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.)