Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Hill fire and the Woolsey fire

The Hill fire and the Woolsey fire in southern California have significantly impacted our family so my post today will be brief, and I will take a break from blogging until December.

In the midst of unspeakable, ongoing destruction and loss, I think of Mr. Rodgers’ mother. She told him that when sad things happen, look around for the helpers. You can always see helpers, she said.

That’s what the Bible teaches us—to be “helpers” by feeding the hungry, providing drinks for the thirsty, welcoming strangers who need shelter, giving clothes to those who need them, and caring for the sick. (See Isaiah 58:7 and Matthew 25:34-40.)

During these exhausting, frightening days of fire, 
my family has witnessed countless acts of kindness and generosity

Those people are living, breathing, hugging, smiling helpers
real people God is using
to answer thousands of prayers. 

May God bless them all!

See you in December. 

In the meantime, enjoy writing your memoir!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California

Today I won't publish the usual Thursday blog post due to the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California.

Please keep the victims and their families and friends in your prayers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Is your story arc eluding you?

If you’re struggling to pin down your memoir’s story arc, please don’t be discouraged. (If you missed Thursday’s post, it’s a must-read. Click on Do you know what a story arc is? And why it’s important?)

Most of us struggle to find our story arc, but we’re here to tell you this: You can figure it out!

Rebecca Ramsey’s experience will give you hope. She spent years searching for her story arc. (And writing and editing her memoir, The Holy Éclair, took ten years! It's on my list of books to read. How about putting it on your list?)

She says to ask yourself this about your memoir’s rough draft:

What is your journey, the big change you experienced that you want to share with the world?

What were the little struggles and big struggles that got you from the beginning to the end?

Rebecca says, “That wasn’t clear at first to me . . . [but] the writing itself revealed to me my own transformation.”

That can happen to you, too. Keep writing and revising. 
  • Dig deep and deeper.
  • Reflect.
  • Inspect.
  • Analyze your experience and yourself.
  • Stand back and ask yourself what God was doing.
  • Discover details you might have overlooked before.
  • Pray for God’s help.
  • Join a critique group (in person or online) and ask for help.

You can do this!

Remember, you don’t want to miss Thursday’s post, Do you know what a story arc is? And why it’s important?

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Do you know what a story arc is? And why it's important?

Recently we looked at using a poem or Bible passage as a theme for your memoir, which is nifty because it automatically hands you an outline—a structure, a framework—for your memoir. (Click on How can you hand your readers a coherent, organized story? and Must-know info about your memoir’s theme.)

But not all memoirs are based solely on themes. Some are based on your experiences set in a time period with beginning and ending dates.

For example, a lady in one of my memoir classes wrote about several years when she worked as a chef for a prominent senator and served dinner to, among others, the President and First Lady.

What about you?

  • Perhaps a whole new world opened when you worked your way through college as a farm hand in Wyoming.  
  • Did you serve in the military?
  • Did you battle post-partum depression?
  • Did you work in a foreign culture?
  • Did you face a crisis or natural disaster that threatened to undo you?
  • Did you find joy in an unexpected place or relationship?
  • Did a seemingly insignificant event change the course of your life?
  • Did a heartbreak turn into a blessing?

The ideas are endless. All the above examples would have a beginning date and an ending date. Such a memoir would then be based on a slice of your life or a snapshot of your life (compared to an autobiography which begins with day one and covers everything).

If you write a memoir based on a specific time period, you need to learn about a story arc, sometimes called a narrative arc.  

Do you know what a story arc is?

Author Adair Lara wrote: “When I began work on my memoir . . . I didn’t know a thing about arcs. I thought, I lived this story. I’ll just write it down the way it happened. . . . It was as if I decided to build a house and just started nailing together boards without giving a thought to blueprints. I put up some strange-looking houses that way, in the form of inert drafts filled with pointless scenes. I would have saved myself a lot of time if I had drawn an arc.”

But, she explains, “Back then, I hadn’t even heard of an arc. Now I know it’s the emotional framework of a memoir.”

Many memoir teachers will tell you to structure your story this way:

Act I or The Beginning,
Act II or The Middle,
and Act III or The Ending.

Act I, The Beginning: You introduce yourself to your readers and tell them, specifically, what you wanted or needed or planned—but you also write about a problem or a challenge that surfaced and threatened to mess everything up. Perhaps you were hit with a financial setback, had a psychological issue, a spiritual need, or a relationship struggle. Maybe something or someone threatened to undo your career or destroy your reputation. Maybe, like me, you learned your husband developed different goals in life than you had.

Act II, The Middle: You tell readers that obstructions piled up, your struggles intensified, and issues got complicated—either internal or external—and they seriously threatened to keep you from achieving your goals, meeting your needs, and/or making your dreams come true.

Adair Lara explains it this way: “You try a lot of things to solve your problem, with mixed results. You have setbacks, you make mistakes and you push on, until you either get what you wanted, or you don’t, or you stop wanting it. . . .”

Act III, The End: You detail how hurdles, hindrances, and complications came to a climax.

Dr. Linda Joy Myers writes: “In act three, the threads and layers of complexity reach a peak—the crisis and climax of the story. Here the character is tested, where the true depth of learning and transformation is revealed.”

This is where you, the protagonist, had to make decisions:  Did you battle on and overcome? If so, how did you go about it? Or, instead, did you have a change of heart because you recognized the unexpected Plan B was better than your Plan A?

Dr. Linda Joy Myers continues, “The crisis may be thought of as a spiritual challenge or a ‘dark night of the soul,’ where the deepest beliefs and core truths of the character are tested. The climax is the highest level of tension and conflict that the protagonist must resolve as the story comes to a close.

“There’s an aha at the end,” she says, “an epiphany when the main character has learned her lessons and can never return to the previous way of living.”

How do you do that—how do you discover that epiphany?

In true memoir form, you reflect on what happened to you. Peel back layers and dig deep.

That might take a long time but doing so is probably the most important part of discovering your real story.

Take a closer look than you ever did before. Recognize—maybe for the first time—the ways you changed. Then tell readers what you learned, how you transformed, how you became a stronger, better person.


People read memoirs
to learn how to handle similar situations
that arise in their own lives.

In that way, you become a role model for them,
an inspiration,
an answer to prayer.

For more info about story arc, click on Cate Macabe’s post, “Writing a Memoir Like a Novel: Story Arc,” and Adair Lara's post, The Key Elements of Writing a Good Memoir.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Don’t leave your memoir blowing in the wind

“. . . A piece of creative writing without structure is like bread without yeast," writes Charlotte Rains Dixon. “Or a pen without ink. Or coffee without caffeine in it.”

“Structure is what makes the writing hold up,” she continues. “Picture a clothesline with the string between two poles all loose and wavy. No way you can hang clothes on it.

“Now think of that same string as pulled taut, and it accepts your shirts and shorts and underwear just fine.

Structure allows your scenes and characters and plot points a place to hang on. Otherwise, they are just dangling in the wind,” she says.

Be sure to come back Thursday when we’ll continue looking at various ways to structure your memoir. In the meantime, look over these recent related posts:

Related posts:

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Do you need to rethink your memoir’s strategic sequence?

"Most people embarking upon a memoir,” writes William Zinsser, “are paralyzed by the size of the task. What to put in? What to leave out? Where to start? Where to stop? How to shape the story? The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never written at all” (from his article, "How to Write a Memoir").

Lots of memoirists struggle to find the best structureorganization, framework—for their stories.

If you’re one of them, don’t worry. With (a) experimentation and with (b) help from other writerly types, you’ll eventually figure it out.

But first, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves:

By definition, a memoir is only a slice of life—a segment of life, a snapshot of life—focused on a specific theme or time period.

Last week we looked at one way to structure a memoir—on a poem-based theme. See our recent post, How can you hand your readers a coherent, organized story?

Amber Lea Starfire has this added info for a theme-based memoir, “Themes may include any elements that the scenes have in common, such as relationship conflicts, illness, geography, or repetitive historical events.”

Amber continues, “The scenes do not have to occur in chronological order and, in fact, can jump all over the place in time as long as the transitions between jumps are strong and do not confuse your reader.” (See more of her post at How to Choose Your Memoir’s Structure.)

Keep this in mind, too:

Your task is to write a memoir
that illustrates universal values or struggles,
timeless truths or quests
that your readers can apply to their own lives.

When structured well, your memoir will
tell a complete and satisfying story.

Getting that structure just right can cause writers a lot of angst. I re-structured my current memoir several times, but nowadays at least we use computers to copy and paste. I’m so old that for much of my early life, to make even a slight revision I had to retype—sometimes on a manual typewriter—entire chapters, often entire l-o-n-g documents. Hooray for computers!

Maybe your collection of stories is, like Zinsser described, “defying you to impose on them some type of order,” yet you long to write a memoir that will have maximum impact on your readers.

William Zinsser to the rescue! He suggests that once you’ve written a number of vignettes, “spread them on the floor. (The floor is often a writer’s best friend.) Read them through and see what they tell you and what patterns emerge. They will tell you what your memoir is about and what it’s not about. They will tell you what’s primary and what’s secondary, what’s interesting and what’s not, what’s emotional, what’s important, what’s funny, what’s unusual, what’s worth pursuing and expanding. You’ll begin to glimpse your story’s narrative shape and the road you want to take. Then all you have to do is put the pieces together” (from Zinsser’s article, "How to Write a Memoir").

Yeah, right, you might be muttering. Easier said than done.

If you struggle to find your memoir’s structure, Judith Barrington offers this encouragement: “You must rely on blind faith that sooner or later it will appear. You may need and enjoy the freedom of relative formlessness for a while—but not forever.”

And then, even when you think you’ve discovered the right structure, “you must be willing to adapt it, revise it, tinker with it, or entirely rethink it” (from Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir).

You might need to rethink your memoir’s structure.
I had to rethink mine.

I gave myself permission to take the time
to rethink my memoir’s structure.

And I sought advice from trusted writerly types
the pros like Zinsser and Barrington and Starfire,
and especially my critique partners.

Doing that meant 
my publication date is going to be later than I hoped,
but I’d rather have the structure just right.

How about you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: What’s the big deal about a memoir’s structure?

Have you pinned down the right structure for your memoir?

You might be asking: What’s the big deal about a memoir’s structure?

“Knowing how to choose your memoir structure
is essential to your book’s success.


Full stop.”

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

If you missed our October 18 post, click on

And be sure to come back Thursday for more help
with your memoir’s all-important structure.