Saturday, September 19, 2009
SCULPTING THE MEMOIR
A month into writing the memoir, I realized I was in over my head. I knew zero about nonfiction writing, especially memoir. So I bought several books on memoir writing. None addressed the problems I was having, and none dealt with taking fiction-writing skills and applying them to nonfiction. It had taken years to reach a certain level of skill with my fiction writing, and I was afraid it would take as long or longer to learn nonfiction through trial and error. So when I ran into an agent who wasn't interested in reading the memoir but wanted to rep me, it was easy for me to walk away from it. For a while. Later, when I returned to the memoir, I could easily and clearly see what I'd done wrong. The story was too broad. I'd told too much. It wasn't focused enough.
With fiction, you start with a seed and build out.
With memoir, you start with a massive block of wood, or marble, or butter (if you live in Minnesota), and decide what to remove.
Deciding what to remove, deciding what to leave out, is the negative foundation that shapes your story and gives it strength and purpose.
(This sculpture can be found at Minneapolis Institute of Arts.)
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I've always had the desire to write one, but so uncertain of what I can get away with in terms of not being sued by family members.ReplyDelete
I am so looking forward to reading yours.
Nice post, btw. (It's amazing what the time away from the work can teach you.)
heather, publishers have insurance for that, but i know what you mean. i'm trying to avoid talking negatively about people. i have another memoir i want to write, but it will have to wait until a certain someone dies. and with family, i don't know if you can win. i have the feeling if this book ever gets published some people will be mad about being in it, and others will be mad about being excluded.ReplyDelete
I have 13 aunts/uncles on either side of the family tree--lots of secrets. haha! They'd stone me if I told anything!ReplyDelete
I'm glad you're figuring the memoir out, I think not only will it be awesome but it will feel good to get it out on paper.
Also you might want to check out Kim Reid's memoir, No Place Safe. My agent always says memoirs should be strong and evoke emotion. Total different topic but I believe she wrote her experience with elements of a mystery thriller.ReplyDelete
kelly, yeah, you would be in deep trouble with such a huge family. :DReplyDelete
thanks for mentioning Kim Reid's book. hadn't heard of it, and will def have to check it out.
I look forward to reading your memoir, Anne. I've been playing around with one myself this last year but struggle with the family member issue. Instead of focusing on the big picture, I've decided to remove a huge slab of butter and write scrapmoir instead. Reading your blog has been a great help. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Still upset that I had to miss your signing at HarMar...
Hi Pamela! So sorry you didn't make it to HarMar! Would love to have finally met you. One day! The turnout was surprisingly slim. I think most were there for David Housewright who is such an amazing writer as well as highly entertaining. love that guy.ReplyDelete
So excited to hear you are working on memoir and chopping off slabs of butter. :D once i realized i didn't have to write about every damn thing, even if it impacted a certain event, the entire project fell into place.
Kind of like how the framing of a photograph can utterly change the impact. When you focus down, the impact of the smaller scene intensifies. And the assumptions about the surroundings change.ReplyDelete
jason, i love that analogy. perfect.ReplyDelete