I’ve been writing memoir for 3 ½ years now, three more if you count years spent blogging snippets that have become memoir chapters.. Truthfully, I’m ready for this part of the process to end. And it will soon.
The Tricky Mind
Since 2015, I’ve taken memoir-writing courses and know the rules of this genre, but writers’ minds like mine take mental leaps, shortcuts, because we have lived the experience and know the details of our lives inside and out. Yet, if we don’t slow the narration down with sensory detail or dialogue, the reader may become confused or worse, bored.
Now my manuscript is in the hands of another professional editor, who reminds me:
- Show, don’t tell. If you felt awkward in a particular scene, show what that looks like. Replace the telling statement with a sensory reaction or a dialogue exchange.
NO: “I felt awkward,looking around for a partner.
YES: “My eyes darted around the four walls, looking for a partner.
- Insert takeaways for the reader. Broaden the lens of your writing to make your story universal. Enable readers to see your experience as their own.
For example: At the end of the chapter on my trip West:
We both [Joann and I] took snapshots of a world that was expanding far beyond the prayer veils circling our heads and the boundaries of our provincial county. Pointing my camera lens both outward—and inward, I held still one instant in time. I recognize now that time was moving rapidly forward, curiosity pulling me toward a life of adventure that I thought must be waiting, a life of beauty and enchantment. And mystery!
Until now I’ve used my computer to cut and paste passages that needed to be moved. But lately, I have performed major surgery. “You want to improve the flow,” my editor advised. Her suggestions made sense to me.
So, lines tumbled from chapter to prologue, from introduction into a new chapter. Wow! Folks, this process involved . . .
On the floor with scissors!
- I could have used an ironing board. It’s GONE, vanished with the move! Besides, I seldom iron anymore.
- I could have used the bar above the kitchen counter, but it was too far away from my writing studio
- I could have simply used my computer to cut & paste. However, that didn’t work in this case, the only time I stooped to surgically excise and replace manuscript parts.
Once I traded parts within a chapter, so the kitchen counter trick did work then:
Mary Karr says, “In memoir, the heart is the brain.”
I say: Writing memoir is like doing open-heart surgery on yourself . . . for years. If you write consistently, you know such labor takes a physical toll on the neck and shoulders. Arms and wrists, even.
Reckoning with the Mental
Your effort to turn your memories into a coherent whole is both a literary endeavor (you’re writing a book) and a psychological one (you’re reconstructing and repairing part of your own psyche). ~ Jerry Waxler
Varina Davis on Memoir writing
Varina, wife of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, speaking of his writing memoir: “I ask him how the great work has gone today, and he always gives the same answer—Incremental advancements. Which I tell him is the most any writer might to expect.” ~ Varina by Charles Frazier
A tautological twist on the writing process in general: “It takes as long as it takes.”
Taking a Break, Easing the physical toll
Without kicking back on the patio staring at the lake, I would have missed the visit of the ducks, decked out here in camouflage suits.
“A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to [sit] and stare! ~ W. H. Davies
I saw the Christopher Robin movie
Sean Thomas Dougherty offers one answer:
As a writer, can you relate to any steps in the revision/editing process?
As a reader, what aspects of editing surprised you?
Any other quotes to add? Bits of wisdom?