Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tips to help you write your memoir

If you’re reading this, you’re probably writing a memoir—or you want to write a memoir.

Be encouraged. Your words are important. Your story is important. Others need to know your story. Believe it.

Henri Nouwen says it this way:

“When . . . the lived human experience . . . 
becomes word, community can develop. 
When we say, 'Let me tell you what we saw. 
Come and listen to what we did. 
Sit down and let me tell you what happened to us. 
Wait until you hear whom we met,' 
we call people together 
and make our lives into lives for others. 
The word brings us together and calls us into community.” 
(Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey)

We need each other, right? Community is a blessing. God-designed. Your memoir can create a much-needed community, of one type or another.

Will Boast wanted to write a memoir—at least eventually he did, after trying to force his story into a novel.

Eight years in the making, he finally published his memoir, Epilogue, a book on my must-read list.

Will learned lessons along the way, and he wants to pass them on to you—and, don’t you long to know more about how to write your story? I hope so!

In his blog post, 5 Tips for Writing a Memoir (be sure to click on that link), Will shares the following. (I’ve included only snippets; be sure to read his entire post.)

If fiction is the art of invention, memoir is the art of selection and arrangement. Will writes, “. . . It took me a year, at least, before I stopped suffocating under all the stuff that goes into a memoir and started to find, among the debris, the struts and beams that would form the structure of the story.”

Memoir is the most flexible of forms, out of necessity. “Life rarely, if ever, bothers to present us with a tidy series of events that, with a steadily increasing sense of tension and/or mystery, suddenly resolves into understanding, triumph, release, etc. . . . It’s the memoirist’s task,” Will says, “to create connections—emotional, thematic—between episodes.”

Sympathy is perhaps the trickiest thing to manage in memoir. “There are two sorts of memoirs I really can’t stand: those that make the writer out to be heroic and perfect, and those that make him out to be tragic and debased,” Will says.

Memory is mysterious and fallible, but not as much as we fear. “A memoir aspires to be a recreation of events, not a transcript, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get very close to the truth indeed.”

Memoirs, unlike novels, don’t end. “. . . This most self-aware, self-reflexive of forms [memoir] keeps on commenting on itself, attaching new codas and footnotes to each chapter, and subtly re-writing the words you’ve labored so hard to make definitive.”

Be sure to read the entirety of Will’s post, 5 Tips for Writing a Memoir. It will take only a few minutes. Also check out his memoir, Epilogue.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

“A time to be born and a time to die”

One dear lady gasped in horror when I said,

In writing your memoir, teach your readers how to live,
but do more than that: Teach them how to die.

I was leading a memoir class and the lady apparently thought I meant we should teach readers how to commit suicide. No, no, no! That’s not what I meant!

I was thinking along these lines:

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die. . . .”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)

In retrospect I should have said:

Write stories that show readers how to live well and,
when their time comes, how to die well.

Most of us feel uncomfortable discussing dying and death. Diana Trautwein writes of the “sinking queasiness, this revelation and recognition that death is an unavoidable part of life. . . .”

In her blog post, Reflections of Mortality and Holy Week, Diana addresses the fact that “death happens everywhere. We are surrounded by it, entangled by it,” yet “we cover it up, tuck it away, move it aside.”

Yes, the experiences of death and dying remain elusive and mysterious and can be scary, especially for young people, so let’s explore the topic in our memoirs—for the benefit of both ourselves and our readers.

The following, by Max Lucado, will stir up new considerations for you:

“You, as all God’s children, live one final breath from your own funeral. Which, from God’s perspective, is nothing to grieve. He responds to these grave facts with this news: ‘The day you die is better than the day you were born’ (Ecclesiastes 7:1). 
“Now there is a twist. Heaven enjoys a maternity-ward reaction to funerals. Angels watch body burials the same way grandparents monitor delivery-room doors. ‘He’ll be coming through any minute!’ They can’t wait to see their new arrival. While we’re driving hearses and wearing black, they’re hanging pink and blue streamers and passing out cigars. . . .” (Max Lucado, “When Death Becomes Birth,” from Come Thirsty)

If you’re not afraid to die, write a vignette explaining why.

“ . . . Someday God will wipe away your tears. The same hands that stretched the heavens will touch your cheeks. The same hands that formed the mountains will caress your face. . . .” (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven)

At the end of your time on earth, what will it be like to stand before God face to face, one on one?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

For years I’ve asked myself, “What will it be like, face to face with God, the Almighty, the Creator, knowing Him fully even as He knows me?

I envision the scene: I am surrounded by His blinding-brilliant glory—and I am speechless.

I imagine I’ll fall on my face, sobbing in worship and wonder and gratitude.

What about you? What do you envision?

What stories can you write 
to help readers ponder life and death 
and God and heaven? 
What stories will show readers how to live well and, 
when their time on earth draws to an end, 
how to die well?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

About getting life right, about messing it up

Your stories can help others deal with success and with failure.

That means it’s important to write about getting life right and messing it up, about succeeding and falling short.

You can’t go back and undo bad decisions and failures but, if you’re wise, you’ve learned from them and made positive changes.

And, here’s a bonus: If you share your stories, maybe kids, grandkids, great-grands, and other readers won’t make the same mistakes you did.

Someone on Facebook asked, “What do you regret?” The question got some lighthearted and groan-worthy replies:

  • cooking with margarine
  • using artificial sweeteners
  • that perm I got in the ‘70s
  • that orange bodysuit
  • EVERYTHING about high school
  • Reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and thinking it was profound

NOTE: When you write about the hard stuff, the ugly stuff, it’s good—valuable—recommended—to include upbeat stuff, too—maybe even a little humor. Make ‘em laugh (click on that link). Humor connects people. It endears you to your readers and makes them keep reading.

That’s important.

But if humor isn’t appropriate, give readers something a little positive—something that will give them a smile or that will tug at their hearts, maybe something charming. Give them occasional relief from the painful stuff.

So include something positive in your vignettes. (Don’t miss Like a sneak attack; it’s one of the most powerful techniques a memoirist can use.)

What do you regret?

Maybe you lament:
  • getting into a bad habit or addiction,
  • losing contact with a friend or relative,
  • not saying “I love you” often enough,
  • spending too much time with your career/cell phone/computer and not enough time with your children and spouse,
  • family feuds,
  • telling a lie,
  • cheating.

One of my biggest regrets is walking around a dying refugee on a sidewalk in Nairobi, Kenya. I pretended to ignore her. How could I have been so cold-hearted? I still reel over the long list of other ways I have failed.

Ah, such things hurt, don’t they? Sometimes regrets can endure for years. But I have good news.

One of the beauties of writing memoir is the pondering, examining, and reflecting it requires. The process can prompt us to ask God and others for forgiveness and then turn our lives in a different direction.

And here’s what’s just staggering:

“That God still chooses to use us 
flawed human beings
is both astonishing and encouraging.”
Richard Stearns, World Vision

Yes, God can and does use us, flawed as we are: By telling our stories, those who come after us can learn from our mistakes and gain wisdom for living life well—but that means you must tell your stories.

So, what do you regret?

What was God doing in the event, as you see it now, in retrospect?

What deeper lessons did God have for you in the experience?

What did you learn about yourself?

What did you learn about God?

How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

What stories can you write about doing things differently in the future? About getting a second chance? About making a new start?

Write your stories!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Resources to get you fired up and ready to write

If you’re new to writing (or even if you’re not), or if you’re struggling to finish your memoir, a recent post at Rhonda Douglas’s blog, "10 Current Writing Blogs to Help Writers Grow in 2019," offers resources that are sure to get you fired up and ready to write.

Guest poster Michelle Bonga, a student at Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program, lists and describes the focus of blogs to help writers like you and me. Her post is entitled "Best Writing Blogs, For New or Not-So New Writers." I guess that means they’re for all of us, right?

Michelle writes, “Each of the following blogs offers their own takes on the writing process, and even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, I guarantee that you will find some great ideas to consider. With the wide world of the Internet at your fingertips, your writing will be as fluid as a violin concerto.”

Note: Some of the blogs she lists are for those who write fiction, but keep in mind that most good tips pertain to both fiction and nonfiction (like memoir).

I follow some of the blogs Michelle lists and know you’ll find them helpful and inspirational.

Continue reading by clicking here: "Best Writing Blogs, For New or Not-So New Writers."