Memoir Writing – Blissdom 2010 Session Notes

MEMOIR WRITINGSketch of Writers Hand

This Blissdom Blogging Conference Session was Saturday afternoon and taught by Catherine Connors @herbadmother (HBM), Megan Jordan @velveteenmind (VM), Tanis Miller @redneckmommy (RNM) and moderated by Michelle Mitchell @scribbit (SCR).

WHAT MAKES A MEMOIR DIFFERENT?

  • LENGTH – This category is full of diverse opinion. Per SCR short stories “posts” are a must. However, per RNM prefers to write long posts and sees no issue in doing so. One thing all of the panelists agreed on is quality! Poor writing on a short post will be forgettable and passed over. Poor writing on a long post can lose readers.
  • POINT OF VIEW – Memoirs are written in 1st person. Plain and simple.
  • EXPANSE – This will follow along the same lines as length and point of view. Since it is written in 1st person, the natural range of the story will remain close to the person telling it. However, verbosity can expand one’s expanse, so be aware.
  • STRUCTURE & ELEMENTS – Memoir writing has the same elements as other writing. Intro, setup, conflict, debate, confrontation, resolution, conclusion. Regardless of how you label the writing arc, it typically contains three main elements: tell them what your story is about, tell them what happened, tell them how it ended.
  • RESOLUTION – Memoirs needs to have resolution, but it may not always be tied up in a nice, neat package wrapped with a bow on one post. There is an option for ongoing stories that require several posts when the resolution takes place over time.
  • HONESTY – What is the truth? Each story is written from one persons perspective. Thus, the truth, as you see it, may be different than how someone else sees it. We each view life through a different lens. So who is being more honest? Who is being truthful? It is your reality, so the most important element here is being true to you and your story.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY IN WRITING?

VM – I always ask myself, “Can my readers find themselves in the post? Will my audience relate?” If not, don’t write it.

RNM – I don’t think about the readers much. I’m here to bring joy & make you laugh.

HBM – It’s difficult question to answer. More often than not, I craft a post to tell a story versus just puking on the page. My goal is to draw an audience in.

VM – Something interesting to note is people talk to me in person about the posts that no one comments on. They are memorable.

HBM – [I ask]Why is someone gonna want to read this?

SCR – I don’t write to please the reader. I write to give content resolution. It is a structure. The writing arc.

HBM – People ask me to wrap up some ongoing issues, but they are not resolved.

SCR – Conflict resolution doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It’s like a TV series, Lost – they are not getting off that island. Resolution is not always tidy.

VM – I write long posts, not as frequently. But I feel they can’t be any shorter.

DO YOU FEEL YOUR BLOG IS YOUR OWN?

HBM – Yes, absolutely, its space to tell my story, no reviews or giveaways.

RNM – I used to feel it is, but since the adoption process came in to play, I haven’t been able to write freely. I’ve had to be careful.  Before that I felt it was really my own. My family wasn’t happy with what I wrote all the time, but it is mine. I remain true to my story.

VM – My husband is an attorney and there are people at his firm that read it.  I can’t write what I want to about him. I have to be guarded in that respect. SCR guest posted on VM to write about her husband, another attorney, getting fired. She wrote about his ex-boss.

SCR – He didn’t want me to post it. I was not able to be free.

HBM – We have to be responsible with what we write personally because it affects others. When it concerns other, like my mother-in-law, I ask permission. I try to remain sensitive.

RNM – I give my kids & husband editorial control. My daughter has pulled some stories, but not my husband or son.

VM – My kids are young. I think about what will impact them later down the road. Successful bloggers can feel trapped by success at times by the expectations of readers or other situations.

HBM – Created Her Bad Mother’s Basement to post anonymously.

RNM – I had 2 different blogs early on because Attack of the Red Neck Mommy was about humor, my other blog was about my son’s death. I couldn’t handle it because it was too much. But I was schooled that I couldn’t combine both. Eventually I quit both & came back with only one. My readers accept her complete story, both sides.

WOULD YOU WRITE AN ANONYMOUS BLOG?

VM – No, I like writing, but I like the readers responses. I tried journalling but no one commented. Let’s face it we write to get comments, to interact.

HBM – No, I wouldn’t. I mean this is my story. I’m writing about motherhood and that involves my kids, but I’m not writing their story, it’s mine.

VM – I use a lot of metaphors when I write. Like, I wrote about baking pies, but my mom had to tell my dad that the post was NOT about actually “baking pies”. (chuckle, chuckle)

SCR – I have a hard time sharing things. I’m more reserved. But it’s me. It’s my story.

MEMOIR WRITING REFERENCES

Writing about Your Life by William Zinsser

Invention the Truth: The Art & Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser.

SUBJECTIVE SYNOPSIS

I was the mic wrangler for this session which made for interesting note taking. And while some dialogue is missing, the main points are captured. There was a lot of Q&A during this session. Many of those questions revolved around the same main topics:

  • Voice
  • Audience

Many of the answers came back around and boiled down simply:

  • Voice – Find yours, be true to it, don’t fear it or its creativity, respect its power.
  • Audience – Give them quality, tell them your story, be real, but be sensitive.

Google Gave Me A Writing Award!

Yes, it’s true! And I just found out today! My Google Knol – Running 101: Running In Heat & Humidity, written & published in July 2008 received 3 awards from Google.

  • Top Viewed Knol Award – Given to knols with the most pageviews
  • Top Viewed Author Award – Given to authors with the most pageviews
  • Top Pick Knol Award – Given to knols with the “highest quality of work”

Wow! That last one is the clincher. Not that having high pageviews isn’t exciting stuff in general. But when there is someone you have no affiliation with that recognizes your work… it’s just, well, amazing!

This article actually generated a job offer for me last fall for a running website. I ended up passing on it because my life was a bit unmanageable at the time, but it was nice to get an offer just the same.

OK, so it’s not a Pulitzer nor is it the New York Times Best Seller List. It’s not even in Oprah’s Book Club. But it is my work and I have to say I’m pretty proud of it.

Take a look-see and tell me what you think.

http://knol.google.com/k/running-101-running-in-heat-humidity#

The Unwritten Blog

writingYes, I’m writing about not writing. I figured it was a good place to start. Writing again, that is.

Let’s face it, I’m not a famous blogger with a huge expectant audience nor am I a mommy blogger with a cult following of close friends and family. And as I have discovered I am not a prolific writer with an ever ending need to put pen to paper. At least, I’m not anymore. Here’s the breakdown of my blog post stats, so you can judge for yourself.

Beyond JEMS Posts

  • 181 – Since I started blogging March 08
  • 38 – Since January 09
  • 5 – Since May 09

I started out strong. Blogging daily, sometimes more than once a day in fact. But I never considered myself a real writer. At least not as much as I wanted to be one. Writing for me was an outlet. A release of pent up emotions and a wild roller coaster ride in the life of a woman, wife and mother of 2 year old twins who had just been served divorce papers.

What baffles me at times is looking back on it all. I mean, just do the math. Last year in less than 10 months, I wrote 143 posts. That’s approximately a post every other day. In the midst of my crisis called life which included going through a divorce, being a single mom, moving 3 times, training to run my first half marathon, starting a new career, and the infamous breaking of my right arm, I still managed to find the time and the where with all to write. How did I find the time?

Honestly, I neglected a lot. A lot of things got pushed to the way side, including cooking and cleaning and more often than not my kids. “Want to watch another movie? OK” to “Please go watch TV” Not something I am very proud of, but it is the truth. My house, as well as my life. was in shambles and more importantly, I really didn’t care. Step over the laundry, do the dishes another day, none of it really mattered. It can wait. I have to write. I have to dive in to these emotions right now or I will burst. That’s how I did it. Again, nothing I am really proud of writing about now, but it is the truth.

Healing is an all consuming process at times. Did my kids suffer? Yes, superficially, temporarily. But permanent, long term effects? Maybe. I’m not sure. My therapist says no. But he can discuss it with them when they’re 20, deep in their own life crises and blaming some of it on me I’m sure. But it was all that I could do at the time. It was cathartic. It was my way of keeping me sane. In fact, I defended it to the nth degree when challenged at times. I remember a conversation with my sister, when she was lovingly telling me she didn’t understand why I did A, B, and C, instead of X, Y and Z. My reply was something to the effect of “Well, the last time I checked your husband didn’t divorce you and move to Europe leaving you to raise two small children alone. But if that happens, be sure to let me know how to deal with it the RIGHT way. You seem to be an expert all ready.” I’m sure you can hear the words dripping with sarcasm as you read. Oh, and they were. I was horrified by most people telling me I was doing it all wrong, when they had never come close to my circumstances. So I kept writing.

Then life changed. Things slowed down a bit. I started some freelance web design work, bought a house and settled in, kind of. The kids started doing better in school and having fewer nightmares. I started feeling whole again. And that’s when my need to write started to dwindle. Partly because life had taken on a new schedule with work and soccer and single mama madness. And partly because I was no longer in the midst of a crisis trying to find my way out and using blogging as a way to do it. I just had less to say because there was less drama I suppose.

To further the distance between my writing and me, I started a new relationship with an old high school friend. That’s when my muse left me for good it seemed. Not only did I write much less, I twittered less too per my Twitter friends. As I ventured in to this new long distance relationship, I didn’t feel the urge to write as much. I didn’t have as much to say to just anyone who should stop by my blog. Instead I talked to him. John became my new best friend. The one who I poured my heart and soul out to on a nightly basis, sometimes for 3 to 4 hours at a time. My writing muse had turned in to a talking muse. Poor guy! But seriously, we loved it! There is nothing like a long distance relationship to really encourage volumes of oral communication.

Sure there have been plenty of times I have felt like writing or had something to write, but they were just pushed to the wayside. Now I had to clean the house, make dinner and do the dishes. Ok, that’s a joke, I cook dinner, John does the dishes. But I felt myself staying more in touch with daily life and family stuff. Now my nights and spare time are spent with John and the kids. We sit down at the table every night for dinner. I enjoy cooking again. When the kids go to bed, I don’t turn on my laptop to occupy myself. More often than not, John and I watch a movie or do crossword puzzles. Yes, we’re geeky crossword puzzle freaks.

But I think I miss writing. I wish I felt like I had more to say or time to say it. In fact, the only reason I’m writing right now is because the kids are out of town at my dad’s and I felt inspired at 2:30 am. So knowing I won’t be up at the crack of dawn with little ones wanting waffles, I decided why not just bite the bullet and go write.

As I sit outside on my deck writing and listening to the crickets sing their late night song, I am enjoying myself. It feels good. John constantly tells me I have to take more time for myself to do the things that I love to do just for me. And I think he is right. I’ll let you know when I post again.

Take care my friends!

Life Is Fluid

The piece below is from a writing exercise I completed a couple months ago. My writing group went out to Radnor Lake, hiked a bit and then we were charged with finding a place to hunker down and get creative. Some painted, some took pictures. I wrote by the creek on a bench. That is where I found my inspiration for this….

Creek at Radnor Lake

Creek at Radnor Lake

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. – Henry David Thoreau

Listening to the rush of the water is soothing. Its chilly embrace washes over my spirit. Nourishing it with its restorative properties. Bathing it in its cleansing power. Awakening my soul with a gentle reminder to live fully and greet each day with renewed strength and vitality.

It reminds me of the canoeing trips of my youth. You know the ones with the church youth group that were planned from the beginning of the year. Everyone was so excited for July to come, especially if it was your first time. Or the trips with the wild and crazy friends that wanted to party more than float. Those trips were all very different primarily because of the people who accompanied you. But there was something consistent about them too. The river.

Regardless of the river you chose, you could count on it to bring you something unique around each bend. Of course this is the point right? It is about the twists and turns, the calming pools and breath-taking rapids. That is the reason we go. To experience this range of emotions from peace to surprise to fear. And regardless of how close someone came to tragedy, and there were a few close calls, we went back every year.

At least I did. Because that is the core of who I am. I am the girl that enjoys teetering on the edge. I’m not a life long thrill seeker. I’m not an outdoor adventurist. I’m not an extreme sports enthusiast. But I am the girl who has been booked and finger printed because I went a little too far. I am typically the good girl. Not gone bad, but certainly not followed the straight and narrow path either.

Maybe that is why I am so drawn to water. To its ability to pull you down to its darkest depths and fill your head only with white noise silence and the beat of your own heart until your lungs burn. And then, only when you are ready, it releases you allowing the gasp relief of fresh air and brightening stream of sunlight. It gives you back to the world in a spontaneous rebirth, a renewal ritual that you chose to invoke. Yes, that is why I am drawn to the water. Because I choose to feel those moments as a purification of the mind, body and soul.

For me water is a life source. And the river is life. And lIfe is fluid. It ebbs and flows with change and growth and love and loss. Thus the reason that healing is not linear. LIfe is not linear. It brings us a new challenge, a new opportunity and sometimes new hurts around each bend. It is always changing as we are always changing.

We are in this body of water called life, but we are also of it. Made of it. A part of it. We cannot separate ourselves from it. Because we are responsible for it too. We choose key life sources or the inputs to our life. Whether it mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually, we feed these areas of our life with the choices we make in relationships, physical exercise, education, etc. The inputs to our life effects how we live, who we love, decisions we make, how we view ourselves and even our relationship with God. These are the internal forces that we can control. But there are external forces as well. The things we cannot control that also impact our life, but they will have either more of less of an impact depending on the inputs we have chosen.

As one could imagine it is these two sets of elements that determine our output to the world. Like tributaries that feed the river, what we bring in to our life feeds our whole being and changes us in either a positive or negative way.

Nashville Writers Group – Self Debates Self

writingIt was my first time participating in any form of group writing. I was nervous and exhilarated all at the same time. I wanted to share my first exercise. I thought it was pretty cool.

Self Debates Self: The premise is to develop 2 sides of yourself in a debate. 5 minute exercise (this freaked me out). 

What I liked about my writing is that it can be interpreted so many different ways. It can speak to anyone personally depending on what they want the debate to be about.  Is is about love, or writing a novel, or trying a new sport? Does is matter? It comes to the basic elements of a negative self voicing doubt and fear. And a positive self facing it bravely.

What I didn’t like was the time constraint. My limited vocabulary. Limited ability to expand on the piece because I ran out of time. 

 

Why must we go through this again?

Are you incapable of learning the lesson?

Have you not had enough pain?


But this time will be different, I know it will

I have grown.

I am aware.

I am smart.


You see only what you want to.

You know nothing of the truth.

You will do what you want to do. 


But this time will be different, I know it will

I am keen.

I am strong.

I am wise.


And I am willing to fail.

 

What does it mean to you?