Saturday, May 12, 2012

First Days of Memoir Writing

Yesterday was a long day at work, but not hard.  I spent the day doing a transfer of credit analysis here and there, proctoring a quiz for one of my faculty members for students who needed to take the quiz in a quiet, distraction-free place, and working here and there on projects.  My day was book-ended by lovely, deep conversations with friends.

Once it worried me that most of my friends are work friends.  But then it occured to me that most of my friends that I've kept in touch with through the years started out as work friends, if we expand the scope of the word "work" to include grad school.  And it makes sense.  After all, I spend more time with my co-workers than with just about anyone else.  I'm just happy that there are some kindred spirits where I work.

Yesterday morning, I met with one of my work friends who is also a writer friend.  We've been meeting every 4-6 weeks, stories in hand, for lunch and for writing discussion.  See what I mean about being lucky to have kindred spirits?

I agreed to meet yesterday if I could bring the first pages of my memoir rather than a short story.  She said yes.  I want to get back to writing the short stories for my linked collection; I have ideas that I don't want to lose.  But late April and early May was a time of travel (and recovering from travel) and paid writing project deadlines, so I knew I wouldn't be writing a short story.  But I had this vision for the beginning of my memoir, and I wanted to use our writing date as a spur to get it done before it got lost under the weight of e-mails and other minutiae.

I plan to document my memoir writing process here, in addition to my other types of writing.  It might be useful to others who want to write a memoir.  It might be interesting later, when I have the memoir published.  It will serve as a collection point for me, a place to put my thoughts about the memoir and notes for revision.

My memoir, you may or may not remember, will weave together the strands of my life that deal with living an authentic life, a spiritual life, a Christian life, while at the same time spending a majority of time in an office that isn't devoted to Christian spirituality.  I decided to start with the feast day of Epiphany and having to finish an assessment document.

My friend mentioned themes that she saw, the theme of travel/journey and the theme of bread.  She mentioned that the end of the chapter didn't work for her, because it's about the absence of a Christmas tree, the absence of light, which didn't fit with my Epiphany-inspired thoughts.

Intriguing!  Fixable!

And it's inspired me to think, right from the beginning, about images that I want to weave through the book, images that will undergird the theme.  How fabulous to have gotten that process underway at the beginning.

I must confess, at first I felt somewhat gobsmacked.  I thought, oh yeah, imagery and symbolism--I need to do that here too, not just in my fiction and poetry.  I spent a brief 30 seconds in self-loathing:  "How could I have forgotten about that?  I'm so stupid!"  Then I shut up that horrible side of myself and started to see all the possibilities.

How good it is to have writer friends on this journey.

We talked about my writer friend's story and whether or not it's a problem that it has no dialogue.  We agreed that it's not a problem, that she might have more problems if she tried to put in dialogue for her recent immigrant characters.

I've also been thinking about verb tense in the memoir.  I tend to write in the present tense.  I'd be interested to hear from readers about whether or not they find present tense verbs irritating.

One of the main things I wanted to know--would she keep reading the memoir, if she didn't know me, if she read these first few pages at her local bookstore.  She said she would.  Hurrah!

Right now what I'm doing is going back through my blogs and cutting and pasting relevant blog postings into one big manuscript.  Later, I'll read it through and see what to keep and what to cut.  Obviously, I want to write a book that's not just cutting and pasting of blog posts.  But it's a good place to start, a good route to a rough draft.

The writing of my pages for my writer friend was a good way of seeing how that process would work.  I was able to use  a sentence here or there from my blog posts, but for the most part, I was crafting something new, weaving together multiple strands and thoughts.

Let me also confess to being a bad reviser.  I produce a first draft, and I think, wow, it's better than I thought it would be.  And I feel like I'm done.  I don't want to think about how it could be better.  I want my friends to say, "Kristin, you're brilliant.  I can't see a thing you need to do with this piece."

Thank goodness my friends don't do that--because as I said the other day, I want to write works that will be intensely meaningful for people.  The gift of revision gives me multiple chances to do just that.


Kathleen said...

Congrats on beginning your memoir process! I'm so glad you have a supportive, straightforward writer friend at hand!

Beth said...

Kristin, congratulations! I too will be following along - it's a subject that, well, interests me a lot. And I'll be glad to offer encouragement when needed! Don't listen to those defeatist voices - it's just the ego, clamoring for attention and trying to distract you from that deeper authentic voice, as I'm sure you know.

Kristin said...

Thank you both for your support. It's good to know that the process is or can be interesting to others. I'm fascinated by creative processes, but I do know that not everyone is.