My Tuesday night writing group spontaneously decided to have a celebration of one member finishing her novel. One person brought champagne and all the makings of a champagne float (highly recommended), and another brought yummy lemon cupcakes. I provided apples and honey in honor of the Jewish New Year. One member laughed and said, “At least celebrating is something we can control in this publishing business.”
One other thing within our control that all the writers in that group adhere to is reading and learning always about their craft. The August Writer magazine has an excellent article on writing memoir, which I also recommend. Read it with a champagne float. But much of the advice in the article seems to refer, also, to fiction.
So many of the subjects in memoir are overdone. Publishers are saturated with them, just as with various fiction subjects. So the trick, then, (not so easy, of course) is to think of something new.
Short of that, we must write beautifully…not necessarily with flowers, but with strong, individual language. Have voice. How often have we heard that? But the article pointed to voice and language and art as some elements that make memoir stand out.
So often books, whether nonfiction or fiction, lack depth. It’s not enough for memoir to be about one’s life, even if one is a celebrity. There has to be a theme, some substance—at least for most publishers.
Writing fiction or memoir is truly exposing ourselves…autobiographies sneak in even if we aren’t intentionally using our experience. But one writer says to be sure to write from our scars, not our open wounds. Perspective is key to accomplishing universality. So, too, is brutal honesty. But what truths to tell about ourselves or use in fiction? Physical or sexual abuse, alcoholic or addictive parents blur with repetition. Honesty doesn’t have to be massive disfunction or criminal. Sometimes I find the pathetic needs and the petty motivations the most interesting disclosures, and I think they often strike the heart and brain of the reader, making him say, the “me, too,” the response we aim for, according to the article. One writer says to write what you don’t know yet about yourself and your experience.
Finally, in writing memoir, just as in writing fiction, we have to develop characters that sweep up the reader and carry her through the pages. The first 30-50 pages have to hook the reader so that he cares.
Think how often we speak to friends or family and begin telling something burning that happened to us, and they don’t hear us and change the subject. It’s the writer’s job to make the reader care.