Trains take me back to grade school, evoking the fondest of memories, like this one.
My friend Wayne and I paused in our play in the woods during summer vacation. We waited for the dusty, black engine to emerge from the heat haze around the feed mill on the edge of our village. The slight curve of the train’s coal cars behind it cut a path beyond the trees. We sprinted to get a closer look and then stopped in our tracks, observing the slow, rhythmic bursts of the steam engine pulling toward us from the east. To us, the Pennsylvania Railroad train was more than a space on the Monopoly board.
Other snapshots of train travel spring from my memory, all seeming in the present tense:
- My Aunt Ruthie Longenecker takes my sisters and me to Philadelphia, my first recollection of a train trip. I feel the rocking motion of the Pennsylvania Railroad train car we occupy, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, and the prize of the big city zoo at the end of the trip: lions and tigers and elephants, oh my!
- When I pick plump, red raspberries with Grandma Longenecker, I hear the train’s clatter-clack over segments of track speeding from Lancaster to Harrisburg. With our round aluminum kettles laden with berries and handles that cut into the palms of our hands, we stand just 50 yards from the track, gazing in awe and feeling the vibration of the passing train through our shoes.
- I travel with Aunt Ruthie to Temple University, taking the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia. We feel the rocking rhythm of the train when it slows and stops as the conductor calls out “Coatesville, Downingtown, Paoli” before we reach our destination at the 30th street station in Philly.
The train trip from Lancaster to Philadelphia was not an express train. It made 5-6 stops on the 80-mile route from the countryside of Pennsylvania to the big city. By fits and starts, we made the journey in time for our 9:00 a.m. classes at Temple University. Same on the return trip. Slowing down and starting up again got us to and from our destination. All in good time.
It strikes me that writing novels, memoirs or other non-fiction is much like train travel. Lots of pausing, stopping, but sometimes even joyfully going full throttle through the countryside. The most important part of the plan: Staying on track. Here’s how I followed my unique route, writing my memoir, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl:
Memoir Lesson 1 Be prepared to spend at least a year to complete your memoir. Mine took five. Simply put: It takes as long as it takes. Writing is certainly rewarding, but learning a new skill (as I did) can be hard. I had done plenty of writing as an academic, but switching to a new genre like memoir required a totally different skillset. I took two family history writing classes to prepare. You? Start somewhere. Doodle or write poetry. Write prose in a journal. Begin a blog.
Memoir Lesson 2 A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography. Ask yourself some serious questions: What part of your life will you depict–-scenes from your childhood, a traumatic experience, a thrilling adventure like sailing around the world? Can you sketch out this “slice of life” in a series of memorable moments? Write an outline? Scribble random thoughts on colored sticky notes? Draw turning points on a timeline?
Memoir Lesson 3 What is your theme? If it’s success after a failed first marriage, that controlling idea will be the filter through which you tell your story. Flashbacks can add dimension to writing, but only if these stories connect to your theme. I enjoy cooking, but I don’t open up the spice cabinet or pull down everything from my dry ingredients’ shelves and dump them into the bowl. I have to be selective. Just so, you can’t tell every story that happened in your life. Select scenes to fit your theme.
Memoir Lesson 4 Memoir writing, like fiction, requires a series of steps. Here are a few: writing multiple drafts, revising, revising (Did I say revising?), and deciding whether you want to pursue traditional publishing or independent publishing. If you self-publish, as I did, I had to find beta readers for early drafts (often author friends with whom I reciprocated the favor), searched for a developmental editor or two, copyeditor and proofreader. A helpful tip: I looked on the acknowledgements page of authors whose books I admired and found one wonderful editor there.
Memoir Lesson 5 Super important: Read what you’ve written aloud occasionally. Your ear is better than your eye at detecting garbled language, especially with multiple edits.
Train trips engage the senses. Invite your readers to be your seat mate on the ride. Help them escape into your world. Slow down the narrative as you let them see the view from the window. Help them feel the rocking motion as the train speeds along. Let them hear the sound of wheels on the rails. Listen to strangers carry on conversations around you: Making unobtrusive notes may help you write realistic dialogue later on.
Memoir Lesson 6 Plan for publication. I began blogging six years before my book hit the shelves. It’s never too early to establish yourself as a writer. From the beginning, my blog posts appeared on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram has been also a great place to share fun stuff. Personal relationships too are very important and so rewarding. I found rekindled friendships and connections to author friends invaluable as I organized my book launch and marketing.
Memoir Lesson 7 Take breaks. The train to Philadelphia made frequent tops. At some of the stops, I got up from my seat, went to the restroom, or walked up and down the aisle. Sometimes en route, I stopped reading my textbook and just gazed out of the train window. I enjoy reading, so sometimes my break was reading an entertaining book. Like the cadence of clack-clack on train tracks, the rhythm of someone else’s words refreshed my mind.
And finally, “Celebrate!” Be sure to party along the way, not just when you hold that newly minted book in your hands, but other times too: Finishing your first draft, receiving a compliment from an early reader, picking a title, approving your cover design. Enjoy the entire ride!
This post first appeared on Happiness Between Tales by DA-AL.
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As promised, here is the answer key to Carolyn’s quiz appearing in last week’s post:
1d 2a 3e 4c 5b
Any memories of train travel in your past? Prospects in your future?
As a writer or reader, what other metaphors for the writing process come to mind?
Good morning, Marian! These are great tips for people who are thinking of writing a memoir (and more generally, for any writing project).
I’ve taken the train from Harrisburg to 30th St. Station. Years ago when I was doing research at the state archives, I stayed with some friends for a few days. They lived just across the river from Harrisburg, but worked in Harrisburg. I took the train back to Philadelphia, and at Lancaster saw people in “plain” clothing get on/off the train.
I remember our first train ride upon arriving in China the summer of 1988. We were accompanied by our two hosts, Mr. Zai, the Chairman of the Foreign Languages department, who spoke English, and Mr. Wang, our Foreign Affairs contact, who spoke no English. We were traveling in a soft sleeper compartment with two bunk style beds on each side of the compartment. Faythe and Justin had the bottom bunk, Blake and I had the top. Across from us, our two Chinese hosts slept. The thirty-six hour ride was a smoke filled adventure.
Although we didn’t smoke, we must have inhaled enough smoke during that thirty-six hour ride to permanently scar our lungs. In spite of the smoke, Mr. Zai and Mr. Wang were very kind to us. As the train made a stop somewhere north of Beijing that first day, they got off the train and bought a whole cooked chicken from one of the vendors on the platform. Upon returning to our compartment, Mr. Zai proceeded to strip the chicken of all the meat which he gave to us. He and Mr. Wang happily ate the head, comb, and feet while we feasted on the tasty meat. Little did we realize at the time that they got the delicacies, we had the leftovers. That was just one of many surprises that came our way that first year of life in China…wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything!
Howard, I can hear your voice telling this story, and I imagine as you tapped out these words, images from long ago flooded your mind.
You and Faythe have priceless memories of your years in China, and your boys have experienced a vastly different culture while still in their formative years–how wonderful!
I would have been happy to eat the tasty meat and leave the head, the comb, and feet to your hosts. The Pa Deutsch have their own version of this: pig’s feet jelly. I wonder if you have ever eaten that.
Thanks for sharing this great info; we’re looking forward to your regaling us with other stories in February. 😀
Never had pig’s feet jelly…sounds about as good as chicken feet!
Merril, in those days you probably never dreamed you’d befriend a plain girl online one day and read her memoir even after she turned “fancy.” Thanks for the encouraging words and the glimpse into your early life as a scholar. 😀
You’re right, Marian! 😀
Love love the memoir tips. I should have read those before I submitted my draft to the publisher. 🙂 Really good insight and advice there.
Your train recollections remind me of what I think was my first train trip. I had a wonderful aunt too (well, many) but Aunt Susie was special because of how she had an adventurous soul and didn’t mind taking charge of me and my sisters for a couple days in Chicago. We went by train from Elkhart to Chicago to help out at at Women’s Home for indigent women and families, which was her passion for many years. She also took us for a ride on the L train in Chicago to get a broader view of the whole city.
Like Merril above, your story reminds me of a visit to Temple University (can’t remember how we traveled, sorry) but I had a friend who studied for a year at Temple while she was also enrolled at EMC. She invited me and another friend to visit her in the city and it was so exciting. I still love cities!
Your Aunt Susie sounds very much like our Aunt Ruthie, adventurous with a “take charge” attitude. I imagine she may have wanted you to develop compassion too as you saw first hand the plight of indigent women and children.
When our children lived in Chicago we rode the “L” as well and took in the wonderful architecture reflected in the lake. I remember that the city leaders must have been environmentally attuned: lots of trees in the media on Michigan Avenue and green spaces elsewhere.
I can’t say I love cities although they have a lot to offer. Our city is expanding southward, so we contend with lots of traffic even in the suburbs. Thanks for your enthusiastic response here, Melodie. 😀
Hi Marian – this is a great analogy and I think you’ve provided excellent tips for writing a memoir, especially the advice that it’s a slice of life, not a biography and that a theme is important. Train travel is a unique way to get to your destination, because of the stops and what’s through the window. I traveled by train a lot when I was younger and my first memory was when I was in Kindergarten and my mother was a class mom on a train trip to NYC. The fact that she did that amazes me because we had to take the train to Hoboken then a path train to NY, a mom and a bunch of 5-yr-olds. I don’t remember if she was nervous. I only remember the seats and how I liked that they faced each other. 🙂
That kindergarten teacher and your mom were apparently trailblazers. No way would I take a bunch of 5-year-olds on a train to New York City. Although the teacher had help via class moms, she was very brave. Nevertheless, you received an unforgettable experience. I can picture the seats.
Thanks for sharing your story here, Barbara! 😀
It’s funny because my mom wasn’t exactly brave about doing that kind of thing, but as you said, she had help. I was a chaperone for a class trip to NYC when my son was in 6th grade. What an ordeal! Another mom and I were in charge of 8 boys – you should have seen us navigating the city and of course, none of the boys wanted to go in the same direction. I was so glad to get home!
I don’t recall taking any train trips as a kid. My memories are of freight trains, which I always liked. I did ride the Acela into Manhattan for a meeting a few years back, with my nose to my laptop, working. I’ve always wanted to ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway, which my husband and I may do at some point in the far distant future.
You have certainly piqued my interest, Liz. I just had to see what a cog railway looked like, so I checked the website: https://www.visitwhitemountains.com/listing/mt-washington-cog-railway/13/
New Hampshire is a beautiful state with the White Mountains. When I was in grade school I remember reading a story about The Great Stone Face. It has stuck with me. Thanks for helping me tap in to this memory. ;-D
You’re welcome, Marian. “The Great Stone Face” was a Hawthorne story, I think? Sadly, the Old Man of the Mountain fell off the mountain in 2003. It still pains me to drive through Franconia Notch.
You’re right. I can see the pen and ink drawing of the Old Man of the Mountain on the page in the Hawthorne story. While I’m sorry that this site is no longer a tourist attraction, it seems sad that a chunk of history has gone with it. :-/
It is sad. We all thought he would be with us forever.
Great tips and metaphor, Marian!
My mother said our family went on train trips to the northeast when I was a baby. No memory of those excursions! 😊 But I used to commute an hour by train for work or jury duty.
I usually think of the hero’s journey whenever I write anything since that is the story structure I usually follow.
You are a writer and editor through and through, L. Marie. Yes, the hero’s journey is a more descriptive way to refer to the narrative arc, which I’m trying to find in my next project.
I wonder if you enjoyed the train commute years ago. I guess it makes a difference if it’s for work or for pleasure. Thanks, as always, for joining the conversation! 😀
The reminds me of the day when three of us were having lunch at a local establishment and the ground began to rumble and the whistle sounded it’s blast and with exuberance and excitement, you shouted, ‘here comes the train,’ at which time I thought you had an out of body experience. With phone in hand, you began to record the moving train. Such a pleasure to see such joy and elation expressed in the simple things of life. You are a treasure Marian Beaman.
Train travel has such happy memories. I often took the train from Elizabethtown to Paoli and to the 30th Street Station where my father would meet me. Happy memories of so long ago……….Wonder how many trains from Etown to Philly are running today?
Jack, your wondering made me curious too, so I checked Amtrak for Elizabethtown, PA and found this: https://www.amtrak.com/stations/elt
We traveled a similar route in the old days: yours to meet your dad and mine to take courses at Temple. I took two, dropped one, and deferred graduate school until I moved to Florida. Always good to hear from you. 😀
Thank you, Marian, for this memory!\
Carolyn, I remember the event vividly. While I don’t remember observing the whooshing train as an out-of-body experience, two trains of thought played in my mind simultaneously: the immediate sensation of a train running so close to the restaurant property + the memory of watching the Amtrak by Grandma’s house when I was a child.
Thanks for sharing a not-too-distant memory, one I’ll always treasure! 😀
I took that same train from Harrisburg to E-town when I was in nursing school. I know it was really cheap, maybe $2.50, but too long ago to remember!
Oh, Carol, you have joined Jack Weiser and me in recalling that familiar route. We’d probably have to put one or two zeros beside the ticket cost these days. Ha!
Great advice and great train memories, Marian. My memoir took two years to write and so did my new book The Mindful Grandparent, coming out in May. The process itself was sometimes painful, but each step contributed to the whole. I actually combined memoir and train trips by going by train across the country on book tour. That was wonderful good fun. 🙂
Pain is part of the writing process, but moments of clarity come–and then, the final product which makes it all worthwhile. You are one of the few people besides my Grandma L. who combines “wonderful good,” in a sentence. Thanks for the smile. 😀
Cliff and I have discussed taking a train trip; it would be lovely in the autumn.
Marian — I enjoyed reading the lessons that you learned. And your train analogy is spot on:
“Lots of pausing, stopping, but sometimes even joyfully going full throttle through the countryside. The most important part of the plan: Staying on track.”
You do an excellent job of staying on track, Laurie. The engineer knows the route, the conductor gives out treats, and the travelers are entertained with great window views, just like in your books! 😀
Oh yes I like the metaphor of trains and memoir writing. You do a GREAT job detailing the bumpy ride 🙂 full of stops and starts but some great scenery as we look out the window. I’ve taken many Amtrak train rides, particularly from Boston to Wilmington DE, where my mom lived. Unfortunately, I got motion sick if I tried to read, so I had to look out the window all 6 hours. Since I made the trip several times a year, I got to know the stops, the towns, the scenes before me quite well. Not a bad idea when memoir writing, either. Take a good long look inside the window of your soul. xo
Trains teach us rhythm, even if the ride proceeds by fits and starts. As in writing and in life. . .
I have mixed feelings about trains. The train that took us to the zoo, wonderful. The train to college classes, not so much! On one of our first trips abroad we used Eurail passes. Such fun, very efficient; besides European trains smell better – ha!
Thanks for all this, including the nudge to do some soul searching, Pam. 😀
Oh, you’re already a fabulous soul searcher, Marian. I learn from YOU.
Oh yes, those train memories! First of all the never ending trip from Montreal, Quebec to Calgary, Alberta (almost all across Canada) when we first arrived in Canada. Then the summer train trips my sister and I took to Calgary (the big city) from our small town. Then the trip I took on my own to a new province (Manitoba) after graduating from high school. Wow, I can see a common thread emerging here, Marian! Thank you so much for all the great tips on memoir writing. So helpful as I plan to begin my second memoir (my first: Ellie’s Story, written for my grandkids of which I had a limited number printed for friends and relatives—still a few available if anyone’s interested)!
I suspected that you had some grand train stories, Elfrieda. You’ve certainly threaded your way back and forth across Canada over the years. Yes, I am interested in a copy of Ellie’s Story. You can email me with details.
Did you know that Amazon has several books titled Ellie’s Story? Most of them are about dogs. Fortunately, titles cannot be copyrighted, a good thing. Thanks for the update here, and best wishes on your second memoir. 😀
A perfect analogy for writing a novel of any kind. The train ran right in front of our farm the first ten years of my life. We would sit on the veranda and count the grain cars for Dad. If there were lots of them, he would be pleased as it meant there was a market for his grain. I love taking the train and have taken the 5 hour train trip to Barcelona a few times.
Thanks for sharing the memories about trains from your Canadian farm days, Darlene. I don’t know about trains in Spain, but we had pleasant trips all over much of Europe with a Eurail pass decades ago. 😀
A writer friend of mine compares the writing journey to Joseph Campbell’s heroes journey. We have to make friends along the way to help us, and we have to slay some dragons!
I do subscribe to the idea that the hero’s journal has a natural progression. Somewhere on my bookshelves there is a copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I don’t know where, but I know that’s one book that survived the purge when we moved. Yes, I value the friends and mentors I’ve met along the way, and I’m sure we both have had to slay some dragons.
Good points, Arlene!
Great post and wonderful writing tips.
Oh, Joan, I’m happy to see you here. I picture you and Bill enjoying the beauty of winter snow, unless it has already turned to slush.
Thanks for the nod here, always appreciated. 😀
Hi Marian, thanks for the memoir tips and reminiscing about past train rides. I only rode twice from Detroit to Chicago and back when I was 12. I do remember ‘full speed ahead for a bit, then slow and stop’. This continued all the way. I kept wishing for a straight through shot that never occurred.
John, as a writer yourself, you know all about the stops and starts, fits and pauses of the writing life. It’s no express train, that’s for sure.
I hope your year is off to a good start. Thanks for tuning in today! 😀
I have train travelled only in writing, but the constant motion forward is certainly conductive of penning words in the sense that words affix themselves to paper in the same manner the wheels stick to the tracks. It is truly the constant motion, however, that has me fascinated!
Jaya, welcome to “plain and fancy” world. I like the idea of pen:paper as wheels:tracks. Brilliant! I also enjoyed visiting your website and noticed you aim to make a difference in the world with ink and spices. Thank you — and do visit again soon! 😀
LOVED the train video!!! Oh Marian – you had me with the word “Train.” A brilliant analogy for writing. I especially appreciated your thought “A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography.” When I recall past times, it is in slices of life, those moments when I experienced a clarity of vision, of new found meaning.
I boarded my train at The Pas, Manitoba. It took 11 hours to reach Lynn Lake, a distance of 200 miles. We stopped frequently and there were massive jolts along with the start up and stops. The train had many cars to carry the ore from the mine to outside markets.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Rebecca, thank you for sharing your vivid recollections here — and for including the lines by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Your ode to trains urged me to look up the whole poem, which I found here: https://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/travel/
Another thing I love about blogging: One comment sparks another. 😀
And those sparks light up our lives!! Sending hugs!
Marian, I have egg on my face! I had originally called my memoir “Ellie’s Story”, but then changed it to “Ellie’s World” before printing! I’ll have to check if Amazon has any books with that title!!
Authors can please themselves with choosing a title as book titles can not be copyrighted. I don’t think it matters what you title you book as long as you are pleased with it. Your book is unique and doesn’t rival any stories sold on Amazon. By the way, there is more than one book written by a Mennonite with “Daughter” in the title. No egg on your face, at all, Elfrieda! ((( )))
Marian, your descriptions of a train ride brought me back to many years ago when we took trains from Vicenza, the town we lived in, to places like Verona and Venice, Italy, and later from Hanau, Germany, to Frankfurt for work. Depending on the purpose of the trip, the rides had uniquely different flavors, much like the experiences one would include in a memoir. I love your memoir lessons, especially the tip to remember that a memoir is not a biography or autobiography, but slices of life. I very much enjoyed reading yours.
Patty, thanks for your positive points here and for expanding the train travel topic with your own experience. I think you come from a military family which has its benefits. And again, thank you for your lovely review of my memoir, so appreciated. 😀
Your train ride description definitely engage all the senses! Our longest train ride so far was in Alaska, to the White Pass Summit, which leaves you with such a wondrous impresson of the majesty and grandeur of nature. We planned, as part of our epic trip (which was cancelled due to the pandemic), to take a longer ride through the Canadian Rockies in the glass-domed train. One day… 🙂
We explored the Canadian Rockies by car. I remember the grandeur, scooting to the back seat so I wouldn’t miss the last glimpse of gorgeousness from the rear window. One day we’d like to take a train ride through the Canadian Rockies, as you describe. It would be glorious in autumn. Thanks again for visiting here and sharing you experience.
Fabulous metaphor and pun, Marian – to stay on track with the writing. 🙂 These are valuable lessons for any writer. Writing, editing, and publishing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. Although, I know quite a few sprinters who can pull of one or more books a year!
One of your steps I never did was celebrate. Yes, you encouraged me to do this after some of the milestones, but my personality doesn’t allow for that. I only celebrate when a task or goal is finished. And, in my memoir’s case, that was after five years, like you!
I enjoy train travel and have crossed this country (and Belgium and Australia) by train, in its (their) entire length. 🙂
I believe we are cut from the same cloth: nose to the grindstone until we are completely finished. But I do remember dancing a jig when my ARCs came out: a “real” book after reams and reams of manuscript paper. . . well, mostly digital. I even asked Cliff to record a short video then – ha! You have done very well with PLUNGE: steady sales and tons of good reviews. Considering that the average indie author sells only 250 books, you have done extremely well. (Insert pat on the back here.)
The trick is to avoid comparison. A sign on my bookshelf says, “The only writer you should compare yourself to is the writer you were yesterday.” Easier said that done, of course.
On another note: I hope you, Mark, and Maya are still exploring Baja California and enjoying it. It’s probably warmer than NE Florida right now. Cheers! 😀
I often hear people say that they don’t care for memoirs, but I find them fascinating. They’re like a puzzle, learning some of the steps along the way that influenced the author’s life.
I respect that you were so dedicated to your craft and took the necessary time to make your book the best it could be. I think sometimes people think more (meaning more books) is better, and that is often not the case when it comes to writing. As you said, academic writing is much different than writing a memoir. I’m finding the same thing with writing fiction—a whole different animal. Now I read books much differently, paying greater attention to the framework and craft. The learning curve is steep, but like your analogy of the train, I’m enjoying the ride.
Yes, I agree: Even the struggle has to be fun, meaning fully engaged and moving forward. I sense your struggle in mastering a new genre (and admire it) as I am trying to decipher meaning in diaries, making sense of the bits and pieces.
Writers often blog, so we can encourage each other in this space. Thanks for your encouragement here, Pete! I have to admit, hours spent writing keeps me out of mischief and monkey mind. . . mostly! 😀
Thanks Marian so much for this great post! Your analogy to the train trips was great – the stops and starts, the re-charging, getting off getting on, relaxing on the train (i’m clearly projecting here). I was reminded of how as a young adult I travelled by train from Somerset West to Cape Town and back again daily (about 35 kms) for work and the stops and starts along the way. Thank you for the steps showing your professionalism and dedication to your craft. It clearly paid off!
Thank you, Susan! I’m glad this post summoned memories of your own train travel. And as an author you can relate to the stops & starts of the journey that gets us to our destination. . . eventually!
You are kind to comment. Again, thanks! 😀
Marian, this is beautiful. I’m trying to imagine what time you got up in the morning to board a train that got you to classes by 9 am. Early! You were dedicated and disciplined from the start.
I loved train trips to St. Louis when I was a little girl and my family lived in central Missouri. It was at least 2 hours and maybe more, but there was always a sense of excitement and something new up ahead. My last frequent train trips were in Switzerland in the 1970s. I’d have to drive 1 1/2 – 2 hours to get to the closest Amtrak station now–and who’s traveling anyway?
I’m on the 5 year time line for writing a second book or maybe no time line at all other than to keep working on it most days and thinking about it every day. The best ideas seem to come when I feel hopeless–and they push me a little farther down the track. I thought I was almost there, but now I’m rewriting and creating a whole new structure. It will happen as long as I don’t get discouraged. I remember your colored sticky notes as you found the structure for ‘Mennonite Daughter.’ I love your many lessons and steps. The process can feel interminable, but if we keep taking those steps, we’ll get where we’re going. Warm wishes to you as we deal with the deep freeze in Western NY. It’s good writing and reading weather.
Full disclosure, Elaine. Aunt Ruthie was at the tail end of completing her Master’s degree on the Temple U. campus as I was just beginning mine at age 22 or so. I got up at 4:30 a.m. because I wanted to rise to her challenge. (Car to Lancaster, train from there to Philly, a subway ride, and then walk 11 blocks to Temple U.) And I did so for 6 weeks which almost did me in. I started with 2 courses, then pared down to one because I just couldn’t do it all: too early in the morning, strange environment, etc. I remember telling Grandma that I don’t have as much energy as Aunt Ruthie does and feeling bad because “I’m way younger than she is, so why can’t I do this!’ Her reply was along the lines of “She has more experience than you do, but it will come for you too.” I didn’t complete my graduate degree until my mid-40s.
I can totally relate to what you say here: “The best ideas seem to come when I feel hopeless” and this: “[I] keep working on it most days and thinking about it every day.” Pushing past the gremlins is the only way to make progress. Today I spent only 40 minutes, but it was 40 minutes, not zero.
Thanks for sharing your heart here. We writers have to stick together. ((( )))
Hi Marian, this is a splendid post. I love your comparison of your memoir writing journey to a train ride. Although I never travelled by train, they also played a role in my younger life. When I lived in Fishhoek, a small village in the Western Cape, for three months, we used to walk to the beach and had to cross the railway line. There was also a bridge near the beach you could stand under and hear the train rattling overhead. We used to love that. I loved the memories you shared.
I’m glad you enjoyed this, Robbie.
As a writer and poet, you are tuned into all the senses. Sensational: You again felt the reverberations of the train rattling along overhead, an auditory memory from long ago. Actually, I remember the train in the video passing above the arch too and took a photo of it once.
Instant gratification. Thank you! 😀
Good analogy about writing and train travel. It seems true to me. We travelled by train when I was a child. I have memories of it, both being fascinated and being bored by it. My parents loved it however. It was a stylish way to travel, and the train stations were dynamic places back then.
I judge trains by their destination. Thumbs up for the train that took my sisters and me to the Philadelphia Zoo as kids. Thumbs down for the train to Temple University, school work at both ends. When our kids were little our family of 4 went by train from JAX to Elizabethtown, PA, getting off at a tiny station in my old hometown. The kids could walk around during the trip, and no taking turns behind the wheel for the parents. (Sort of neutral on this one because once someone stole our stash of fresh-caught blue fish when we were snoozing.)
These days I’d like to see the Rockies in autumn aboard the Rockymountaineer, a luxury train with glass-dome coaches. we”ll see: https://www.rockymountaineer.com/
Maybe when the pandemic turns into “endemic,” or whatever next it becomes. Thanks for stopping by, Ally.
Would love to join you on that train ride. Sounds delightful!
We’d have a BLAST! :-O
Excellent tips for writing memoir Marian. And like you said, we write at our own pace, it’s not a race. I enjoyed your train memories. I haven’t been on very many trains but, you reminded me of when I was a young child my grandparent’s took me and my siblings to a small town by train, about a two hour car drive from the city. They were going to visit my grandmother’s sister, and my grandmother was afraid to drive in the car for that long – never trusting anyone, even her loving husband, at the wheel. I don’t think I could have been more than nine or ten. They were our weekend babysitters so I guess we got tagged along. 🙂 That’s the memory your question conjured. <3
You got into the rhythm of writing, rhyming pace and race. Sometimes I have to talk myself out of a negative mindset, realizing that “it takes as long as it takes” even though I’d like to move faster. You can probably relate.
Thanks, Debby, for sharing your childhood train memory, riding the rails with relatives. 😀
What a great post Marian. Your writing tips are extremely helpful and they all tie back to your memories and sensations and rhythms of trains. (I love how you could feel the vibrations through your shoes.) When I was young and living on my own in Chicago I took the “El” (short for elevated train) every day. I enjoyed staring out the window and having that peace before a crazy day at work started. I also listened to those conversations you reference. 🙂 As a writer, these are the moments that may inspire you.
Oh, how grand! We too rode the “El” (for fun) when our children lived in Chicago to begin new jobs and complete grad school. I agree that the lull of train rides could serve as”peace before a crazy day” at work. i’m glad this post resonated with you, Melanie. Thank you!
Marian, this is a great and useful post, I saved it for my own consumption when I will start (soon) a similar idea of memoirs. I don’t want to write a book on my life, just random moments of my life. I like the analogy of writing a memoir book with riding a train, great thoughts.
I’m glad you found this post helpful, Valentina.
A noble goal, a collection of vignettes! One of my author friends, Pamela S. Wight also a writing coach, has done something similar with her recent book, Flashes of Life. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Flashes-Life-Tales-Extraordinary-Ordinary/dp/1734573058/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2FS3YA6313JZF&keywords=flashes+of+life+pamela+s+wight&qid=1643251334&sprefix=Flashes+of+Life%2Caps%2C88&sr=8-1
Best wishes! ;-D
Thank you Marian for the link, I will check it out. Colorful regards,