The book about memoirs that convinced me to write my own story, was Adair Lara’s book, Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay. Here’s some of what I learned from her.
1. Purpose of the memoir
Although I’d heard it before, that the memoir is a kind of map we offer to offers to light their way on a path we’ve already trod, she said it differently (Chapter 1). Memoirs bring us together in a way that other books don’t. Lara described the relationship between writer and reader as friendship and sharing. She showed how baring our soul with the “honesty that stops an argument” is good for both of us:
“…writing about yourself is like stripping down to your Bali bra in a crowd so that others can see the stretch marks on your belly (and be reassured about their own.”
2. Choosing what to write about
Using the example of an essay (Chapter 2), her book guided me to focus on the one thing I wanted communicate instead of spraying unrelated he said/she said details for 400 pages.
In my own writing, choosing that one thing took more than a month of sample drafts. When I finally found it, selecting what to put in and what to leave out became easier and I was able to begin organizing an overall story that began to be interesting, even to me.
“Writing about your life can be like clearing a choked up waterway: you hack and tug until the water trickles through.”
3. Finding the story arc
Yes, it’s true! Every story works better when the main character has a problem, tries all these things to get what he wants, stumbles and fails, but ultimately learns about or becomes what he needs to be so the problem can be solved.
“A memoir is a book-length story of how you desperately wanted something, how you went about getting it, and what you found out about yourself along the way.”
Lara gives clear examples about developing a story, even a fill-in-the-blank essay that helped me see where my story was going, what to put in and what to leave out.
4. Victim? or hero?
If we’re still “in it” we might not be ready to write our story. I waited almost thirty years to tell mine and what I noticed was how differently I saw it because my perspective had changed as I did.
“A good memoir is not about the painful blow that life unfairly dealt you. It’s about what happened next. It’s about how human beings change under pressure, not about the bad things that can happen to people. That we can get from the evening news.”
5. Planning Your Memoir
In this densely-packed chapter, Lara cautions the reader that “A memoir means at least a year of typing and retyping and printing and eating Cheerios out of the box and skipping parties.”
Because the author has to figure out if the idea will work, determine whether or not their story is finished enough to tell it, create a plan that will tell the story, and collect necessary skills to do the job right.
Do you know how to use reflective voice? Have you done the research required to set the stage? Can you plot your desire line (story arc)? Do you know the difference between narration and scene and how to write each?
If not, Chapters 10-12 can help!
What I learned from writing my story was that it was so much harder to do than I imagined it would be. I thought I could just breeze through her book and apply it to my process. Yes, and…now I totally understand and appreciate the need to have writing buddies who comment on their work. I’ve learned a lot about the process of writing a memoir that I didn’t know before, but the biggest thing I learned was that I still have so much more to learn!
Till next time, be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi
If you want to tell your story but believe you aren’t a writer, or don’t know how to get started, consider this: Click Here.