collection of 101 stories (cherry picked out of somewhere between 5000 and 6000 submissions!) is a widely varied collection of stories relating to . . . well, it’s much easier to allow the Chicken Soup folks explain it . . .

Miracles, answered prayers, cases of divine intervention—they happen every day—strengthening our faith, giving us hope, and proving that good things do happen to good people!

Miracles are all around us—we just have to look to see them. These powerful stories will deepen your faith and give you hope that good things do happen to good people. From guardian angels to divine messengers, from miraculous healing to messages from heaven, from mysterious dreams that come true to divine coincidence, you’ll be in awe as you read these 101 stories of true wonder and inspiration. These stories are written by real people—ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences—who are just as surprised that these things happened to them as we are to read about them.

TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 1, 2016, the Chicken Soup folks are hosting a TWITTER PARTY for us contributors, with an open invitation for family and friends to join us. I’d love to have you in attendance if you can make it!

If you attend, make sure to give a shout out to me! My twitter tag is:  @SusanMaddyJ

Thanks to my family and friends who support me in my baby steps in the big, big world of writing and my big, big endeavors to find my place in it! I love you so much for encouraging me to dream that big!

Warmest love and regards,

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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.


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

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.


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

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.


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

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.


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

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.


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

A Writer, Quite by Accident

This is for all the late bloomers in the world_2__Liz Gilbert quote

“I am a writer.”

I nearly choke on the words. God help me if ever I am published and then must swallow the words “I am an author.”

I am a writer by accident. It started in 2007 when I wrote a rather long personal narrative, describing a difficult period of time for my husband and I for a memoir a ghostwriter was helping him write. The words I offered were written from a place of pain. The ghostwriter read my submission and asked, “Are you a writer?”

“Oh, no,” I replied, laughing off the suggestion.

Two months later, my narrative was thrown into the memoir, unedited (cringe). The ghostwriter didn’t want to change a thing. Several full chapters appeared in the final book in full italics, presented as “and in his wife’s own words . . . ”

The following year I signed up for an Adult Ed course at local community college–Novel and Memoir Writing. Even though I was 48-years-old at the time, I was a youngster in the classroom primarily filled with senior citizens, peppered with an occasional young’n like me.

There, I learned a few basics–the meaning of words relative to writing, like character, setting, point of view, tone, pace, suspense, and pace.
I’d never written creatively in the past. Creative writing felt difficult to me, like when I tackled my first sewing project decades earlier. With writing and with sewing, these projects required my full energy and took forever to finish. At least with sewing, though, the end product was perfect. With writing, not so much. But I kept at it.

The Adult Ed teacher announced he was offering another class–on the heels of the one we were in–Advanced Novel Writing. In order to participate, we would have to bring in a chapter of a piece we were working on. “You should sign up,” my teacher said.

“But I’ve never written a chapter in my life.”

“Well, you have a month, so better get to it. See you in the next class.”

When the teacher reviewed my work a month later, he gave me a 10 out of 10 for nearly all aspects of my work. My fellow students rated me as high and nearly as high. “You must read a lot,” my teacher said.

“Actually, no. That is, with the exception of self-help books.”

“Well, makes no difference. You are a writer.”

In 2011, I started a blog.

In 2013, I started another blog.

In 2014, yet another.

I joined a writers’ group. From that, I made connections and was approached by a fellow writer (an award-winning former TV producer) to do development editing on his memoir about the entertainment business. Two years later, I still work with him on that project, which further strengthens my own writing and editing skills. He’s about ready to seek a publisher for his manuscript.

Last summer, I spent two months writing 75,000 words of my own memoir. I’ve walked through a second draft, which may not ever see the light of day. I’ve been writing it from a place of pain and have been working my way out of the darkness there, but it has a long way to go. I understand now how some writers spend a decade writing one book. This book may suffer the same fate. It took me four years of avoidance to get around to writing that first draft.

Last year, I also accidentally came upon an opportunity to write a lengthy obituary for a Parachuting Hall of Fame nominee who died before knowing he was even under consideration for the award. I expected my words might be heavily edited and might appear, at best, in small print at the bottom of some page. Instead, my article received the slightest of edits and appeared as part of a full-page spread, along with the nominee’s photo. Not only did I have my name published with the article, but the magazine was larger than I expected. It was a nationally distributed magazine called Parachutist.

Today, I have a couple of short stories under consideration for publication in an internationally recognized book series. The stories are not literary masterpieces. They’re just stories from the heart.

“I am a writer.” The words still don’t sit right on my bones. They’re itchy and uncomfortable. And yet here I am now on my third, fourth, or fifth blog . . . I’ve lost count.

Despite my efforts to engage in other activities I also enjoy, I keep coming back to writing. I find a certain peaceful haven in writing. Even when the writing isn’t coming as easily as I’d like, it gives me peace of mind to get the words out of me, to get the idea of something out of me.

“I am a writer.” It’s true. I am.

 

I’d like to suggest something to you:

However it is that you’ve come upon writing, however late in the game it seems to you, embrace your desire to write. If it calls you, answer the call and write. Let it reveal itself to you. Let it grow within you till it feels comfortable to say, “I am a writer.” You just never know where it might lead you. Wherever you go with writing, it’ll have been worth the trip. It has been for me.

If you’re new to writing, how did it “hook” you?

 


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

We Write

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We write. When we have to. Because we have to.

  • The editorial to demand justice.
  • The letter to ask forgiveness.
  • The journal to capture a painful moment.

We write when talking to others or talking to ourselves is not enough.

  • Because after all these years, it still aggravates us.
  • Because after all these years, we still cannot sleep at night.
  • Because after all these years, the pain is still raw, as if it happened yesterday, and needs to be healed.

We write. And when we do. We feel a freedom unrivaled in this unpredictable life we live.


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