A reflective moment on the memoir

A friend of mine asked me what I had learned over the course of the year in which I wrote nearly every day for a minimum of 15 minutes and which resulted in the first draft of a memoir.  He said “I mean, learn as a writer or learn about yourself or learn about your family.”

So, what did I learn (as I begin year two with deep revision)?

I learned that with 15 minutes a day one can produce a lot of text — some not so good, some pretty cool, some rough-pine needing to be planed and sanded.  The 15 minutes of writing time were often built on flickering insights or on  glimmers of images and hazy scenes that would get shaped the next day.  Somedays, 15 minutes turned into 30.  On a few occasions, 15 minutes turned into four hours.  Somedays had a seamless movement back into the writing.  Somedays .. not so much.

As a writer, I rush too much.  I rush during the writing and I rush through scenes that need a patient hand to shape.  I want a finished product without the blood and sweat of multiple revisions.  Not gonna happen.  So the writing is uneven, like a wedge of clay not centered correctly on the pottery wheel — it wobbles unsteadily and has weird bulges.  So  I need to craft each part of the text which still seems unwieldy at almost 300 pages.  I should have stuck with fly fishing haiku.

I learned that entry points matter.  The story could have a dozen different “ways in” — and each choice, of course, shapes what comes next.  The essence of my revision right now is due to a move I made with an event that showed up 45 pages deep in the first draft and is now the opening 11 pages .  It was the right move that has resulted in ripple effects through the remainder of the book.

I learned that my family is comprised of incredible individuals — and has been for a long time.  But my immediate family — maybe not so great as a collective “family.”  We experienced — as a family — a lot of devastating events in our history and those events took their toll.  In going through boxes of pictures, old journals from my Aunt Mary, newspapers, receipts — I discovered the twists and turns that shape a heritage, that shape a family history.  I discovered that you can break links in the chain, shape new patterns.  As a friend of mine said when I visited in San Antonio:  the richness is in our inheritance whatever that may be.

I learned that people love “story.”  In the course of the last year, I contacted a man with whom I had lost contact for over 30 years.  Jimmie was instrumental in my life.  A steady and unlikely  influence when I lacked direction,  Jimmie said “get the education” when I was simply so lost I didn’t even know I was lost. When I talked with him in the spring of 2011 (33 years since I last talked with him), he recalled stories and details of our friendship that I thought were just bits and pieces of my own memory.  So I had to ponder a little bit — I know what I got out of my friendship with Jimmie…what did he get out of our 12 month co-worker/friend experience?

Finally, I learned how deeply friendships and family events course through my veins.  If nothing else ever comes of this piece of writing, it brought me not just clarity but an understanding of my family that I never would have otherwise experienced.  Writing shifts thinking.



One Response to “A reflective moment on the memoir”

  1. So cool! Love it and I hope to read the book someday.

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