Thursday, January 22, 2015
To Create a Memoir
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know my current project is a memoir. I’d like to take this space to talk about what I found out so far in the writing process. It has been a vast difference in writing a novel. I knew it would be, but I had no idea just how much different it would turn out to be.
Obviously I don’t have to mention in a memoir we don’t have to deal with characters per se. These are real life people and for the most part you are talking about yourself. I believe every one of us has a story to tell, no matter what our background is. Just like a novel, the trick is in how the story is told. What you may perceive as a rather dull story or boring life may be interesting to many others if told a certain way.
Let’s go basic. What is a memoir? How is it different from an autobiography? I personally like to think of it this way; an autobiography would be written by you about you about your entire life, but a memoir is about you by you about a more finite time, say 10 or 20 years, or even 2 weeks. For me, I am writing from 1994 through 2013, but I have added little bits and pieces here and there of needed info outside of that time frame that are needed to fill in some gaps.
Just like my novel, I found out I needed to do research. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? How is it that I need to do research on my own life and story? You might not need to, but I sure did because of my unique situation. I was so screwed up with pain and anger and depression for so long, that when it came time for me to sit down and write this thing, what I thought I knew about those days in my relationship with my wife was completely wrong. It turned out to be far worse after talking to her. I drove a cab for those 20 years and I knew my anger was horrible and I remember doing some bad things on the street, but I had to talk to some people to be reminded of some other things I had done. Also, after coming out of pain, I went through what I called “The Wall”, a sort of PTSD, where I suffered through some nightmares and remembered some things that I had done that I had never remembered before. I went through therapy to help me with this. The point is, I had to talk to several people to get some stories rather than to rely on my own memory for the book. What is the truth? Your truth? Someone else’s truth? Somewhere in between? Maybe that is why they call it creative fiction.
Just like in a novel, to add drama to your story, it is good to set scenes. Explain certain things that happened to you in detail with other people or things in settings, just like a novel, making the reader feel like they are there. Make them see it, feel it, smell it, just like you did. Make them feel the pain. Make them cry like you did. Make them angry. Memoirs should not be dry tell-all.
Heather helped me prepare for the writing of this book. She suggested, in her professor way, to write an outline. We went back and forth on this many times. I hate outlines. We sat down over dinner one night and went over the complete structure of the book and she convinced me I needed an outline. Curse her. And just like in school, I had to submit it to her for her approval. I didn’t get a smiley face on it, but I am writing so I guess it is okay.
Lastly, just like in any book you write, in the first draft, write yourself silly. Write everything. You can’t write too much in the first draft. Never worry about anything, spelling, grammar, how many words you have, anything, just write it down. ALL YOUR WORRIES COME LATER. That’s why they call it re-writing. Have fun.