Memoir: real names?

I am working on turning several years worth of journals, which I wrote while living in remote parts of Alaska during the 1990s, into a book. Or maybe a series of books. A lot of detailed stories keep begging to be told, aside from the notes of daily life that differ from the average day in civilization.

One fact that I can’t hide in my writing is that I was not in a good relationship. I don’t want that to be the focus of the book, but it is a theme that cannot be denied as the stories unfold.

I am not out to make anyone look bad, though some people manage to do that themselves whether I talk about it or not, and they should have thought about their behaviour before acting that way around me, knowing that I like to write.

I think of these words from an author of whom I am not a fan but it’s a good quote:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” (Anne Lamotte in “Bird By Bird”)

Still, there are legalities.

There is also morality. Regardless of whether or not it is legal to mention people by their real name and use the real locations where they still live as part of the stories I experienced, I ask myself if I want to invite the possibility of curious people trying to find their home to see the places about which they read in my books.

Other things I could say, but they are best kept for talking to a lawyer before publishing.

Meanwhile, I found this article to be helpful: Memoir: Do I Use Their Real Names?

Hopefully, I’ve not done enough stupid stuff to end up in someone else’s book. Then again, isn’t all publicity good publicity?

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A Wordpress “Slug”

I opted to upgrade to the new setup WordPress has for us bloggers. I’m not sure if the page where we create our blog is called a “dashboard” now, or if it is something else, but whatever it is has got a new field called “Slug”.

I had to Google to find out what this slug meant. My, how words have exploded in meaning since Webster’s paperback dictionaries were some of my dearest companions.

So, the new meaning of a slug, at least here on WordPress, is a user-friendly URL for your post’s link, so it’s not a string of characters with the title of your blog entry possibly woven in.

Here is a link for a brief article on the WPBeginners page that describes it better:

WordPress “slug” meaning

That’s all. Happy Word Pressing!

 

 

Memoir Writing Tenses

It’s a little bit creepy how it turns out that things about which I had only been thinking but hadn’t yet uttered aloud or even typed to anyone happen to turn up as a topic in a notification on my Facebook. The following link is one of them:

Writers Digest article on memoir structure

In case the article disappears from view someday, I will copy it in its entirety here.

5 Things to Consider When Structuring Your Memoir
September 12, 2018
by Cheryl Suchors

For some writers, structure appears like a bridge in the mist; for others, like myself, there’s only the mist. Several ingredients can be used to create a structure, like that bridge, that works for your book. You may know the answers to the considerations below right away, or you may need to experiment and discover them through the writing itself. Either way, memoir structure is as crucial as structure in fiction and no good memoir will be able to stand tall without it.

Memoir Structure: 5 Things to Consider When You’re Writing a Memoir

1. Order of Events

In some memoirs, Without a Map by Meredith Hall for example, the chapters jump forward and backward in time. This adds an element of unpredictability that both challenges and engages the reader.

Most memoirs, however, tend to flow chronologically. That is, they run through events in the sequence in which they happened. But even a chronological memoir isn’t purely chronological since the narrator is now an adult filtering past experiences through the lens of a wiser, more mature person. This is part of what adds richness to the tale.

If you can avoid a mostly chronological structure, good for you. You’ll benefit from the inherent complexity. But if, like most memoirists, you are using a chronological structure, there are still several techniques to help you avoid the pitfall of “first this happened, then that happened,” an approach that drains the life and tension from a book.

I stuck to a chiefly chronological structure in 48 PEAKS, Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, while playing with various elements of structure to create movement and interest: storyboarding, sectioning, tense, and time.

2. Storyboarding

Basically, a book poses a central question or issue in the beginning and answers or resolves it, for good or ill, by the end. Storyboarding the rising and falling action that creates drama is a technique borrowed from film.

I learned how to use a storyboard to structure my memoir from Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here. (She also does a youtube explanation, embedded below, and offers a wonderful blog on writing at marycarrollmoore.com.)

Essentially, there are five key points: the triggering event that gets the action rolling down toward the second point, a conflict or complication that gets worked through to create a rising action; the third turn which sends the action spiraling downward to the fourth point, the lowest point of the book, from which the action ascends to the fifth point or conclusion. These five points shape, in effect, a capital W.

Figuring out these five points provides the skeleton of your memoir. From there, one decides what must happen between each pair of points or leg of the W.

I wrote my five key points onto five brightly colored sticky notes and stuck them in their appropriate spot, creating a large W on a big piece of white cardboard. Each scene or action I thought belonged in 48 PEAKS went onto a sticky note. I placed the stickies somewhere between a pair of points. I moved certain bits around to even things out or build tension. Sometimes I had to create scenes to improve the flow, or delete those that weren’t integral to the rest of the book. In either case, it was easier to come to these conclusions because I could literally see the cogs that made the wheel of my memoir turn.

Once you’ve settled on the right order for your storyboard, see if it makes sense for your manuscript to be divided into parts. Sectioning can be a way of supporting your reader through the material in a way that we’re all so used to it doesn’t intrude as it guides.

My manuscript, for example, fell into two parts as neatly as an apple cleaved in half. (Not that I planned it that way.) A main character in the first half, for reasons I won’t go into here, disappeared in the second half. And that disappearance created a certain thrust for the second part.

From a story point of view, the sectioning made sense. It also, frankly, made the material easier for me to work with, since I was manipulating one half of the book at a time. I did have to go back later on to ensure themes wove the two halves together, but sectioning made earlier drafts less arduous.

4. TENSE

In what tense will you write your memoir? Present tense has the benefit of intimacy and immediacy; simple past is familiar, virtually transparent to readers, and can be easier to sustain for a book-length project.

My early drafts were written completely in the present tense because it helped me, the writer, feel again what I transcribed. But I experimented with the simple past as well and liked both ways. I couldn’t decide which to do, until a developmental editor suggested putting the first half in the past tense and the second half in the present. This idea appealed to me because, as a reader, I sometimes found books sagged in their middles. Switching at that point to the present tense introduced a novelty and a speed that I hoped would keep readers turning the pages.

Changing tenses worked because I began the book with a prologue that took place four years after the start of the book in chapter one. I wrote the prologue in present tense to establish that year as the narrative present. In this way, the whole first half was past tense because it had happened earlier. The second half of the book returned to the narrative present and took off from there.

5. Time

Flashbacks are another way to play with time and break up the chronological line. They not only add depth to characters but also create tension as the reader must wait for the story to move onward. Flashbacks were a handy device, I found, when I didn’t want to resolve a situation too quickly but wanted the drama to build for awhile.

You can also use long sections of narration in the same manner as flashbacks, breaking up the forward motion of the book with, in effect, pauses to consider a point, a whole chunk of history, or a theme. I advise using this technique sparingly; too many pauses or digressions can merely aggravate readers.

If it makes sense for your story, one can also create flash forwards, though these are typically brief and have to be handled with care so as not to jolt the reader.

Conclusion

Finding the structure that fits and supports your memoir takes effort. If you’re going with a primarily chronological order, as most of us do, a slightly playful attitude allows you to experiment, to stretch and pull the inherent drama from your story like taffy.

Above all, be patient. Persevere. If you keep at it, the structure that uniquely suits your memoir will come to you through the mist.

Writing Without Cussing

If someone’s going to write a book, a play, or a movie – or even an internet post – they should produce it with proper dialogue and good words.

Creative words.

Don’t stick to the lameness of reality with its knee-jerk cussing.

Go out on a limb of higher verbiage.

There is time, when writing as opposed to speaking, to cultivate creative communication.

Exhaustion

That feeling of wanting to tell people about the things that are troubling you because maybe someone who is reading it can relate and not feel so alone themselves, or maybe someone could offer hope, but holding back the details because the echo of “who cares?” rings on in a mocking tone…

Knowing that few to no people read my blog, I am relatively safe to go with my first feeling and do some venting.

My blog here on WordPress is not like the dreaded Facebook where any one of 560 people might suddenly decide to post a rude comment to make themselves feel superior and knock me down a little further.

Why do I have such volatile people on my friend list in the first place? Well, they don’t show that side at first. It’s not until they get to know me more that they see things about me that they dislike and they feel safe to blast me.

Wow, does that ever sound familiar. That was the case with the ex. He seemed so nice at first. And he sure saw a lot about me that he disliked. I did him a favour and removed my reprehensible self from his presence, but he took it as an offense and did all he could do to punish me for leaving.

Of course, that is far in the past, yet he and his new wife retain an interest in keeping tabs on me. They find out about things I write on my Facebook timeline when it is set so supposedly only “friends” can read it. I don’t write anything I wouldn’t want to be read by them, but it is strange that they get my news without being on my friend list.

Apparently, someone on my friend list is an informant.

I must be important!

Sometimes I don’t feel like being so visible, so I retreat to another Facebook account that contains a smaller number of friends, none affiliated with the ex and co.

They all might read this, too.

I don’t care.

On an unrelated note, today I drank too much coffee. I had three cups. Normally, I have one or zero cups. It is late in the evening. I want to sleep but am too caffeinated, so I am writing here.

And today was emotionally exhausting.

That is all I will say about that.

I wish some really nice person would read this and message me with an offer to come take me to a cabin in the wilderness for free, telling me the only catch is that I produce at least 200 pages of my book draft before they will return to bring me home.

The really nice person could give me a day to pack. I’d bring my laptop, my journals, a toothbrush, toothpaste, some clothes, and some food.

The really nice person would come pick me up, drive me to the cabin, and then drive back to my house to care for my kids while I am gone. They would be a patient and loving soul, able to coach my family on the importance of initiative in doing chores, explaining to them how much it has been killing me to be the manager and executor of far more than a mother should do, and that if they don’t lighten her load considerably, her next departure will be permanent, as her strength will have expired and death will claim her.

I am tired. Maybe my mind will slow down and I can sleep.

Tomorrow might be better. Or worse. Who knows?

(And yeah… Who cares?)

Encouragement for Writing

The following is a comment written to me by my friend Chad in response to one of my blog posts (this one: Giving Up On Writing) . I found it so encouraging that I decided to put it in a document, highlighting a few points in Amazinga font, with the rest in Adobe Garamond Pro font, and to print it out and put it on my desk, so I can refer to it until it becomes ingrained. I also wanted to share it with others who might happen to find my blog. May it bless you as it has me.

“I felt like encouraging you to write at your leisure, and don’t let anybody dictate rules about that – not even you.

I’d suggest sitting down to write as often as you get the time, but notice that all I said was sit down to write I didn’t say actually write necessarily, nor create an obligation to write and then feel lousy if nothing happens.

I’ve received that same advice (with more detail) and it’s the closest thing I’ve done to being something enjoyable and productive. Notice again, that I didn’t say it was enjoyable and productive – just the closest thing to it that I’ve tried.

It’s enjoyable more often than not, though.

It’s also enjoyable more often than it’s productive, and that’s an important piece to ponder, should you desire to do so.

One hint I can give you is that when I sit down at my desk, I’m not creating a law to follow; about accomplishment of any kind. I’ve learned that that never is a positive experience and rarely if ever produces anything, positive or not.

But what I do, instead, is first, enjoy a tiny little pocket of orderor quiet, as it’s commonly known. It usually takes a while for my brain to reach a state that I can call quiet. But when it does I just give myself license to enjoy it.

With God.

Praying and writing are not things I separate very often.

Then I just decide that I’ll write or I won’t.

I ask God, but I don’t strain.

I just enjoy a moment with Him, and I let it go where it goes, and if I happen upon some part of that time that maybe could be written down, then I start.

Without expectations.

That’s the important part.

Peace is vital to the process, therefore laws and expectations are antithetical to it.

Since you do have a specific project in mind, maybe you can still just write whatever comes to you, and stay loose, and maybe you wander into your project, or maybe what you write spontaneously turns out to form an unexpected element of the main project? Or maybe it jars a memory loose that’s relevant to it, or maybe it inspires something unexpected… who knows? Not us, so why form expectations? It ruins the enjoyment, and it stifles creativity. It may never have anything to do with the book you’ve planned, but it may stand on its own as something you and others value for decades to come, and yet more, it may form the basis of a main project that you hadn’t previously even considered. But there’s only one way to find out what it’s going to be….

Prayer for me is a great way to enter the writing process, and writing is a great way to enjoy God. So I combine them, and I trust Him to lead the proceedings. And when I approach it that way, it’s much more peaceful and much more enjoyable, and more often fruitful – and in more than just one way. And if something is not enjoyable, and there’s no gun to your head, it’s not worth doing in large part because the fruit (product) won’t be as good as it will be if it were an immersive, transporting experience for you, to create it.

Well, that’s my opinion, anyway.

Maybe you’re already doing this but lack the time to engage in such pronounced dissociation, or maybe you’re a different enough personality type that it’s not your thing (although I highly doubt that, from knowing you to whatever extent I do!).

Maybe, however, there’s some use you can make of something or other I’ve said – that’s what I hope, anyway – but either way, I pray you find time, inspiration, and most of all, enjoyment, in the desire and effort to produce, and in the process itself.

Can’t go wrong if ya pray for someone, no matter the quality of your advice! ☺

PS I apologize for the disjointedness and rambling, but I didn’t prepare and I didn’t edit. I rarely do in contexts like this – though folks may occasionally wish I had done! ?”

Biggest takeaway for me is this:
“Peace is vital to the process“.

Amen, so much amen, and aaaaaaaaamen! Yo!

Giving Up

Maybe it is time for me to give up on writing a book.

I can relate to my great-great-grandmother-in-law, in how she must have felt before she kicked the stool out of the way and hung herself.

She had been asked to do the arrangements for a wedding – a big task, yes, but by itself not death-worthy. It was, however, the final rock to send her over the edge of a stress mountain.

I often think of that scenario when I find myself in positions of having too much to do and too little time to do it efficiently and effectively. There are demands being made of me by others who COULD be helping, compounded by the frustration I feel from the expectations of others who don’t really know me but who think I SHOULD be doing more.

The thing about people expecting me to do more is particularly irksome, but I can control it, to some degree, by avoiding contact with them.

What I am talking about is the writing of my supposed book.

I say “supposed”, because although it has been looming over my head for the past few years, it still has not materialized. I have pages of notes and a few chapter drafts, but no complete manuscript.

I am at a point where I am wondering if I should just give it up.

“You have such a talent for writing and an important story to tell,” they say.

That sounds like a compliment on the surface, but the way it lands on my ears is more like a sledge-hammer to the side of my head.

Really? More? I am supposed to do MORE?

I have seven children. That is not common or easy. Few people can I consult for advice and even fewer are willing to help.

I never set out to have a large family, but that is what happened. Whether people can accept it or not, my kids are my number one priority.

Even sitting here on my couch writing this blog entry on my laptop is a luxury, but the kids are all occupied at the moment, none of them asking me questions, none of them asking me for help, none of them trying to tell me something, and so I am taking this quiet time to write out the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past few days.

(No sooner did I finish that paragraph than one of my kids ran up to me to remind me that they left their iPad charger at someone’s house a 25 minute drive away. So I sent a text to find out if the road is decent enough to drive there to pick it up. Yeah, this time of year, where I live, snow and ice can make roads dangerous.)

And I can see someone saying I should have taken this time to work on my book instead of venting on WordPress.

No, this here is quick and mindless.

Like sudden vomiting.

Working on my book, however, requires deep thought, more akin to preparing a gourmet meal on a wood cook stove. Ingredients must be bought and measured. Careful attention must be given to the fire. And nobody can interrupt me, lest I miscalculate a measure, miss an important ingredient, or burn the results.

I deactivated my Facebook account. That thing depresses me. A huge pile of potential communicators who are supposedly friends, but most of them just want a quick fix. I can understand that, to a degree, because I myself am usually too busy to get into much depth, but still it discourages me to post a question or a thought and have very little feedback. Like, why bother? Might as well write on WordPress, where it is more to be expected that there will be little to no intercommunication.

And that leads me back to the topic of writing my supposed book. How satisfying will it be to complete a book, and not know what others are thinking or feeling when they read it?

But how can I write that book if my focus is on my children’s needs?

And with my own ability to concentrate being poor at best (two of my kids have ADHD, and two are diagnosed as being in the Autism Spectrum – surely they got some of that from me, though I have no such official diagnoses – and, yes, I did undergo testing), I can only work on a book when everyone is asleep or out.

I even built a shed in hopes I could write in it, but my kids interrupt me in there, too. The thing is, though: they need me more than the book needs to be written.

Oh yeah, and I failed to mention that my youngest three children are almost always home. We homeschool. It’s more in the direction of unschooling, but still, my point is that they aren’t away for several hours a day. And don’t try to convince me otherwise. I have long been against public schooling and so this is my choice.

And I haven’t even touched on the chronic pain with which I live. There is no cure. All I can do is suffer through it. Some days are better than others, and on those days, I get a lot more physical tasks done.

I don’t really want to hang myself, because I think of how it would affect my children. But the pressure sure becomes a lot sometimes, and where can I go to escape it?

Writing With A Pen

For me, there is something therapeutic about picking up a ball-point pen and watching the letters form on a fresh page, especially those first words in a new notebook. The word “sacred” comes to mind.

Whether I write via ink or through the wonders of electronic transmission, getting the words out is the main thing. Still, something about pen and paper beckons to me. Perhaps it is the relative simplicity, where no electricity or electronics are involved, giving more of a sense of creating something from my mind and connecting to the result.

bursting-heart-pen

I read an article today on the subject of writing by hand. I find it to be inspiring. Here it is.

The Simple Joy of Writing by Hand

 

Frustration With Facebook

One of the most frustrating things about Facebook is the way so many people on my contact list go to it for a quick read and a quick click of the “like” button, but very few offer any written feedback and there is little to no communication.

When I deactivate my Facebook account, the absence of its accessibility is refreshing. I am then not tempted to click to open it and see if anyone is initiating conversation. I can’t be disappointed if it’s not there for people to ignore.

I am better off writing here in WordPress, where it is already expected, at least for me, that there will be little to no communication.

Logophiles and Wordsmiths group

My blog doesn’t have a specific theme, but it does lean in the direction of the subjects of writing, grammar, and general wordsmithery – not that the latter is an actual English word, but it is an example of what can be done when one smiths words.

I want to share a link to a Facebook group for those who love the English language. It is called “Logophiles and Wordsmiths”. It was born on Sunday, February 7, 2016, in British Columbia, Canada, weighing 8 lbs, 4 oz (just kidding on the weight), so at the time of this blog entry, it is still very new.

Check out the description. If you think you’d feel comfortable with such a group, I invite you to join. Please note, if you do not know how to properly use “your/you’re”, “there/their/they’re”, “where/were”, and other common English written words, this is not the place for you. This is our haven from the sights of poor writing. If you ever end a sentence with the personal pronoun “I”, you will be removed.

If improper writing chafes your butt, you might enjoy not only the break from seeing such textual indiscretions, but also the camaraderie of others who appreciate and strive for fine English writing.

Oh, but we are not a stodgy bunch! There has been a lot of laughter in there, and I anticipate more of it.

Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/logophilesandwordsmiths/

I hope to see some more logophiles and wordsmiths in the group soon!

logophiles and wordsmiths logo (2)