Writing memoir: it ain’t always pretty

March 26, 2011

So. I’m writing a memoir. It seemed like a good idea. In fact, it’s always seemed like a good idea, but now, even more so. My story’s too good.

Now that I no longer have a paying job and with all this time on my hands,
well, I can no longer avoid it.

In two months, my writing workshop begins. I need to have something done by then to “workshop.” Yes, it’s a verb: to workshop.
It means present for feedback from your workshop peers and leader.

So the other day I went up to San Francisco and met with my workshop leader. She’s great. And she gave me some character exercises to complete. For example: identify five major characters. Then identify characteristic sayings, gestures, actions etc. for each.

That’s just a little bit –there are 10 pages of exercises. And that’s just on “character.”

Here’s the deal: I’m a personal essayist. I write in the first person. It comes out of my head and my heart. My own head and my heart. And I wrap it all up in 2,000 words. Done. Neat and clean.

In my essays, I don’t worry about what others actually think.
Or want. Or concern myself with fully developing them as characters. It doesn’t matter.
The only thing that matters is what I think about the topic.

Oh, I do love the personal essay.

And I certainly do not actually INTERVIEW people. But that’s what I have to do now. I’m not even sure I want to know what the men in my past really think.
Or what they thought during the time we were together.

I’m pretty quick at essays, at least at getting down the basics from which I can edit like crazy.
And I’m pretty good at them, too.
But 50,000 to 100,000 words? That’s 25 to 50 essays.
But they’re not essays.
They’re chapters that must create an interesting narrative arc. As a whole.

And then, I have to make sure it’s good.
Because I will be damned if I write something that reads like a soap opera.
I need, as Adair Lara says, “a hot heart and a cold eye.”

And oh yeah, people will judge.
They judge everything. Someone today judged my
FACEBOOK posts. And that’s nothing, compared to
what I’m going to lay out on the page.
So there’s that.

We write memoir because we all suffer from the same disease:
the human condition.
“That which is most personal is most common,” Jung said
and it’s true. Memoirs are so popular because we relate to the
writer’s struggles, her flaws, her insecurities.
But the writer has to actually put them out there for readers to relate to.

It’s daunting. Intimidating. Hard.

But it’s also courageous.
A writer’s got to have a huge pair to do something this intimate.

Fact is that I’ve never much cared about judgment.
On anything.
Except my writing.
THAT I care about.

This is now my “job” and I am sweating bullets over it.

My way of dealing with it is to….do anything but.

Writing’s a funny thing. We writers are driven to do it.
But we’re afraid of it, too. Especially a memoir like this one,
which puts my vulnerabilities and insecurities on
the page for all to see.
It can be paralyzing.

So, dear friends: Talk to me. Encourage me.

And mostly, kick my ass.

Because I’ve got to do this.

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