In his book On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Although we learn from every book we read, since my blog is about memoirs, I would like to recommend another memoir. This one by one of the great voices of American Literature: Maya Angelou. In I know why the Caged Bird Sings, Ms. Angelou writes about her childhood and early adulthood. Every anecdote underlines the race inequality prevalent of the time. It’s a fascinating read not only for its content but for the poetry of Angelou’s words. Angelou’s craft, however, is so well hidden by her artistry that at first you might not realize what you’re learning, but learn, you will. In particular, you will absorb that truth, raw and deep, in the writing is what makes a memoir sing.
Jumping, if only sideways to the part of King’s quote on writing, I want to suggest another read. This may sound like a contradiction. I want to talk about writing but am recommending another read? Yes, visit Dana Sitar’s website: www.dana.sitar.com. Dana is a writer, editor, and blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area and author of the ongoing memoir series This Artist’s Life. Her blog, 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing your Memoir provides valuable advice to anyone interested in the genre. It appeared as a guest blog in Joanna Penn’s blog www.thecreativepenn.com on March 14, 2012. One of the the things Dana mentions is not to wait for the right time before you sit down to write. In other words, if you want to write a memoir, or anything for that matter, do it now. So many writers keep waiting for the muse, the perfect conditions, the right time.
There’s no such thing as the right time. Everything you do beforehand will help you get started, but the time to jump in the pool of writing is now, not until the water gets warmer or you find a less high board from which to make your dive. Find the way that works for you, but sit down and get to it.
So that’s what I did. I got to it. Since outlining was out of the question for me, I decided to first anchor in time the events I wanted to write about. I drew a straight line across the page, and at the start printed the beginning date , 1962. At the end of the line, I placed the final date, 1965. I still did not know how I would deal with those events, since the underlying theme that unified them was still somewhat vague. But I had a beginning and an end point. Since I was planning to write about my arrival and journey in this country as a young refugee, I realized there were three parts to the story, so I placed two equidistant vertical lines that divided the horizontal line in three equal parts: the first would deal with events in Cuba that triggered and led to my arrival in this country; the middle part would present my experience in Miami in a camp for Cuban children, and the last would cover my stay in a foster home and afterwards in Washington State. In essence I had divided my work into three acts, the way most books, novels, and screenplays are formatted. But this was only my events, physical journey or plot.
I needed to figure out what my emotional journey, the inner feelings that underscored each of those sections, was. So I drew a parallel line below the first horizontal line and set about to uncover what my emotions were at each point of my story. I called this tracking because it reminded me of railorad tracks and I would keep adding to it as I figured out the next step in my writing. Each track dealt with a different issue: characters, situation, and so on. By tracking, I was in fact, creating a visual outline rather than the tedious, in my view, often frustrating task of a written outline.
What next? More on my next blog
Happy Labor Day!