Monday, June 28, 2010

Trying My Hand at Writing A Memoir

My Memoir Writing class started three weeks ago, and I've been writing my heart out ever since. Some of what I've written is quite good; other sections have already been tossed. Par for the course but, still, this has been no easy task.

In many ways, I feel like I've been on a psychiatrist's couch without much food or sleep. What was I REALLY thinking when I was three and my baby brother was born? What did it REALLY feel like to be dethroned, never to be the center of anyone's universe again? Why did I REALLY use my dad's razor when I was eleven and shave my legs? When my brother took his life, why didn't I turn to my family for support and comfort?

The questions are endless; the digging is deep.

I'm used to telling other people's stories. Sure, I may include my tale in a preface or a prologue. Or maybe even in a magazine article. But to consider making myself the main character of a memoir, someone who is compelling, interesting, and, oh, yes, wise . . . well, that's a tall order. Quite candidly, I'm not sure I'm ready.

The most successful memoirs don't just string together a series of events that may, in and of themselves, be quite enticing. No, a memoir has an arc just as a novel or a play. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. And a memoir has major themes, hopefully universal, that demonstrate how the character (me) has evolved and, through her experiences, gained some insights that other people may find handy.

I wasn't a drug addict or a prostitute or a Rhodes Scholar. I didn't cover the war in Iraq or perform in a circus or strip joint. God hasn't talked to me - at least, not directly - and I can't read other peoples' minds. My parents had their dysfunction, but I wasn't abused.

Sure, I've known my share of failure, disappointment, and tragedy. But nothing necessarily to write a memoir about.

Unless . . . unless my writing is so sharp, my feelings so honest, my "voice" so unique that an editor is willing to take a chance that more than 500 people will be interested.

In truth, I'm not focused on publication. Been there, done that. I'm more interested in the process of writing, in the challenge of digging deep and finding the exact words that, when I've finally arranged them just so, make me go "Wow! That's damn good."