Delving in deep with memoir

photo 4Writing memoir is a different animal than writing fiction. For one thing, you can make stuff up when you’re writing fiction. If you don’t like what someone says, change it. If you don’t like how someone looks, change it. Think the scene would play out better in a field rather than a supermarket? Change it.

But writing memoir is scary, and difficult, and forces you to take a good hard look at the things you’ve done and even more importantly, why you did them. You can’t make stuff up, you can’t change what someone said, and you can’t change what you said or did just to make the story better or less painful. If it happened in the middle of the supermarket, that’s where it stays. Now, part of that is a good thing. The emotions and words in a memoir are true and honest, and that makes them even more painful and filled with raw emotion. Reading a memoir is like looking into someone’s ripped-open chest and seeing what has been hidden up until that point.

So, it stands to reason that if you are writing memoir, you are essentially opening your own chest and letting everyone have a peek. This can be horrifying, but it’s a risk you must take in order to write a successful memoir. Look at Cheryl Strayed with Wild, or Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, and even David Sedaris, who’s books are humerous but also open the window to tragic events and personal pain in his life. The common denominator among the successful memoirs is the bloody, chest-baring peek into those dark places others haven’t been.

We’ve all read a memoir that was bland, dry and boring. Why? In most cases, the writer created a superficial book without any insight into their lives, their past, or their emotions. We feel cheated after reading it, realizing that we would have gotten just as much insight into their lives (or maybe even more) if we had met them at a cocktail party and chatted near a dusty potted fern.

And this is where I am in my writing process right now. I am taking the scalpel to my chest and slicing it open each time I write. I am opening my feelings, my emotions, my mistakes, and inviting people to watch it happen all over again. Who the Hell does that on purpose?

But there are two things that have kept this going for me and made it ok to continue. The first is the wonderful critique group that was established when I started the Arcadia Memoir Writers last year. This is a safe place for people to open up and share. In fact, many members of the group have compared it to group therapy at times and I have to agree. When you have a safe place to share events in your life, and take critique about it and your writing, you know you have found something special. It’s the first step in sending your work out to agents, publishers, and even magazines, for publication.

The second thing that has helped immensely is finding Creative Nonfiction Magazine. Lee Gutkind, who is the founder of the magazine and the author of You Can’t Make this Stuff Up, was speaking at Changing Hands Bookstore in town. He was fantastic and inspiring for the mere fact that writing memoir/creative nonficton is his life. His book is straight-forward and gives real examples of how to write memoir. He made it sound like something everyone should and could do, and this is something he has been doing for years. Yes, I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated since he’s been published numerous times. Someone who has been published acquires some kind of aura about them, don’t they? It’s a special scent or light that surrounds them. Well, at least to those of us who aspire to publication. I can’t tell you about the other end, but eventually I will. I found a group of people afterward (along with a couple of friends from the writing group) and we chatted about life and even shared moments in our lives with each other. This made it even more special and gave me the boost I needed.

So, here I am with my scalpel in hand (which looks mysteriously like a beat-up Macbook) making another slice into my soul. I have my extensive library of how-to books beside me, as well as fantastic memoirs to peruse when I need a break. I’ll have a list of these in a future blog as soon as I have a chance to list them all.

My advice is to find a group of people who can support you in what you do, whatever that is. Find someone who can inspire you and make you want to pursue your dream. These will keep you afloat in the worst storms of self-doubt.

 

A Supernatural Weekend in DC

Wow, it’s been a long time for me since posting. What have I been doing? Writing. Yup, I’ve been running a local memoir writing group and that means I have to do a bit of writing myself in order to keep face. I love it, and it’s been fun. But it does mean that I have less time to do what I also like to do, which is cook, watch TV and remember to blog. But that’s all changed since I’ve reworked my schedule. I’m sure you’re happy to hear that (all three of you!)

But last week I had to take a writing break to accompany my daughter to the Supernatural DC Con in Washington D.C. Yup, an entire convention for the TV show, Supernatural. If you haven’t seen the show, let me fill you in. Two hunky guys, brothers on the show, fight demons, vampires, ghoulish creatures, and even a few angels gone bad, as they travel all over the back roads of the United States. They have some angels on their side, but mainly they are in mortal danger every week. But man, do they look good doing it. The fans are rabid, and I mean that. The convention was filled with people cosplaying most of the characters, and loving every minute. My daughter cosplayed two out of three days and she looked amazing. It was a three-day show filled with karaoke, cabaret, photo ops, autographs, and lots of laughter and good times. I was quite excited for a photo op with Mark Sheppard, also known as Crowley on Supernatural, Jim Sterling on Leverage, Canton Delaware on Doctor Who, Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica, and one of my favorites-Badger on Firefly. Turns out, he was having a bit of a bad day and wasn’t as friendly as I’d hoped. I saw him as I stepped out of the elevator and said Hello, only to get a grunt as he kept walking. Ok, maybe he’s in a hurry. Then he had a Q&A panel and seemed a bit touchy, but Ok, maybe he’s tired. Then, during the photo ops I heard a young girl ask him something when it was her turn for the photo. His response was simply, “That’s not gonna happen.” This was said in a gruff, quick tone and I saw her face fall. I don’t even know what she asked, but his answer pretty much punctured the fangirl bubble around her. He put his arm around her and smiled for the photo. Then it was our turn. Hmmm, we smiled, he smirked, photo over, move on. But, I’m going to tell myself that he was having a rough day and I won’t hold it against him. I’ve had bad days, but I guess I don’t have to deal with 500 people who adore me every day.

The phenomenon of these shows building such reputations is amazing. The power of social media keeps this show going with Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter pages dedicated just to the show, and each character and actor. When characters are killed off or hurt, fans rally. And speculation over whether Chuck is God (yes, that actual God) or not is still up in the air. My daughter and I are still debating it. Each brother has died and come back to life a few times and each time they grow closer to each other. I can only imagine after nine years how close the actors must be. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki sure seem to have a great rapport with each other, but why not after all that time?

The highlight for me was the chance to spend time with a dear friend who drove down from Long Island to spend the weekend and hang out. Martinis, hugs, and even a few tears-that’s what friendship is all about! We sat in the lobby bar watching the cosplayers mingle. We waited while my daughter attended the actors’ cabaret in the ballroom and we had a few more martinis while we waited. (Just doing what a good mother would do…wait for her kid.)

So, I’m back and ready to dive into the memoir essays, writing, and editing. Watch for more blog posts and keep commenting. I love hearing from you!

Time to Find Balance

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I know what you’re thinking…”Where the Hell has she been lately?” Am I right? Well, if I’m not, don’t tell me. I prefer to think that you have missed me and wondered, albeit infrequently, where that hilarious, informative writer has been lately. I’m a bit needy that way.

I won’t bore you with the details of the past few months, which include family medical emergencies and the ever-present avoidance of writing. We’ll just pretend that, just like old friends who don’t talk for a long time, that we are reconnecting as if no time has passed between us. Deal?

So, what else have I been up to? Finding balance in my life. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but two things have been making me feel much more balanced. One is the use of a journal, but not a typical journal. I’ve decided that an art journal makes more sense to me since it’s about expressing myself through art, and just a few words. I like it like that, and since I suck at drawing, I think it’s more fun that way. The photo above is one of my attempts at being creative after. I know, I’m not quitting my day job to be an artist, no worries.

Also, I’m so excited to be hosting a memoir writing group in my area. I started a meetup group specifically for memoir writers after trying out a few writers’ groups that just didn’t hit the spot. I finally decided that I couldn’t be the only one out there who wanted a specific group like that. But then I second-guessed myself and asked two of my friends to sign up, thinking nobody else would show up and I’d be sitting in the back room of my favorite cafe all by myself for the first meeting. To my wonderful surprise, 25 people signed up right away, with many of them sending personal notes about how fabulous it was to find the group and how long they have been looking for such a group. Spot on, right?

The group meets twice a month, critiques about six submissions each meeting, and we cover one aspect of writing at the start of each meeting including dialogue, rewriting, POV, etc. It’s been a real hoot to meet all the writers who have signed up. Some are first-time writers, others are teachers or published writers looking to write more, and some have even signed on with an agent all ready. I don’t consider it a class but more of a discussion group, although I try to have research and information to cover each topic. I’m thinking of even offering a class after this, as long as I keep getting such wonderful feedback. It takes a bit of work before each meeting, but I totally enjoy the interaction and feedback.

So, what am I writing, you ask? Good question. I’ve been working on a memoir, but came across an interesting conundrum while doing research for the group. A lot of memoir has to do with other people, which I already knew. But the question of fairness to those other people is always in the front of the writer’s mind. Will they be upset? Will they be angry? Will they even care? At first, I thought strongly, “It’s my story, my POV and my right to talk about it.” And I know that is the truth. Everyone has their own story to write.

But then again, if you’re writing about someone close to you, is it fair to point out that person’s misfortunes and mistakes? How would I feel if someone wrote about mine? There are some I might not care about, but there are others I might want to keep to myself. After asking myself that question, and realizing that the person I was writing about might not benefit at all from the truth being told, I have decided to put that away for a bit (I’ll come back later) and start a group of memoir/essays instead. They are purely about me, my mistakes, my triumphs (of which there are fewer) and my growth along the way. After that, I may be able to revisit the first project.

So, my question to you is… if you write essays and memoirs, what do you think about including others in your writing? I know that including positive information is usually not an issue, so I’m talking about “outing” someone on their bad behavior, mistakes, etc. Would you?

NaNoWriMo Guilt

JUST WRITESeems that each November 1st signals a grand scramble full of stress and holiday pressure. Halloween seems to kick it off, like Mardi Gras, with a bang. We have friends and family over for a fun night of trick or treating in the neighborhood with drinks and a quick dinner, then the madness begins the next morning. Christmas gift planning, planning for Thanksgiving dinner, planning for Christmas dinner, decorations, baking ideas, travel to family, or hosting family and friends in town, and on top of that, I have the stress of doing NaNoWriMo, or more importantly…the guilt of not doing it.

I did it a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a wonderful way to kickstart your writing, cement the idea that it’s quite difficult to write a book in one month as well as proving that you can actually write a book in one month. Notice I didn’t say that you can write a GOOD book in one month. Completing NaNoWriMo is just the beginning of the process. Which is why I am not doing it this year. Yes, it’s great to get it all down, but I can’t handle the stress of editing this new piece of work as well as what I’m working on now, or putting it aside after spending so much time on it.

But I feel guilty and left out since I am not participating. If you done this before, you know what I mean. All these Facebook posts about word count, protagonists, plot twists, writer’s blocks, etc. Tweets of encouragement, Tweets of frustration, etc. I felt so left out last year when I didn’t do it that I even thought of just jumping in halfway through November just to be a part of the group. But then I remembered all the other shit I have to do in the next 6 weeks and that stopped me in my tracks.

So, I’ll be continuing my memoir for the month of November and participating in NaMeWriMo. (Yeah, I made that up.) But for me it’s National Memoir Writing Month. But I’ve got my outline  done and I’ve got my own goals for winning my own personal challenge. I’ve already taken a wonderful online class by Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Meyers on memoir writing, which has armed me with so many wonderful insights and suggestions. Nothing left to do but write.

If you’re writing this month for NaNoWriMo, NaMeWriMo, or just National Keep Writing Month, I wish you all the best/lots of inspiration/creativity/Fun/Sleep/nimble fingers for typing. Whatever it that writing, just write.

How often do you complain?

How often do you complain that you don’t have enough time to do all the things you want/need to do? Better yet, how often do you hear others complain about it? “If only there were 29 hours in a day,” or, “I can’t seem to catch up.” Yes, some people have overextended themselves, but most people just don’t know how to organize their time.

In my life, procrastination wastes a lot of my time, and believe me, I am a master at it. I practice a trifecta of avoidance, boredom, and lack of focus.  So, two simple questions to ask as we begin the new year.  What is the one thing you do that wastes the most time your life? Is it TV, video games, eating, Facebook or Twitter browsing, cleaning? Whatever it is, it is taking time away from what you really should be doing-and only you know what that is. Shouldn’t you be writing, working, cleaning, doing paperwork, exercising, etc.   OK, once you know what you are doing to waste time, make an agreement with yourself to recognize when you are doing this and ask yourself, “Do I have something more important to do right now?” If the answer is yes…go do it.  What is the one thing you did this past year that made you happy? Was it traveling, writing, reading, spending time with friends, cooking with your kids, etc.? Promise yourself right now to make time for what makes you happy. Don’t deny yourself those little things that make you happy.   Now, I hear some of you saying, “But the thing I do that wastes time is the thing that makes me happy.” Nice try, Smartass. I’m not saying you can’t do those things anymore. I’m suggesting that you make specific time for those activities and stick to it.

For example: if you love watching TV, and it’s your time waster, then look through the TV schedule and line up your favorite shows. Then make time to watch them as a reward for getting your responsibilities taken care of. No sitting down with the remote and mindlessly channel surfing for two hours when you’ve got paperwork to take care of.  Don’t beat yourself up if you grab the remote and plop on the couch, just recognize it, think about whether you are avoiding something or really enjoying it. Avoiding something?- Get it over with and go do it. Enjoying it and have some free time?- have fun.  Sounds simple, but I know it isn’t. Nobody’s perfect, especially me. But I am going to try this year and follow my own advice. Which means less TV and Facebook scrolling and more time for what I enjoy-movies with my daughter, writing, blogging, photography, reading and art.  Good luck!

Blogs I follow and why

I don’t follow a lot of blogs, I just don’t have the time to read them all and sometimes blogs can be a bit narcissistic (ok, maybe that’s what blogging is all about, but why read even more?) But in case you were looking for some great blogs to keep track of, here are just a few of my favorites these days:

1. Saving for Someday. On top of some great tips on saving money, bargains, and deals in stores, Sara also shares some insights into her life and daily living as a giving, caring person trying to raise a daughter in this crazy world. Follow her, you won’t be sorry.

2. Pirates and Fireflies. Vicariously travel through Europe and other parts exotic, with photos that make me say AHHHHHH so many times it may be annoying to anyone around me. The posts are short enough not to be tedious, but interesting and bucolic. You won’t regret this one, unless the jealousy eats away at you. (What? I can’t help it.)

3. Nail Your Novel. Roz Morris, author and editor, shells out some great advice and quick tips to do just what she says…Nail Your Novel.

4. TIPPR Blog. An aspiring writer/editor who blogs a bit of poetry. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I do enjoy it sometimes, and I like getting just a bit every so often in my inbox and these are quite nice. Give a look.

OK, that’s four. I’ll put a few more up for you soon. What blogs are you following? Let me know.