Are you a beginning memoir-writer? Are you puzzled about how to start? Where to start?
Lisa Tener recently interviewed Richard Hoffman, award-winning author and professor at Emerson College.
She asked Richard’s advice for beginning memoir-writers, specifically how and where to start.
“Wherever you can! Think of a spiderweb. You can hook that first thread anywhere it will hold. The important thing is to not think in linear terms at all when you’re writing. Write scenes. Write pages of reflection. Write what’s available to you to write today. Memory’s mercurial; if something offers itself to be explored, explore it while it’s ‘live’. If you shoo it away because you’re convinced that today you’re going to work on, say, Chapter 7, it might not come back!
“Write modularly in the order that presents itself to you.… A book is read from the upper left-hand corner of page one to the lower right-hand corner of the last page — but that is not how it is written! At least not in my experience. Composition happens only later, when you’ve turned over every rock and shaken every tree. The next stage, fashioning a story, a narrative, from the parts comes pretty late in the process.” (Richard Hoffman, from Lisa Tener’s Writing Blog at http://www.lisatener.com/2011/05/writing-memoir-an-interview-with-richard-hoffman)
Many thanks, Lisa and Richard, for your helpful words.
Like I said last May in One little step at a time,* please be underwhelmed at the task of writing a book. In fact, avoid thinking “book.” Instead, concentrate on individual short stories.
For the next several months, take easy little steps: I suggest you review the definition of memoir* and write a few accounts, three to six pages each. That’s do-able, right? These rough drafts will eventually be chapters in your finished memoir.
Start with easy topics. Remember: You’ll learn the craft of memoir more easily if you begin with straightforward events.
I’ve seen too many beginners tackle a traumatic story, only to have their still-raw emotions sidetrack them. Inevitably, discouragement leads them to abandon that story and give up on writing their other stories, too. Don’t let that happen to you!
Instead, start with less painful events—how God showed His love by bringing just the right doctor into your life, for example. Perhaps you saw God’s power demonstrated when He kept you from serious injury in a car accident. Maybe He gave you a glimpse of His beauty through a sunset or snowcapped mountain or butterfly.
Write your stories—not because of who you are,
but because of who God is.*
Write your stories as an act of worship.*
If a particular vignette is refusing to come to life, set it aside and work on something else. That thorny story might blossom another day.
Embrace what Richard said: Write what you can today.
Richard Hoffman authored the celebrated memoir Half the House; the short story collection Interference and Other Stories; and three poetry collections: Without Paradise; Gold Star Road; he’s the winner of the 2006 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the New England Poetry Club’s Sheila Motton Book Award; and most recently, Emblem. He teaches at Emerson College and currently serves as chair of PEN New England.
Your memoir: one little step at a time
What is a memoir
Not because of who you are, but because of who God is http://spiritualmemoirs101.blogspot.com/2011/07/your-stories-not-because-of-who-you-are.html
Your stories: an act of worship