Sunday, March 11, 2012

Memoir: Stumbling into a story

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On my way to writing this blog I stumbled into another story. Sitting there in my inbox was an invitation to “tell your first car story” to Click and Clack the Tappet brothers, who host the outrageously funny radio talk show, Car Talk.

I just wanted to get the link to post here for you, but already the memory of our 1956 baby blue Ford Fairlane convertible was floating before my eyes. So I had to stop a while and join in their fun. You can too; check it out. I’m sure you’re already remembering your first car.

I tell you. It’s the little stuff that makes the stories.

You don’t have to waste time trying to come up with the spectacular or something that’s never been said because there really isn’t anything new under the sun. According to Anne Lamott, “Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before (Bird by Bird).

So what makes your story—your childhood, your loss, your adventure, or discovery inviting enough for someone to want to open the book?

Lots of people have had appalling childhoods (The Glass Castle) or lovely childhoods (An American Childhood) or suffered divorce and abandonment, or addiction, or the sudden death of a spouse (A Three Dog Life) and yet each one tells a whole new story.

Makes you marvel at the greatness of the Creator, doesn’t it—(presently) four billion differently shaped and outfitted people, four billion stories.

Whether you start out to craft a story with a specific theme, or you unfold a specific memory and discover the seed within, in the telling, you must get up close and personal. Draw your readers into your moment. No keeping them at arm’s length while you safely tell about the doctor who walked into the waiting room and told you your son was dying.  

You have to open up that wound as you looked into the doctor’s eyes and knew your life would never be the same. And we, your readers, will hold our breath with you as we look into his eyes also.

This is not to say memoir is one big Saturday night confessional. But for your first draft, at least, pull off the masks and write from your heart. “If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal.”—Anne Lamott

Next time we’ll explore What is it about? Marion Roach Smith helps to put this in perspective with the idea : “You are not the story. You are the illustration.” And by then I hope to have a list of recommended books for you to download.

Meanwhile, the best way to learn is to read good writing.

May the Lord bless the meditations of your heart and the works of your hands this week.
                             Smith, Marion Roach. The Memoir Project
                             Lamott, Ann. Bird by Bird.


  1. Oh, I would LOVE to take your course at The Writer's Plot. Traveler's Rest is just a little far for me, especially at night. The quotes shared here are superb. I've read both their books (thanks for recommending Marion's to me last year!)I look forward to your next always have such wisdom to share. Thank you, Marcia!

  2. The first car to ever truly belong to me (not the fifteen passanger van I used to have to drive in high school)was a shell-pink Pontaic Grand Prix. One friend told me it was the color of white underwear that was accidentally washed in the red load.

    I'm reading Bird by Bird right now. I started underlining important bits, but then gave up because I might as well underline the whole book!

  3. Great advice, thanks for sharing.

  4. Marcia,

    How delightful to meet you on my blog! I decided to hop on over to your blog and found myself nodding Yes! to your posts on memoir. Lots of pearls here. Thanks for sharing. :-)


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