Thursday, May 8, 2014

Writing the Memoir

Last night, one of my facebook alerts (which rings out on my phone as a doorbell, saying "I'm here") was that a student from a class two years ago mentioned me in a comment. It was around a video, and here it is:

She said: "Can't stop watching this video...every night I've watched it before I go to bed and makes me smile n cry n think. I was asked once by my professor Dennis EtzelJr if I were ever interested in writing my memoir...I believe I'm ready to start it if you're still willing to mentor me."

I said "yes," with exhilaration. This is what I love about having so much creative writing experience: I can give others starting-out shortcuts, so they can avoid the pitfalls and deadends (think Writer's Digest) to get to the writing.

I'm thinking about my own memoir writing, how poetry seemed the natural fit for mine. Also, how I used "Masculinity as Homophobia" as a starting point to insert my story, to speak to and alongside that critical essay with my own experiences.

Kim Stafford discussed in his keynote speech at Washburn University last month how he wrote his memoir around his brother taking his life. He wasn't sure how to piece together, how to arrange, his writing. Then it came to him, to write the Table of Contents first: how did he want the book to be arranged, and what to put in it. Then another epiphany came: to use the four things that he and his brother said to each other before going to sleep every night: "Good night. God bless you. Have sweet dreams. See you tomorrow." You can get a feel for the way the small vignettes are placed together by looking through the book (on amazon).

I am thinking about this student, someone who is a Nurse, and wondered what could be used for her book. I don't know a lot about her story, or what special phrases are important to her, but I found this in my searches:

Nurses have their own oath. Modern oathtakers sometimes remove the words "God" and "purity", but there could be something in it. How about this for leading prompts?

"I solemnly pledge myself before God" (Faith, religion, epiphanies)

"In the presence of this assembly" (Community, mentors)

"To pass my life in purity" (This could be juxtaposed in many ways: how purity is harmful, how one tries to guard one's self from others)

"To practice my profession faithfully" (Work ethics, too?)

"I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous" (Lots of opportunities, including witnessing unethical activities)

"I will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug" (This could also speak to how alcohol and drugs has affected others and one's life)

Well, you get the picture.

I know everyone has her or his own approach to writing a book. Mine happens to be with writing small doses--flash non-fiction pieces. Out of one piece of flash non-fiction (or flash fiction or poetry), one can find another piece to reflect and write about. When stuck, simply consult your Table of Contents.

Here are books I highly recommend:
The Rose Metal Press Trilogy

The Next American Essay by John D'Agata

Also, a plethora of books by others. That will be coming soon.

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