Posted by: memoircreator | August 31, 2009

We’ve moved!

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Posted by: memoircreator | August 4, 2009

The writing life

The older I get the more important balance becomes. I have less room for over-indulgence in things that aren’t good for me simply because my body takes longer to recover from any badness. It’s a fact of life, but in many ways also a relief.

It is relatively easy to notice when my body isn’t happy because I’ve over-done sugar or carbs, haven’t had enough water or have been glued to the computer for too many hours.  I have a headache, feel groggy and fogged in, am stiff from sitting too long in the same position. But what about emotional and spiritual balance? How do I recognize what’s going on there and do something about that?

I’ve learned that when I can’t sleep well or long enough, when I’m restless and on the run doing busy work that doesn’t need doing, fussing, fretting and generally out of sorts–something has upset my inner balance. Yes, sometimes it is only poor food choices, but I rarely make those if the rest of life approaches proper or reasonable balance.

Balance of course is not static, a do-it-once, and it’s set for the year. You might be able to ‘balance’ your stereo’s treble and base settings like that, or even your cheque book (once a year? is she nuts?) but your body and spirit need daily love.

I am a writer. When I don’t write, everything in my world is out of balance: food, exercise, work, sleep, emotions, everything. I’m not talking about taking time away from writing to cook, or visit with a friend. What I mean here is a time of stuckness, block, and fear that prevents me from writing or even thinking about writing.

Yet it often takes forever for the penny to drop, for the light bulb to go on, for me to ‘get it’. I’ll wander around in circles, complain a lot, get very little done in any area of my life, and yet I still don’t tweak to the fact that I’m not writing and that’s the problem.

Eventually I’ll corner myself and there’s nothing for it but to look at what’s really going on. Ah, I’m not writing, not even practice writing. Hmm. Maybe I should try practice writing, you know just scribble stuff that doesn’t matter. I’ve got nothing to lose at this point, so why not just show up at the page.

Sigh. Why does it take me so long to figure this out? If I figured it out sooner, life would maybe come back to something approaching balance. Yes, but then I’d have to face my fear and stuckness and truly, I don’t want to go there. This is a game I play, but it, like any bad indulgence is beginning to cause too much wear and tear on the system.

Practice writing for me starts here: three pages a day, every morning, first thing.  Just writing, whatever comes from my pen (longhand writing is important here).  This is Julia Cameron’s morning pages work, from The Artist’s Way. Whenever I truly engage with morning pages, stuff happens. Good stuff.

And balance slowly unfolds again in my life. Once again I have a writing life I can be happy about.

Why not try it yourself and see what I mean.

What do you notice? It may take a month or more to notice anything, but do let me know….

Posted by: memoircreator | July 23, 2009

Are you my ideal client?

Is this YOU?

  1. you have a memoir project that’s been on the ‘back burner’ for some time
  2. you want to do the writing yourself, but need a bit of guidance
  3. you’ve been working at your memoir project, but now you want to discuss it or get feedback
  4. you’re looking for help with particular aspects of your memoir project
  5. you’ve reached some ‘tough bits’ and need support to get through them
  6. you’re struggling with some aspects of the memoir project: motivation, structure, who’s truth you are writing
  7. you want to write a memoir but don’t know where to start or how to go about it

If one or more of the above describes your situation, I can help. Send me a note in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Posted by: memoircreator | July 15, 2009

Strategy for the tough bits

Sooner or later when writing a memoir, or even notes for a memoir, you’ll get to some tough bits. There are sorrows, hurtful experiences, damaging relationships and many other things that give pain in most lives. How are you going to deal with that?

You could of course choose to ignore these hurts and sorrows and move on. This is a strategy that may be useful in some contexts when you don’t have the supports you need, or the time for extended reflection to deal with these important things appropriately.

It doesn’t work to postpone the reflection indefinitely, but it makes good sense to have the back up and the time you need to address them.

And if the time to tackle the sorrows and tough bits is now, how do you do that safely and with caring for yourself?

There are some of us who just jump into the mess and try to get it all over with, like pulling a sticky bandage off quickly. This may occasionally work, but it certainly isn’t easy, and doesn’t necessarily make things go faster or with less pain. If you are attracted to this method, try it, see if it works for you, and if it doesn’t, consider another option.

Reflection on the pain and sorrows of one’s life, for whatever reason we do that, is a process and damn if process doesn’t have its own rules and take its own sweet time. Ask me how I know…

The main things we need to consider when we decide it is time to view some of life’s hurts and sorrows is–are we safe?  Do we have the supports we need for when it all feels too much to bear alone (friends we trust, a therapist perhaps)?

Do we in fact have a plan?

A plan?

Just as you can choose to look at the tough bits as part of a life review or memoir process, you can choose how you will go about that. Do you feel it would be easier to cope if you did this work (for it is work) when you have the house to yourself, a couple of hours a week? If you think that might work for you, then schedule it. Decide what hour(s) of the week you will devote to this reflection and writing.  At the end of the time, schedule another time and then walk away.

Simple, right?

No, of course not. Here is what tends to happen:

1. You honour the need to do the self reflection and look at the tough bits, and you feel good and even courageous about that.

2. You do not let the sorrow and muck take over your life, nor are you living the entire time of this reflection in the past.

3. You set clear boundaries.

4. You get it done.

Posted by: memoircreator | July 14, 2009

Troll herding, some thoughts

I have an inner troll. Some writers call this critter an inner critic, but that’s too tame a concept for what I have to contend with.  My troll has an amazing repetoire of kindness, things like ‘that sucks’, ‘who do you think you are?’ ‘there’s no way anybody will read that’, and my favourite of its many sweetnesses, ‘god you’re stupid’. As I said, more troll than inner critic.

An inner critic might be useful on occasion, suggesting that you check your facts, your ideas, your writing style and make it all better. Not so the troll in my head. It just slings nasties.

Of course to have an inner troll you have to have a life where it can get a good toe hold, a life that has its share of low self esteem and the occasional personal disaster. The troll needs something to work with or it wouldn’t get the buy in I so clearly give it. Apparently I’m the troll’s pet, for it has lots to work with.

The troll needs to be at least distracted in order for me to get any work done. Its constant nattering and ‘kind’ reminders of my inadequacies otherwise paralyze me and all that the day brings instead of work accomplished is a frenetic approach/avoidance dance, which while it might count as aerobic exercise, doesn’t add up to tasks completed. I’ve not yet found anything that will distract the troll, its focus never seems to waver at all.

How does one go about troll herding and containment? Ah yes, if I could come up with a definitive answer to that question, no doubt millions of bits of pretty paper money would come my way.

Perhaps troll herding is the wrong image. What I may really need rather than any sort of engagement with the troll is to find good healthy ways to ignore it. Why, given that I have by my 6th decade, a certain list of accomplishments to my credit, do I persist in giving any attention to the troll? Ah yes, that’s easy, because like any other mortal, I have my portion of insecurities, and they are louder and more in my face when I sit down to write.

Some things I write, anything to do with personal history, seem to make those insecurities flare and the troll is only too happy to fan the flames. Nothing is harder to accept than a gleeful troll doing its happy dance. So not pretty.  If it starts roasting marshmallows, I’m out of here!

Alright then, I need to figure out how to ignore or maybe accept the troll. There are a number of ways I could do that. I could chant affirmations, but for me that seems to give the troll too much good material to sling back at me as the opposite. Case in point: if I affirm that I am an accomplished writer (note, not good–oh no, never do I say THAT) then the troll comes back with: ‘you’ve accomplished zilch, two books, 5 manuscripts, nada, nothing, and all of that worthless’.  Ah, the kindness of my troll knows no bounds.

So, what if I learn to accept the troll as a fact of my life, perhaps see it as a balance so there is less risk I over-inflate my wee ego and get all arrogant and weird. Okay, that’s a possibility I haven’t given much air time yet. I could try that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How do you manage your inner critic or troll?

Posted by: memoircreator | July 2, 2009

I got started, now I’m stuck.

Now that you have a few dozen pages of your memoir written; or you’ve got a prologue drafted; or you have notes, maybe even an outline–you’re stuck.

You try to go back to the project time and time again, yet nothing happens. You are too frustrated to continue. You don’t know where you are going with this stuff, but you really would like it to be finished.

What’s happened to your motivation? Your enthusiasm for the project?

Why do you feel so frustrated all of a sudden?

Well, geez, if you haven’t just done a face-plant in messy reality. This writing stuff is hard, damn hard, work.

Yes, it is.

You have a couple of options at this particular crossroads:

1. Bail. Abandon the project, pretend you weren’t that interested in the first place (a lie of course) and tell yourself you don’t know how to write anyway (may be true, but you can do something about it if you choose).

2. Get help! You are reading this blog, you’ve taken the first step. You could also contact me for a coaching/consulting session and we could figure out what you need next to get you back on track.

Discovering that something you thought would just be a little hobby you can flirt with now and again is actually work, will require you to learn, to focus and to commit time to doing it can operate either as a deterrent or as hope. Deterrent because you really didn’t want it all that much in the first place (not you of course) or hope because you realize that you can learn, grow and accomplish what you set out to do. You may need some help and probably a good deal of practise, but hey, this memoir writing stuff is really do-able.

Your thoughts?

Posted by: memoircreator | June 29, 2009

How to tell if it’s time to write your memoirs

You know you need to start writing your memoirs when:

  • you keep telling the same stories over and over until your children and friends have them by heart
  • you find yourself waking in the early morning hours with stories dancing in your mind
  • you’ve started to collect notebooks and nice pens, and go fantasy shopping for a laptop every chance you get
  • you get out the old photographs and spend hours looking at them and remembering people, events, feelings and stories
  • you can no longer use your dining room, office, den or garage because they are all buried in personal and family papers and memorabilia
  • Most of your sentences begin with: ‘I remember when…’

Do you have any other good indications that it is time to begin writing your memoirs?

Posted by: memoircreator | June 21, 2009

How to start writing a memoir, part 2

A memoir can be about your whole life or any part of it you want to write about. Let’s look at a few starting points.

1. Start with a date. In 1975 a friend and I bought an abandoned white clapboard prairie church in a tiny village in Saskatchewan for $300. I’ve got a lot to say about that. It is a good starting point for the memoir of a 23 year period of my life. What is your most significant date?

2. Start with an experience. Is there an experience in your life that you continue to tell stories about, that draws you to look at it from many different angles? I had a friend who spent time in northern Ontario as a guard in a detention camp for Germans during the World War II and he told many, many stories about it. That would have been a good starting point for his memoir.

3. Start with an event. Where were you and what were you doing the day JFK was shot? What impact did Neil Armstrong’s space walk have on you–did you watch it on TV, with whom? What other major historical event became a marker in your life story? Start with that.

4. Start with a significant person, or mentor. We’ve all had people in our lives who made a huge difference. Was yours a high school teacher, a family friend, someone you met in odd circumstances you will never forget and that forever changed you? Start with that.

5. Start with a photograph. When I wrote my first memoir I used a collection of photographs I had which recorded aspects of my childhood. I sorted them by first collecting them in one place, then putting aside anything that caused an emotional response or ripple. That was a great starting point.

6. Start with a significant and persistent memory. Certain memories haunt us, because they are turning points in our development or a crossroads we have never forgotten. They make a good starting point, even if they aren’t all that positive, on the principle that it isn’t the cards you are dealt that are important, but what you do with them, and even more important, what you learn.

7. Start anywhere. Start with a conversation, an image from a magazine, anything that sets off a memory chain you can follow, or just start noodling in a notebook to see what comes to the surface.  The critical thing is to Start!

What method works for you?

Posted by: memoircreator | June 16, 2009

How to start writing a memoir

If there is one thing I wish for as a writer, it is the blessed state of having written.  Sound odd?  It isn’t really.  A project such as a memoir is a significant commitment of time and energy, and having it written even in first draft feels absolutely terrific.  Only thing is you have to sit down and write the damn thing.

So how do we go about writing a memoir or any other major writing project?

An obvious first step is to get a comfortable pen and a notebook you like.  Yes you can work at a computer if you choose, but that limits you to the location of the either the computer or a power outlet.  A notebook and pen are infinitely more portable.  Some times portable is essential.

The second step is to give yourself permission.  What, I need permission to write my own story? Yes, you do: permission from your self.  Sometimes that’s not so easy to get either and often we need to keep reminding ourselves that in fact we have given that permission.

The third step is to allow yourself to suck at this, really seriously suck! Anne Lamott who is so much more elegant at describing this calls the first attempt “a shitty first draft”.  You need to give youself permission for that too, allowing yourself not to be perfect or anywhere near perfect, to get it down on paper, whatever the heck it looks like.  Anne Lamott has wise words for that as well: “…the first draft is the down draft–you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft–you fix it up.”  It might be a good idea to put these three quotes on your fridge or near your computer so you will be constantly reminded of them.

The fourth and perhaps most difficult part of writing a memoir is showing up at the page and scribbling something, anything.  I believe it is often so challenging because we each have an on-call troll who is sure to make such loving remarks as ‘you know what they (who are they?) will say about that?’; ‘who do you think you are?’; ‘you’re not a writer you know’; ‘you realize nobody will ever read this?’ and various other attack gems in its repertoire, the sole purpose of which are to freeze your pen hand and not let a single word or thought escape your brain.  You’ll need to develop some strategies for troll herding and control, and I’ll talk about that in another post.

What are your thoughts?

Posted by: memoircreator | June 8, 2009

It’s the little things…

Our lives are made up of a great many little things, things we notice enough to connect with, to make meaning out of, to take into our hearts. Sometimes these things are dramas but most often they are not. It is the quality of our notice that makes them important to us.

Yet we live in a world where the pace of life is ever faster and more frantic.  Often there’s hardly time to notice the big stuff, never mind the little stuff that can give so much pleasure.

What I notice may not be anything like what you notice. Yesterday I sat in my yard and watched the colour changes that the wind, clouds and sunshine made on the leaves of a Japanese maple. My young friend said, you always notice colour so much, I don’t.

It could simply be a generational difference, because the interests of a 17 year old and a 62 year old are vastly different on many levels.  I don’t think it is only that however. We are each wired because of our interests, life experience, the quality of our curiosity to notice different things.

How can you use your particular interests and the quality of curiosity when writing your personal history? Focus on the aspects of your life that feel important to you. That focus will be unique to you, because things that are important to you, even the little things, add up to your way of being in the world.

There is a danger when writing a personal history to think about it in terms of what other people want, or you think they want to read. That way we tend to eliminate the stuff that isn’t pretty, or might upset somebody, or isn’t funny.  But no life, ever, is entirely pretty, without sorrow or upset or a total laugh.  You’re not writing the story of Barbie are you? Or her pal Ken?

Let the little things shine through, it’s what makes any memoir real and a pleasure to read. It’s also the best way to honour the life you have lived so far.

Your thoughts?

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