Blithely ignoring rules

Rules are made to be broken, I’ve read. So why bother with rules at all? Within minutes of my last very personal post, I read that blogs shouldn’t be personal. What? Two of the first blogs I started following were entirely based on personal experience. The response to my personal blog appeared to be the most I’ve had in my short blogging life.

I’m not assuming that my personal experience or opinion is anything special, but if it’s an experience shared by others or a thought-provoking or reassuring opinion, why not post it?

Another long-established rule I consciously ignore is to write every day. I heard that admonition from so many sources for so many years that I unthinkingly passed it on to my students. The only way one improves, I said, whether playing the violin or playing tennis or painting watercolors, or writing, is to practice. If you can’t think of anything to write, write “I can’t thinking of anything to write,” over and over.

Can you imagine anything more demoralizing, more an admission of failure, than writing the same inane thing over and over? So I soon amended my instruction to start, “Yesterday I . . .” and write in detail as vividly as possible your humorous or humiliating or boring yesterday. I also provided long lists of prompts because I asked for five journal entries per week from my writing students in addition to required essays.

Now I see writing as extending far beyond forcing words onto paper or screen. I jot ideas virtually or figuratively and rummage around mentally, falling asleep and waking up composing and revising so when I sit down to write there’s plenty to work with. That’s when writing is joyful.

 

 

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So very ignorant, yet still trying

Today for the first time I read a blog by someone who confessed ignorance and frustration with the intricacies of blogging. Now I’ve publicly admitted technological incompetence almost beyond comprehension.Lest I be labeled an old Luddite, let me say I bought my first computer, an Apple 2e, in 1981 or 2. Maybe that level of sophistication is all I am capable of handling, but years in academia forced me to struggle through WordPerfect 5.1 and every iteration of Word, always mastering only what I had to know to function.

As programs became more sophisticated, I appeared to lose the brain cells necessary to understand them. That may be more reality than appearance. Fifteen years ago I had open heart double bypass surgery which entails being virtually dead, with a machine taking over vital functions. That can result in what heart surgeons call “bubble brain”, a loss of mental function they have observed in some patients perhaps because of bubbles forced into the brain by the blood-circulating machine.. Call it paranoia, but I have felt a faltering, a hesitation, I didn’t note before. Or maybe I was never as smart as I thought.

Then four years ago I had a left brain stroke which resulted in complete loss of speech and a paralyzed right hand and numbed right side for a short time. I still seem to struggle more than before finding the right word and getting it spoken without slurring a bit. So I often call out to my husband,  “What’s another word for _____?” or “What do you call a _____?” or “Help! The computer is froze up again.”

Starting to blog five months ago, it was some time before I realized that “comment” and “follow” had to be activated. My theme somehow changed without my permission. Unless I log in just right, I have no dashboard. Just last week I realized I should have a page about my books, which I have mentioned but felt reluctant to “advertise.”

This in spite of studying a five-pound tome from the library and finally buying a WordPress for Dummies type of book, which has vocabulary and concepts beyond my  understanding.

I still enjoy writing, so maybe I should just write and not worry about rivaling all those smart talented bloggers who post stunning photos and employ all manner of widgets and clever interfaces. (Have I used that term right?)

Memoir writing: six suggestions

  1. Keep a diary or journal. If you already write regularly, good for you. If not, start now and catch up as you can. I keep track of important events in a small notebook divided into months. There I note births, deaths, trips, visitors, when we got pets, etc. No details, just the basics. Travel journals note details of trips, and other notebooks contain notes for the memories which are written primarily on the computer. Part of a notebook could be dedicated to ideas for stories, essays, chapters, articles, or whatever you choose to call your divisions.
  2. Find your optimal writing situation, but beware. I’ve heard of writers who must use a particular pen or pencil, type of paper, place and time, and are unable to write when those requirements can’t be met. More than one writer has constructed the “perfect” writing place, custom built with new furniture, windows placed just so, art work carefully chosen, only to find that he/she couldn’t write a word there and retreated to the kitchen table or laptop in the Lazy Boy. Ideally, away from your optimal writing situation you can jot notes while waiting in the doctor’s office or airport, type on a laptop on the plane or in a motel room or on a picnic table. The impetus of the story should become more important than the where or how.
  3. Start with the easiest parts. That might be the story told over and over around the family table, the most vivid memory, the time you were happiest, the saddest, or the most traumatic experience of your life. I recently read a book saying to start with your first memory and work your way on decade by decade. I say NO! Even if you are writing an autobiography rather than a memoir, start with the most memorable events. My dear father started his life story over and over, trying to get the beginning just right. As a result, we have a record of less than the first quarter of his long eventful life. Also, he was using a word processor he didn’t understand and kept losing his work. Don’t make that mistake. As stated before, use the method most comfortable for you. Someone can transcribe it from tape recording or handwritten later.
  4. Write daily. Some experts stipulate a minimum, like ten minutes, and if you don’t know what to write, scribble something like “I don’t know what to write.” until the time is up. Baloney! Look at your notes about possible stories and choose one to start jotting memories: most embarrassing moment, funniest moment, etc. Freewrite without regard to spelling, punctuation, sentence structure or anything that might hinder getting words on the paper or screen. You can decide later what is worth revising. Of course “write daily” is an aspiration, not always realistic. But you may find that involved in a WIP,  your mind is often preoccupied with the story. I’m willing to include that process in “write daily” because I’ve found that all that remembering and mental organizing makes the physical process of words written much faster. Another caveat: only thinking about writing does not result in a manuscript!
  5. As you complete your stories, start considering focus and organization. The classic advice is to start with the different: the day of the horrific diagnosis, the lover leaving, the death, the birth of the child who is different. You can then write flashbacks to fill in details. Lacking an outstanding event, you might choose a story that illustrates your theme. A memoir is not an autobiography, birth, year by year to present (or death, if writing for another), but a period of time or related events. Some writers have recorded more than one memoir. A famous contemporary autobiographical writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, still a young man, has written an astonishing six hefty volumes so far.
  6.  Consider what your “theme”  is. It may be simply to preserve memories for family and friends. You might choose, as my parents did, to include some genealogical information before relating their own stories. Memoirs may be focused on conquering illness or substance dependence or forgiving abusive relationships. They may be primarily focused on revenge, like Mommy Dearest or see how great I am, like The Art of the Deal, or poor me, like Wild. Or, more likely, a collection of memories, good and bad, a summary of your life or that of a loved one you’re writing for. Related to theme will be your eventual title especially if you’re writing to attract an audience beyond friends and family. Otherwise, Memories of ____may suffice.

Why “Writing Life?”

I’ve read (and repeated to students) that there are three classes of writers: Those who want to be A Writer, those who want to write, and those who write. The first category dream of author’s tours with TV interviews, fame, and lots of money. Those who want to write have a story they feel compelled to tell. The last category simply can’t help but write.

As with most truisms, this isn’t entirely true, but I fall mostly into the latter group. I still have a “poem” written when I was about eight and diaries or journals kept off and on through the years. In the eighth grade my essay won an honorable mention in a county-wide contest. During boring college classes I wrote (very bad) short stories, to all appearances taking extensive notes.I later took writing classes, but I seldom submitted anything for publication because I lacked the drive to be A Writer.

My work for many years mostly satisfied any creative writing itch because I graded thousands of college compositions, wrote thousands of dull words of curriculum, policies, self-studies for accreditation, strategic plans, etc. However, during summers and a period of several years when I wasn’t working full-time, I wrote four novels, a novella, and co-wrote a murder mystery. Mostly what I submitted for publication were stories for the local newspaper or poems.

Only recently have I decided to do something with those files of manuscripts and obsolete Apple floppy disks. Either I die leaving my daughters to burn those moldering piles or I work to get them out into the world for better or for worse.