Thursday, October 8, 2015

If your scars could talk, what stories would they tell?

Scars. You have a few. So do I. When writing our stories, we’ll almost certainly need to examine one or more of the wounds that caused our scars.

Keep in mind that a scar is not the same as a wound.

A wound is an injury, a laceration, a gash, a blow, a rip. Some are superficial, but some are deep and agonizing.

On the other hand, a scar is “a mark left where a wound or injury or sore has healed” (Oxford American Dictionary; emphasis mine).

Read that again: a scar is what you have left after healing has taken place. After the bleeding has stopped. After the scab has fallen off.

A scar is evidence of healing.

When we think of a scar, we think of something damaged, defective. We think of disfigurement and impairment. But also, don’t you think it’s good to recognize that a scar is something that has healed?

Think of your scar as an emblem declaring you’ve been repaired, a symbol of surviving, evidence that your wounds have been mended. You’ve been restored to good health.

And that’s why I ask: If your scars could talk, what stories would they tell?

Something or someone maimed you, leaving you blemished, flawed, maybe even deformed—maybe in little ways, or maybe in massive ways.

Some visible on the outside, some hidden inside.

Did you know that if you pinch a butterfly’s wings, she’s unable to navigate properly afterwards? You know what that’s like, don’t you? Bruises and defects can leave us reeling and stumbling. Sometimes, even worse, our wounds can leave us immobilized, broken down.

Most of us can get pretty creative in finding ways to keep our wounds and scars secret, hidden away. But a good memoirist will not stay stuck there.

A good memoirist will invite God
to stand alongside
and help peel back layers,
dig deeply,
get out a magnifying glass,
and discover the deeper, broader story.
A good memoirist will make time
to examine the chapter of his life
in which God used wounds
to turn his story a different
and better direction.

That reminds me of Bev Murrill’s words about Romans 8:28, “Paul said all things work together for good for people who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes. That doesn’t mean what happened is good, but that God can use even the most terrible things if we will let Him treat the wounds and heal them” (emphasis mine).

C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Your job as a memoirist is to look back and discover that extraordinary destiny God has been working out for you—a destiny you couldn’t have experienced if it weren’t for your hardship, your wound. You have the scar to prove it.

For the next few days, search for answers to Thornton Wilder’s question: “Without your wounds where would you be?

Then sit down in front of your computer screen, or get out your pen and paper, and write about the ways God tended and mended your wounds. How did He transform your wounds into scars? 

Who and what did God use to bring healing? Maybe a doctor, a counselor, medicine. Or perhaps the Bible, a book, prayer, a strategically placed friend or relative. Possibly time and distance helped. Maybe writing or journaling made a difference in your healing process. God has many ways of turning wounds into scars.

Bev Murrill says God is capable of “turning ugly gaping wounds into scars that serve as badges of honour and trophies of the grace of God at work in me” (emphasis mine).

What badges of honor
and trophies of God’s grace
will you include in your memoir?

 “If we are going to live with courage
and joy and integrity,
we need honest, true-to-life stories
to show us how.…”

Your memoir could do that.

If your scars could talk,
what stories would they tell?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Your writing can lead to personal discovery

Many of you will recognize yourselves in this quote:

“I’ve lived with and in my memoir for many years.
 Not only did I mentor my younger self
through writing my story,
but the writing process mentored me in turn,
providing lessons on writing and life
I could not have learned in a classroom
or a therapy session.
Through writing my memoir
I discovered who I was,
and who and what had shaped me into that person.”

Pamela Jane (emphasis mine)

That brings us back to an excerpt from last Thursday’s post:

Much more hides within your experience than you realize right now. Writing leads to discovery. Roger Housden says it this way:

“…[A]s much as we think we know about our story,
there is far more waiting to surprise us
when our own words hit the page.”
(emphasis mine)

This is only one of the numerous benefits of writing your memoir.

So there you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Have you started writing your memoir?
If not, how about beginning this week?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who are the strategically placed people in your life?

Think about a person who made a positive impact on your life—a person who changed your life, whose life still ripples through yours today even if you live far apart, even if that person has died:

a soldier,
store clerk,
college roommate.

Perhaps even a stranger.

Or maybe a person from past generations:
a scientist,
song writer,
spiritual leader,
world leader.

What, specifically, did she do that influenced your life?

What words did he say that made all the difference?

What good example did she live which inspired you to live in the same way?

How did his choices give you courage to shape yours?

How different would your life be without that person’s involvement?

Memoirist Kathy Pooler reminded us recently: “Hindsight seems to bring about new clarity and wisdom,” so take time—make time—to seek clarity and wisdom to discern how God has intentionally brought special people into your life.

You might not have recognized, back then, the significance of his or her mark on your life, so dig deep into your memory to detect how God worked through those relationships and experiences to make you who you are today.

Notice the ways God has used those people to protect you, maybe redirect you, and strengthen your faith.

Start writing even before you have remembered everything, before you know where your story is going and how it will end.

Why? Because much more hides within your experience than you realize right now. Writing leads to discovery. Roger Housden says it this way:

“…[A]s much as we think we know about our story,
there is far more waiting to surprise us
when our own words hit the page.”

So, write your stories!

Write them not as a hobby but as a ministry to your family.

Writing your memoir 
is a sacred work, 
a high calling, 
a divine project.

Your kids and grandkids and great-grands need to know about the people who invested in you and guided you—and probably even kept you from doing a few stupid things. Just think: Your stories could have a life-changing impact on your readers, passing the original blessings on to future generations.

“There are generations yet unborn
whose very lives will be shifted and shaped
by the moves you make
and the
actions you take today….”

Andy Andrews

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: “Catch it before it is gone”

“Can we listen to ourselves
in the silence?
Can we sit and wait
for the whispers of our souls
to come creeping, slowly, falteringly,
letter by letter, through our pens?
Can we allow our truest selves
to tell their stories
through the gateway of broken language…?
Catch it before it is gone,
capture it in a jumble of letters….”

So there you have it, your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit.
I hope it inspires you to write your memoir—before it’s too late.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Your memoir needs an outstanding subtitle

Have you noticed that we seldom find a subtitle on a novel? It seems that subtitles belong to the realm of non-fiction—and what a gift someone gave us when he or she invented subtitles. (A subtitle follows a title, and the two are separated by a colon.)

Your memoir’s subtitle can help accomplish your title’s goals, which are to:  
  • establish a distinct identity for your memoir,
  • catch potential readers’ attention,
  • entice them to buy your book,
  • and read it when they get home,
  • and recommend it to their friends.

A subtitle explainsilluminates, sheds light on—a book’s title.

A good subtitle elaborates on a title and:
  • tells potential readers how your book is different from all others,
  • hints at what a reader will find within the book,
  • expands, explains, and entices,
  • and might allude to secrets within.

Look at these titles without their subtitles:

What Remains

A Long Way Gone
Thin Places

Thirteen Days

Falling Awake

Did they intrigue you and make you want to buy them? Do you have a good idea what they’re about? Probably not.

Now look at them with their subtitles, below, and notice how much more they reveal the book’s contents:

Thin Places: A Memoir, by Mary DeMuth

Review the goals of a title (bulleted above). Do the subtitles help accomplish those goals? I say yes. How about you?

How long or short should a subtitle be? Mary DeMuth’s subtitle is two words, “A Memoir.” Mary Lou Sanelli’s is a whopping 16 words long. I’m not aware of “rules” for how long or short a good subtitle should be, but avoid unnecessary wordiness.

Here are tips for crafting a strong title/subtitle: 
  • Choose an easy-to-understand title.
  • Choose an easy-to-pronounce title.
  • Choose an easy-to-remember title.
  • Consider the benefits of a short, crisp title.
  • Witty can be good—if it really works.
  • Even if your title isn’t short, be concise: Make sure every word needs to be there.
  • Beta readers (or others who have helped with your manuscript) might suggest titles. Brainstorm with them.
  • Read your title aloud. How does it sound? (See last Thursday’s blog post on the art part of crafting titles.)
  • Choose a title that feels just right to you—because it will stick with you for a long time!

Take a few minutes to read Susan Kendrick’s blog post, “What Makes a Good Subtitle and How Long Should it Be?” It’s packed with helpful info.

Keep in mind that if a traditional publishing house will publish your memoir, a lot of people there will have a say in your memoir’s title.

On the other hand, if you self-publish, or if you make only a few copies at the office supply store for family and friends, you get to choose your title.

Either way, work hard to create an excellent title.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: How you can become a stronger writer

Here’s your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Matilda Butler at Women’s Memoirs encourages memoir writers to read lots of memoirs, to “read broadly and think deeply.”

She says,

“Even memoirs that aren’t particularly good
can teach lessons.

You can ask yourself:

What do in like in this book?

What is off-putting?

How would I handle the story differently
if I were writing this book?

Is the opening weak?

What ideas do I have
to make the opening stronger?

Thinking about a memoir,
questioning a memoir,
even rewriting a few paragraphs
of a memoir
will make you a stronger writer.”

Thanks to Matilda for these helpful tips.

If you’re not a regular reader of Women’s Memoirs’ blog, do check into it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Your memoir’s title, Part 3: The art part

The pros don’t all agree on the “rules” for creating a strong, compelling title, and some tell us to break the rules anyway! But we all recognize when a title does not work, so if you hope to market your memoir, put extra effort into choosing your title.

Since that takes time, try out a few working titles (temporary, unofficial titles) before finalizing your choice. You can do that even while working on your manuscript.

There’s an art to fashioning a book title that’s just right. Notice your working title’s melody, its sound, its rhythm.

Lynn Serafinn says, “The ‘rhythm’ of a title has to do with rise and fall of words, the number of syllables and the strong/weak accents within them….

In her delightful book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long explains that “Sounds have frequency. Sound travels in waves that come at more frequent or less frequent intervals. The shorter the wave, the higher the frequency. Eek! is a high-frequency sound. The longer the wave, the lower the frequency. Blue is a low-frequency sound.
“… [T]hink of high-frequency vowels as high-energy vowels. Pie in the sky! Let’s get high! Dream on! Scream!....

“Low-frequency vowels are low-energy vowels. They bring us down. We have the blues…. We are lonely. We feel moody….”

In her book, Priscilla lists the vowels with lowest frequenty:
  • long o (boo)
  • long o (bone)
  • short o (book)

Here’s Priscilla’s list of vowels with highest frequency:
  • long e (bee)
  • long a (bay)
  • long i (buy)

When choosing your memoir’s title, ask yourself if you want a high-energy title or a low-energy one, and choose words accordingly. (I encourage you to buy Priscilla’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor. It’s a gem!)

Daniel Scocco suggests collecting words from poetry or songs that catch your attention. He says, “You can find some powerful titles by mixing, matching and combining [those]words….”  (Be sure to see Daniel’s other advice in our earlier blog.) Just remember to honor copyrighted material.

I’m working on my second memoir and have played around with titles. My first working title was Tattered and Breathless and Full of Tales because years ago I stumbled upon Janet Chester Bly’s poem, “Breathless Tales.” It captured, so briefly and in such a delightful way, the quirky life I’ve lived—so different from what I’d always dreamed I would live. Here is her poem:

Breathless Tales

I would rather clutch my invitation
and wait my turn in party clothes
prim and proper
safe and clean.
But a pulsing hand keeps driving me
over peaks
and spidered brambles.
So, I will pant up to the
pearled knocker
and full of tales!

Many thanks to Janet Bly
for permission to use "Breathless Tales"

Since Tattered and Breathless and Full of Tales was only my working title, I didn’t need to worry about copyright issues—I was the only one using the title, and I was using it temporarily.

My second working title was Scruffy and Winded and Full of Tales.  Scruffy instead of Janet’s tattered, winded instead of Janet’s breathless. But no, that was too much like her wording.

My third and current working title is Winded and Wrinkled and Brimming with Tales.

I think it’s different enough from Janet’s words that I won’t have copyright problems.

And I like the rhythm of the third working title. See for yourself: Read these two titles aloud:

  • Scruffy and Winded and Full of Tales
  • Winded and Wrinkled and Brimming with Tales

The title’s rhythm needs the two-syllable “brimming” instead of the one-syllable “full,” don’t you agree?

In the current working title, I also like the repetition of the short “i” sound (assonance).  

I also like the repetition of two-syllable words: winded, wrinkled, and brimming.

On Priscilla Long’s frequency scale from low to high (which I did not include above), the short “i” sound is right up there next to the highest frequency sounds, and that seems to be a good fit for my memoir’s contents.

So what about your working title? Do you want low-frequency vowel sounds or high-frequency? Read your title aloud. Does it have a good rhythm? A pace, a beat, a cadence?

Then ask yourself Lynn’s questions: “Does it feel too long? Too short? Is there a musical quality that makes it pleasant to say? Does it feel like it should have ended a few syllables earlier?”

How can you make your working title better? Keep tweaking it until you’ve crafted a winning title!