Write It–Memoir: Revenge versus Telling a Higher Truth

Queen Anne tub, 1995
Photo from 1995: Taken by Liz Herlevi

I never thought I would write a memoir. For the most part, I find reading memoirs tedious as writers tend to include too many details and tell their story in a linear way. Many memoirists also seem to have barbs attached to their pens.

The reason why Eat, Pray, Love enjoyed success wasn’t because Liz Gilbert struck out to get revenge on her former husband or the lifestyle she was supposed to embrace. The memoir received worldwide attention because the author stripped herself bare while allowing raw, yet universal emotions to splatter on to the pages of her book. Gilbert also chose a non-linear structure for her memoir, even though her travelogue traveled from Italy, then India, and finally, Bali. Gilbert also tells her story in a self-effacing, humorous, and relatable voice–at least familiar to middle-class American women of a certain age.

But when I was wading through manuscripts on the defunct Authonomy website years ago, most of the memorists made several mistakes in my opinion. They used too many passive verbs, they regurgitated their lifestory instead of focusing on a slice of life, and they chose macabre topics without providing some brighter moments or comic relief. Some authors would have been better off hiring a ghost writer since their writing skills were rudimentary or told in a second language. And yet, an author learns a lot by critiquing other people’s work while also reading the top memoirs on the charts.

The main question for me revolves around baring one’s soul. How many sensitive topics or secrets do I reveal in my work? And am I revealing these secrets to tell a universal story or am I seeking revenge on a subconscious level? It helps to spend time in therapy while writing material with suffering rooted in childhood situations, as is the case with my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch. And the good news is that the writing process proved cathartic and I did bring up these deeper issues during therapy sessions. But I still ask myself if my story is universal or just too painful to share with others?

Determine whether or not you’re shooting from the hip or if sharing your story has the power to heal others.

  • Will telling your story divide a family or cause a rift with relatives?
  • Will your story withstand the scrutiny of critics (both professional and personal)?
  • Can you write your story in an entertaining manner where you laugh at yourself and reveal your vulnerabilities (shadows and projections)?
  • Do you take responsibility for your end of the story or act like a victim?
  • Do you discern the difference between events that serve the story and events that serve the ego?
  • Will telling your story land you in legal hot water or liberate you?
  • Does your story share an arc with fiction? Do you have a strong beginning, middle and resolution or is your story open-ended?

Writing memoirs rubs the conscious raw. Writing memoirs strips the soul bare. And not everyone wants to read about people’s personal history unless it strikes a common thread. And the most popular memoirs revolve around travel, food, love/romance, and animals. If you take a more universal approach by anchoring your story in one of those themes, you have a greater chance of hitting the literary jackpot.

My sister and I used to have a conversation where she believed that everyone has an interesting story to tell. But face it, not everyone is a storyteller. And while it’s enjoyable to sit with friends, colleauges, and family members as they spin nostalgic and revealing yarns, a memoir stretches those yarns to 300 pages, which causes some yarns to snap and break.

However, if a story has a strong beginning, middle, and end with an overarching universal theme, then it is worth telling. Just be willing to rewite the “truth” through several drafts. And then depending on the material in the story, muster the courage to weather any storms that come from secrets and situations contained in the memoir. Once we let the worms out of the can, it’s too late to put a lid on it.

I’m an author and astrologer who provides coaching for creative professionals. Go to Whole Astrology to sign up for a session.

 

Write It–Firing up the Memoir

DSCN5236My plan was to get started on my fifth novel last autumn, then life events sent me heading in the direction of a memoir. Now, I harbored misconceptions about writing memoirs which caused me to avoid them.  First, I thought I had to conjure bad memories and write them down in a narrative fashion.  And I thought that if I wanted to please readers that required a deeply disturbing confession of some kind… (archival article from Bonjour Bellingham)

Well, I since learned that writing memoirs does lead to gut-wrenching moments of rediscovery, but readers are more interested in a story they can relate to rather than a confessional.  Besides, I’ve never had a reason to hide in a closet and I’ve never worked in the sex industry nor am I the daughter of a controversial or famous person.  In fact, writing a memoir of any of my life stories seemed absurd to me, mainly because I find my life stories boring.  That was until last fall.

While it’s easy for me to remember events from the past months, I realize that digging back into the past requires jogging of memory.  Authors working on memoirs worry about accurate dialogue (isn’t going to happen unless you recorded your conversations) and portraying past events accurately, that is if they can even draw enough on memory to write a 200 to 300 page book. So I’m including some memory-triggering tips below.

  • Bring out the old photographs and photo albums from the time period of your memoir
  • Interview friends, family member, co-workers and colleagues involved in your story
  • Reread journal or diary entries from that period
  • Look up historic or media events from that period
  • Listen to music (extremely important for jogging memory) from the time of the events or situations featured in the memoir
  • Have a conversation with parents or close relatives about how they remember the event (this could prove healing too)
  • If the memoir involves illness or an accident, look up medical record notes
  • If the event was featured in the media, look up newspaper clippings or news audio clips
  • Look up current events from that time period
  • Visit a qualified hypnotherapist to trigger memories

Don’t worry if you’re story isn’t completely factual or accurate. The purpose of a memoir is to write from the author’s memory and perception of events.  It’s not the same as writing a autobiography or an article. Authors who feel that they roam too far away from the actual events (poetic license) add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book explaining this.

I read two books recently on writing memoirs which include: Paula Balzer’s Writing and Selling Your Memoir and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories which I recommend.  Paula’s book gives you the nuts and bolts while Bill’s book provides exercises (which I found cumbersome since I don’t like to stop the flow of a narrative to do an exercise). Writing memoir workshops are often offered at community colleges and writer conferences.

I’m an Intuitive Coach for artists and entrepreneurs.  Sign up for sessions at Metaphysics for Everyday Living.  I’m currently working on a memoir titled Woman Sleeping on the Couch (One Couch Away from a Real Home).

Write It–Jogging the Memory

DSCN3485My plan was to get started on my fifth novel last autumn, then life events sent me heading in the direction of a memoir. Now, I harbored misconceptions about writing memoirs which caused me to avoid them.  First, I thought I had to conjure bad memories and write them down in a narrative fashion.  And I thought that if I wanted to please readers that required a deeply disturbing confession of some kind…

Well, I since learned that writing memoirs does lead to gut-wrenching moments of rediscovery, but readers are more interested in a story they can relate to rather than a confessional.  Besides, I’ve never had a reason to hide in a closet and I’ve never worked in the sex industry nor am I the daughter of a controversial or famous person.  In fact, writing a memoir of any of my life stories seemed absurd to me, mainly because I find my life stories boring.  That was until last fall.

While it’s easy for me to remember events from the past months, I realize that digging back into the past requires jogging of memory.  Authors working on memoirs worry about accurate dialogue (isn’t going to happen unless you recorded your conversations) and portraying past events accurately, that is if they can even draw enough on memory to write a 200 to 300 page book. So I’m including some memory-triggering tips below.

  • Bring out the old photographs and photo albums from the time period of your memoir
  • Interview friends, family member, co-workers and colleagues involved in your story
  • Reread journal or diary entries from that period
  • Look up historic or media events from that period
  • Listen to music (extremely important for jogging memory) from the time of the events or situations featured in the memoir
  • Have a conversation with parents or close relatives about how they remember the event (this could prove healing too)
  • If the memoir involves illness or an accident, look up medical record notes
  • If the event was featured in the media, look up newspaper clippings or news audio clips
  • Look up current events from that time period
  • Visit a qualified hypnotherapist to trigger memories

Don’t worry if you’re story isn’t completely factual or accurate. The purpose of a memoir is to write from the author’s memory and perception of events.  It’s not the same as writing a autobiography or an article. Authors who feel that they roam too far away from the actual events (poetic license) add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book explaining this.

I read two books recently on writing memoirs which include: Paula Balzer’s Writing and Selling Your Memoir and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories which I recommend.  Paula’s book gives you the nuts and bolts while Bill’s book provides exercises (which I found cumbersome since I don’t like to stop the flow of a narrative to do an exercise). Writing memoir workshops are often offered at community colleges and writer conferences.

I’m an Intuitive Coach for artists and entrepreneurs.  Sign up for sessions at Metaphysics for Everyday Living.  I’m currently working on a memoir titled Woman Sleeping on the Couch (One Couch Away from a Real Home).

Photo and post by Patricia Herlevi copyright

 

 

Unintended Writer’s Sabbatical

DSCN9078

By now, I would have completed the edit for my 5th novel had things turned out differently. As it is, I’m wondering about writing a sequel to Woman Sleeping on a Couch (my memoir), but my current experience is less dramatic than my first, and actually in an odd way, pleasant.

Unfortunately, with all my bouncing around to temporary homes, I haven’t had time to write. Oddly, I completed the rough draft for Enter 5-D, an urban fantasy while I was staying at a temporary apartment in September. It’s funny because I wanted to go on a writer’s retreat and in a way I have, though without the writing.

I stayed in vacation cottages in Birch Bay, Washington and I went on a weekend meditation retreat at a Buddhist center near Mount Baker. And while I shouldn’task for patronage, I would love patrons to sign up with my Patreon page and pledge.

http://www.patreon.com/BelleAuthor Who knows, you might help me land in a permanent home too.

Holding Out for the Cinderella Ending

Queen Anne tub, 1995

I thought I had completed my memoir, Woman Sleeping on the Couch last spring, but with a recent turn-of-events, I still have one last chapter to write. And I’m hoping for a Cinderella type ending.

At the beginning of August, my landlord gave me 30 days to vacate my current home. This home was never meant to be permanent but a jumping off point to my dream home. I have dealt with spiders, mold, and other irritations for the past several months, but at the same time I was grateful to live in the Sunnyland neighborhood of Bellingham.

Given my experiences from last fall, mainly dealing with narcissists and their ensuing drama as I couch surfed, I went into panic mode at the beginning of August thinking that I would have to experience the in between home scenarios once again. But then something miraculous happened and a friend hooked me up with a channeled session, much like the Abraham-Hicks work and I began uncovering my blocks by transmuting fear and despair into anger that burned through all the lies I had been taught since childhood. I let go of defenses and allowed myself to dream big.

So with a few days left to manifest my dream home (something I hadn’t even considered prior to doing Louise Hay’s affirmations and this clearing work), I see myself walking into a counter intuitive situation and living in a beautiful home for free by exchanging creative services (interior decorating, photography, etc). It can be done and when this dream home manifests, I’ll complete my memoir and begin another round of pitches.