Thursday, September 26, 2013

“No memoirist should start … until.…”

“Do you love?” asks Beth Kephart. “Are you still learning to love?”

“It’s a question for all of us, and it’s a question we must repeatedly ask ourselves, especially when we’re writing memoir.” (Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir)

Beth, author of five memoirs, says that if we don’t know what we love,

if we’re not capable of loving,

if we’re focused too much on self (“if we’re stuck in a stingy, fisted-up place”),

if we’re too angry,

if we haven’t allowed grace to take the edge off disappointments,

if “we haven’t stopped hurting long enough to look up and see the others who hurt with us,”

if we “only have words … for our mighty wounds and our percolating scars,”

then it’s likely too soon to begin writing memoir.

Instead, Beth offers this starting point: Make a list of little things that bring you happiness, those things that embrace beauty and goodness and love.

Her suggestion reminds me of Philippians 4:8, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (The Living Bible).

The Message says it this way: “… You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Beth advises, “Practice gratitude. Rest assured you’ll be given a chance to tell the whole story soon. But start, for now, with love.” (from Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir; emphasis mine)

Beth is speaking at the Memoir Summit at Rosemont College in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 20, 2013. For info about how you can participate in four free workshops with experts in the craft of writing memoir, click on the link above.

Critically acclaimed young adult fiction writer and author of five memoirs, Beth is also a writing instructor at University of Pennsylvania and a National Book Award finalist. Check out her blog, Beth Kephart Books.

Remember to participate in the book giveaway.
Click here for info.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book giveaway!

“I realized I wasn’t alone in my suffering, and my wounding wasn’t just for me,” writes Tina Samples.

“I realized that God’s plan to work in my life, and my family’s life, had a broad scope; He wanted to bring healing to others facing the same issues.” (from newly published Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts; emphasis mine)

David Wolpe says it this way:

“When God, for whatever reason, has wounded you, 
you learn how to minister to others with the same wound…. 
Even the keenest anguish can be, as the poet put it, 
a ‘gauntlet with a gift in it’—
a challenge to use the wisdom to help others in the same pain.
 David Wolpe

Tina understands David Wolpe’s message: She has both a gift and a challenge to share her story with others who need hope and healing.

Tina’s co-author, Dena Dyer, writes, “We’ve also seen God use excruciating wounds to purify, mold, and shape us into more resilient, hopeful believers.”

Dena, too, knows about the gift and the challenge.

In Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts, Tina and Dena have woven together stories of women in the Bible and stories of today’s women, and their prayer is that “you would find His peace for your pain, His joy in the midst of your trials, and His hope for your heartache.”

I am humbled and honored that Tina and Dena's book includes a story from my memoir, Grandma's Letters From Africa.

To celebrate Tina’s and Dena’s new book, I’ll give away a free copy to one of you readers!

Here’s how it works:

Between now and October 9, e-mail me a vignette about the ways God (a) helped you heal from a wound, tragedy, or heartache, and (b) in the process, taught you new things about Himself and strengthened your faith, and (c) used the incident for His glory and your good.

By sharing your story, you will be doing what David Wolpe and Tina and Dena encourage: You’ll be offering a gift of hope and healing to others who are suffering their own wounds.

That’s what 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is all about: “the God of all comfort … comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Aim at 800 words. I will publish here the vignette I select (I’ll be happy to edit before publishing) and will send the author a free copy of Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts.

E-mail your vignette to grandmaletters [@] aol [dot] com (remove the brackets, replace the word "dot" with a period and scrunch everything together) and do me a favor: Write WOUNDED VIGNETTE in the subject line. Otherwise I will probably delete it as spam.

Here are a few quotes from Tina and Dena’s book which, I suspect, will resonate with you and give you story ideas:

“We can’t see what God sees, we don’t know what God knows, and we have no idea how God will deal with any given situation. But we can rest in the assurance of Psalm 56:8, ‘You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book’ (NLT). Psalm 147:3 says, ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ God will restore us in due time.”

 “God understands even when things don’t make sense to us: ‘Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit’ (Psalm 147:5).…  He will mend our broken heart so that we can find a way to fully live.”

Oh, how I appreciate those words: He mends and heals so we can “fully live.” Not just limp through life but fully live!

Tina writes: “One day … I came upon John 16:33. I remember weeping as I experienced a sense of the Lord’s presence. At that very moment, God revealed to me that through Him I could have peace in all things, and that although we live in a fallen world, I could have joy through Him—because the world has no power over God. He has overcome the world. He is the conqueror, defeater, and deliverer, and He reigns over all things. That Scripture has carried me through my high school years, until I left home and found healing. God used it to give peace to my heart during my toughest days.”

“God uses everything—even the most undesirable parts of our past—for His, and our, good.”

“…What looks detrimental to us, God, in His mercy, can make beneficial.”

Ready, set, go! Write!

Related post: Wounded Women

If you’re not following SM 101 on Facebook, 
you’re missing a lot of additional resources.
Click on the Facebook link in the right column toward the top.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writing your memoir “one sentence, one paragraph, and one vignette at a time”

If you’re writing a memoir, you know the process can be mysterious and intimidating. My advice? Tell yourself you’re only writing a rough draftfor your eyes only—and then keep writing.

“Write with the door closed,” suggests Stephen King. “Your stuff starts out being just for you.…” (On Writing)

“The first draft is the child’s draft,” writes Anne Lamott, “where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and you can fix it up later.…” (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life) 

“Small steps are better than no steps,” says Victoria Costello.

“Writing memoir might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.… Feeling overwhelmed comes with the territory.… When you feel that sinking feeling, remember that a memoir is simply a string of personal vignettes. Take small steps and focus on finishing one sentence, one paragraph, and one vignette at a time. Worry about threading the story together later. (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir; emphasis mine) 

Yes, eventually you will fix up your rough draft: you will revise, reorganize, and rewrite. Every writer does. It’s not punishment.  It’s polishing and shining and clarifying for the sake of your readers.

For now, don’t worry about polishing. Just take the small steps, “one sentence, one paragraph, and one vignette at a time.”

Related posts:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

From settling old scores to singing new songs

“The memoir-crazed 1990s.” Do you remember that era?

William Zinsser (one of my favorite writing mentors) reminds us that, “Until that decade memoir writers drew a veil over their most shameful experiences and thoughts; certain civilities were still agreed on by society. Then talk shows came into their own and shame went out the window.”

It was an era, he says, when “no remembered episode was too squalid, no family too dysfunctional, to be trotted out for the titillation of the masses.”

Memoirists, like talk shows, disclosed shocking information, indulged in self-pity, and sought revenge from those who wronged them.

“Writing was out and whining was in,” says Zinsser.

But, he points out, those types of memoirs didn’t stand the test of time.

“The memoirs we do remember from the 1990s are … Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, and Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life.” (from “How To Write A Memoir” in The American Scholar; emphasis  mine)  

 “If these books by McCourt, Hamill, Karr, and Wolff represent the new memoir at its best, it’s because they were written with love. They elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness, arriving at a larger truth about families in various stages of brokenness. There’s no self-pity, no whining, no hunger for revengeWe are not victims, they want us to know.” (Zinsser’s Inventing the Truth; emphasis mine)

Their stories’ message: “We come from a tribe of fallible people and we have survived without resentment to get on with our lives.”

He counsels memoirists: “Don’t use your memoir to air old grievances and to settle old scores; get rid of that anger somewhere else.” (from “How To Write A Memoir” in The American Scholar; emphasis mine) 

That somewhere else could be a journal or a fictionalized version of the story. Or it could be in a first draft. Dr. Linda Joy Myers says, "Write your first draft as a healing draft. Get out what you need to say. Make it bold and real. Then stand back and think about how you want to revise it for publication." (from Will My Family Get Angry About My Memoir?; emphasis mine)

The important thing is to vent, to deal with the problem, to find healing and forgiveness and closure. Just don’t seek revenge in memoir.

There’s another reason to avoid seeking revenge in memoirs. Cecil Murphey and Twila Belk said well it on Facebook a few days ago: “Whenever I condemn others, I am condemning myself. Whenever I judge others, I give God permission to judge me.”

Jesus said it this way, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?… Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye.…” (Matthew 7:1-5, NLT)

I suspect that’s what Thomas à Kempis had in mind when he wrote, “We are too quick to resent and feel what we suffer from others, but fail to consider how much others suffer from us. Whoever considers his own defects fully and honestly will find no reason to judge others harshly.”

Yep, nobody’s perfect. Each of us has failures and shortcomings.

So, have we asked God’s forgiveness? And then have we forgiven ourselves? (Read more at How do you deal with this elephant in the room?)

In writing our memoirs, let’s extend to others the same forgiveness, grace, and mercy God has extended to us. (Read more at How do you write about your family’s baggage?)   

Zinsser, with grace, encourages us to strive for the best goal: to do all we need to do to “elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness.”

And isn’t that what “singing a new song” is all about? (Psalm 40:1-3, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 149:1, Isaiah 42:10)

And why should we sing a new song? Because God says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)

And He says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

How can we not sing a new song in praise of the new things God has done in and for us? How can we not sing a new song after God has turned our harsh wilderness into a lush place?

Yes, sing a new song!

And isn’t that one of the most important elements of memoir? Memoir is about the old you and the new you, and how you got there, and what you learned along the way.

“The main character … —in a memoir it’s you!—is changed significantly by events, actions, decisions, and epiphanies,” writes Dr. Linda Joy Myers. “The growth and change of the main character is imperative in any story, and is the primary reason a memoir is written—to show the arc of character change from beginning to end.”

So, write about the old you, write about the new you, write about how you got there, and what you learned. 

Sing a new song

Elevate the pain of the past with forgiveness.”

Related posts: