Monday, February 17, 2020

Your Story is Your Story

Your story is yours. Memoir writers often struggle with the idea of ownership over a story. We will say something like, "But.. it happened to someone close to me; my response doesn't matter." Or, "The other people involved don't agree with my memory."

I'm here to remind you that everything that you've done, that has happened to you or you experienced in some way or another is a part of you. It makes you. You are composed of your actions, your responses, the actions of those around you, things you've read and the events that happen in your home, neighborhood, country... the list goes on and on. For example, if you were affected by a friend's loss, then your response is indeed a part of you.

Give yourself permission to write your story. If you learned something or changed from an outside event, then you might have something interesting to explore in writing.

Of course, you don't necessarily have permission to use other people's names or identifying details or specific event details. Your response, however, is always yours. (This is where you might need a disclaimer before your creative non-fiction piece to describe where you've taken some creative liberties.)

For more on this, you might read Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, edited and with an introduction by Joy Castro.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Valentine's Day Reading & Shopping

The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque
c. 1885,Paul C├ęzanne, Art Institute of Chicago

This Valentine's Day, show your love by supporting writers and literary journals. Browse New Pages for the latest issues of your favorite literary magazines and subscribe for yourself or a loved one. New Pages also has a great guide to local independent bookstores. If you're in D.C., head to Politics & Prose bookstore for some great recommendations.

For more, here's a Valentine's Day writing prompt I posted a few years ago.

The love poem that I read this morning to my husband? Wife by Ada Limon. Meanwhile, I'll be referencing another art form when I surprise our child with Star Wars Blue Milk on Friday morning. Happily, the movies have led to reading many related books, so we'll add a treat to the fun.

Happy Valentine's Day in every genre and color!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum

If you are a writer of any genre and at any stage of the writing process, I recommend that you read Before and After the Book deal: A Writer's Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting and Surviving your First Book by Courtney Maum. I was so taken by her frankness, accessibility, research, encouragement and humor. This is your MFA in the writing and publishing life contained within a single book. The chapters are easy to digest and the resources listed at the end will save you time in the future. I will be assigning this book to writers for years.

I'll stop praising it only so you have time to read it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Memoir Writing Prompts

Young Woman Writing Calligraphy, Kubo Shunman, Japanese, 1793 

I am in the middle of teaching a level two memoir writing workshop at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC. I am moved by the students' openness to work and their empathy for one another's shared lives. Most of all, I'm moved by their insight into their human experiences. I share this with you to encourage you to write your own truths because we truly do want to learn about one another. How do we live in this world? You have an answer that we can learn from.

Here are a few prompts from that class that might be helpful as you write, edit and revise your own work:

1. Write two timelines. The first timeline contains key moments from your memoir's present tense (remember that memoir places a frame around a particular theme or moment in your life.) The second timeline is a long and thorough timeline of key events from your entire life (I know, that's a daunting task.) The idea is that you will be able to see which past events will serve the main timeline as flashbacks, if your memoir follows that structure.

2. Write profiles of your main characters. Give the characters flesh and blood (describe them physically) and give them actions (how do they behave, gesture, eat, etc.) Writers often shy away from physical description and you can build on these profiles as your characters speak and act in your memoir.

3. Make a list of questions. What do you want to know about something? What is knowable through research? What is unknowable? This list should offer you various insights (a list of things to research, doubts, desires, etc.)

Monday, January 13, 2020

Some Drafts Are Just Drafts

Looking up at the sky through bare branches

You can abandon some of your drafts. Here is a (very imaginary) permission slip to give yourself whenever you need it.

Of course, I would never advocate for throwing out early drafts. But you don't have to keep editing and revising them. Instead, make time for whatever it is that you really want to write. I know that I've gotten stuck on a draft because I think I have to finish it before I "allow" myself to start the next thing. 

Sometimes drafts are just drafts; they don't always lead to something more. They might be practice for something else, a playful attempt that you enjoyed trying out but didn't work or something you had to write to get on to the next thing. 

You might feel comfortable jotting notes in a journal that you don't necessarily come back to. A titled word processing document can live in that same space if it just doesn't feel right.

The road to a final draft is paved with many, many earlier drafts. But there are also some roads that don't end in a final draft and that's ok. These roads are just, well, drafty (thank you to 2020's first blog-pun-permission.)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy New Year! Time to Set Attainable Goals to Meet the BIG One

Lantern-style elephants at the National Zoo's annual Zoo Lights

Every year I say that the following year's date doesn't sound real. This year is no different: "2020" just doesn't sound like a year that this person born in 1970-something can wrap her mind around. (Right?!?)

That said, here we (almost) are! A new year. I love the fresh start of a new notebook or even word processing document. A new year is even better.

In preparation of this fresh start of a new year, make some clear and attainable writing goals. Build on what you already do and succeed at doing. Start the list with the major goal, no matter how intimidating it might be (maybe, "write book"). Then, do the important work to make that goal possible: break that major goal into pieces (maybe, "write outline," "write x scene," "finish chapter 2," etc.)

Give yourself some time to look at your calendar and think about when you can and actually will work towards these goals. Then, mark your calendar. Imagine that writing (and editing, researching, revising and submitting) are appointments that you have to keep. Set aside the time and keep the appointment.

You got this.

You might also read an earlier post, "Happy New Year! Ok, Now It Is the Time to Write"

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Thank you, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities!

Thank you to the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities for awarding me an Individual Artist Fellowship for 2020 (Arts & Humanities Fellowship Program)! I am honored to be recognized among the many talented, working artists here in Washington, D.C. You can read the full list of awardees here. This funding will help me to continue to produce and submit work in 2020.

If you are a DC artist considering applying for the following year, check this page for deadlines and details. Everything was available online last year; I also understood the process better after attending a local workshop.

Thank you again!