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writing

A Little More Memoir Encouragement

It was my great pleasure to discuss memoir writing in an recent interview with writer, teacher, writer coach, and friend Joan Raymond. Joan features an interview with an author each week on her YouTube Channel and covers all genres and aspects of writing.

For many years I have conducted memoir writing workshops and classes, and those who know me outside of those events have heard me say, “That’s a great story. You need to write that down.” They often smile and nod–or get a nervous look on their faces. Sometimes they say, “Some day.” Sometimes they say, “Nobody wants to read my stories. I’ve just had an ordinary life.”

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you no life is “ordinary.” We all have our trials to deal with and overcome and our triumphs to celebrate. Writing some of those shines a light that allows others who read our stories to get to know us better or to share in our memories. How many of us wish we had asked our parents about their lives while they were still around?

Writing our stories also provides us with a life review and validation. It brings back long-ago experiences and allows us to marvel at what we’ve accomplished and/or to be amazed we survived.

No matter what or how we write them, our stories will be precious to our families and future generations who may not have the privilege of getting to know us any other way. Our stories leave a legacy that can be passed down.

For a little more encouragement, and some memoir writing tips and secrets, check out Joan Raymond’s YouTube Channel to see my interview with her. And if you feel even the tiniest inkling of desire to write one story, get started! Your family will thank you.

~ xoA ~

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writing

Seeing with New Eyes

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

(Revise:   re = again, anew; vise = to see)

Story Arc

Having worked with your story adding, cutting, rewriting, choosing specific vocabulary, you now have a good sense of the story’s arc, its sense of movement. A beginning, a middle, and an ending will be evident. The characters will have evolved—learned, grown, or changed in some way.

Check back with the three-sentence summary you wrote earlier. Does it still fit? Or does it fit better? Or does the summary need to change?

Use Other Senses

Allow your ears to help with revision. Read your story aloud or let your computer read it to you. Record yourself reading it or enlist someone else to read it aloud to you.  Listen for the rhythm of sentences and paragraphs. Notice places where you or the reader stumble or stop and later see how you might smooth out those places. It might be a word change or a sentence reorganization that helps. Hear discrepancies or places where the action shifts in a way that doesn’t fit.

Manipulating by hand can be helpful when revising. I like to print my story using a large font with extra space between paragraphs. Next, I cut the story into paragraph pieces and rearrange them. I find the act of physically moving the paragraphs around and reordering easier to see than trying to figure out rearrangement of large chunks of writing using the computer’s cut/paste feature. Then I can cut and paste the paragraphs into the new order.

Additional Helpful Options

Writer and teacher Julia Green recommends several other revision tactics. I’ve tried most of these:

  • Put it in the drawer. Give the piece time to settle and yourself time to step back from the work to see it more clearly. It’s been 18 years since I wrote that first version of “Mom’s Story.” You don’t need to wait that long, but a couple of weeks might work to provide enough distance.
  • Get feedback from folks you trust. And not necessarily writers; it’s good to know how your intended audience reads the piece.
  • Play with sentence length, structure, and language.  Vary your sentence length and sentence patterns and use more specific language.
  • Try cutting to get your word count down. Chopping the word count can result in a more cohesive piece. The 900-word article I submitted to a local magazine was so much better after they returned it to me, and I cut it to the 750 words they requested.
  • Highlight everything you think is working well. Delete the rest and go from there. This is one tip I’m eager to try.

If you have revision tips to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. I’d love to see what other writers do in this stage of the writing process.

There’s no one-size-fits-all revision process. But anything you do will make a difference in the piece. So be unafraid to dive in and work with your writing to shape it into what you’re after and to satisfy the writer in you. One thing at a time. “Bird by bird.”  ~ xoA

Ω  Ω  Ω  Ω  Ω  Ω

“[T]he first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

              —Ann LaMott in Bird by Bird.

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writing

Beginnings, endings, and transitions

Beginnings

Two teachers I worked with this year recommended fire and heat at the beginning of our stories.

Writer, teacher, editor Dinty Moore uses the metaphor of a fire burning in the forest when talking about flash fiction and memoir. As a writer sparking a reader’s interest, you don’t have time to let them be a hiker strolling in the woods, begin to smell smoke, and investigate. The reader needs to be a “smoke jumper.”  You start them “at the edge of the fire, or as close as one can get without touching the actual flame.”

Julia Green says, “Start hot!” Begin with something compelling, perhaps a problem, conflict, or question. Maybe you start with an intriguing scene. In revision, the writer asks herself, “What have I given my reader that will make them want to keep reading?”

Look at the difference between these two openings of my mother’s story. The original, a meandering; the revision, the start of a scene.

A.           This was the day we’d dreaded, cried about, and feared.  Ironically, the      time had both dragged and sped by, but before we knew it, we were down to         “her day,” as the hospice nurse called it. Within 15 hours after my sister           Reenié arrived. 

B.       The hospice nurse sat at our mother’s bedside when my   sister Reenié and I rushed in at the care home where Mom had lived those last    three weeks of May 2003. 

Endings

Get out of the scene or end the piece at the right moment. Don’t linger long after the resolution or the answer to the question. When I went back to Mom’s Story, I realized I could cut the entire final paragraph to serve the story (and the reader) much better.

Transitions

Sometimes paragraphs or sentences need to be shuffled around for smoother transitions.  Adding a sentence or two may help things flow. Putting in line breaks allow the reader to rest or reflect, or they move the story forward to a new time or place.

In my latest version of mom’s story, I’ve divided it into three sections with line breaks in between. First, there’s the scene where we get the word about her imminent passing and how to provide comfort care. Next, how the day went for all of us—what we (and she) did for her and for us. Third, afterward—how we handled a challenging circumstance and how we came to see it.

Paying attention to the beginning, ending, and transitions made a huge difference for my story, making it more accessible for readers and boosting my revision confidence.

How are you coming along with your revisions?

~ xoA