I’ve set out to understand how to craft a memoir and all the answers that go along with that understanding: What makes a memoir interesting? How far outside yourself can you stray and still be in the realm of writing your own memoir? What structures keep energy in the story? What details have to die? How do you end a story that’s still being lived? And on and on…
If the story’s about the devil, does there have to be an angel?
Over the next few months, I’m going share with you the little insights into craft that I gather as I read a series of memoirs, starting with Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter by Barbara Robinette Moss. The main title of these posts will be “Turning Life into Art.” I suspect these posts will be part review part reflection part explication, and if I’m feeling really courageous, part personal essay where I start to play with my own ideas right in this blog.
First, a couple notes about how I think about writing. For me, it’s either divine inspiration or intellectual puzzle. (Both of these can produce crap, by the way. Don’t be fooled by the word “divine.” It just tends to feel more divine than puzzling things out.) Either the words just start floating around in my brain, almost like a song or swelling of emotion that I can’t escape, or they are put together slowly, methodically, with intention and the end in mind.
It’s all about before or after with me. Will I try to make sense of what I’m writing before the words come to me or after? Sometimes the answer is both. Sometimes I think I’ve made sense of it, that I have a master plan for what I’m creating, but then I see later that something else entirely came out, and it’s equally valid, just a surprise. With this project, I’m sure both inspiration and puzzling will work together to help me learn how to write a memoir, but I also plan to think about something I teach my students.
Essentially, I try to help my students see that no matter what they’re writing, they are creating rules for themselves and their readers as they go, and part of creating a piece that feels complete and cohesive to readers (as opposed to unintentionally confusing and disjointed) is being aware of the rules they’re setting up for themselves. Maybe a novel makes a rule that it will open each chapter from a different character’s perspective to build the tension between each one and to keep the reader from being omniscient too soon, or maybe a poem decides that it’s going to use enjambment to create a greater sense of energy and movement in the images. Whatever the rules, the writer should know them and their intended effects. Even though I can never predict how my readers will interpret what I write, I should at least start from a place of consciousness. I should really see what I’m making and recognize it as my child.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to investigate the implied rules set forth in the memoirs I’m reading, starting with Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter and the rule Moss made for herself about how she portrayed her mother.
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