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.)