As we continue our series on FREE memoir writing tips from selected top experts, we warmly welcome Denis Ledoux, guru of memoir writers and instructors.
Denis wears multiple hats in his roles as writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir ghostwriter, memoir writing coach, editor and publisher at The Memoir Network.
I have fond memories of my time spent several years ago in his Certified Lifewriting Instructor program. Denis knows, from his many years of experience in this field, what works in memoir writing and what doesn’t. Enjoy the hot tips that he so generously shares with us today!
Tip #1 from Denis Ledoux:
Persevere. Keep writing.
I want to alert you to a feeling that all writers are eventually subject to. It's habituation. After you have been writing for some time, it can set in and suck the life out of your writing.
Starting to write is a bit like a relationship that begins with some enthusiasm and energy. We can't wait to be with the one we love and we feel any absence acutely. Then after a while, we become less passionate about our mate and might begin to wonder if we are still in love. (I'm writing broadly here) Yes, you most likely are still in love--only perhaps less enamored. What is happening is that you have habituated yourself (which can sap romance!) and now you are doing the work of getting to know one another at a really deeper level that will permit you to deepen your love for one another.
Writing is like that in some ways. At first, we are passionate about our writing. It seems that we are doing so well, are so clever. "This is a great story!" we tell ourselves. Then after a while, with habituation, comes the let down and we are in a world of editing, or changing and tweaking and rewriting. It's like taking the garbage out and changing the baby and going to work. Where's the romance?
As in parenting, where we need to have a steadfast vision of our goal of raising a child to adulthood, in writing we need to envision finishing our task, of presenting the readers with a book that will better his/her life in some way--if only to regale the reader with a tale well told. Sometimes the writing is fun, and sometimes it is less so. Sometimes, writing is plain hard and boring. We want to do anything but. However, if you want to win the prize you need to be steadfast—despite whatever feeling du jour you may be experiencing, whatever doldrums are affecting you.
So my advice is: you feel like writing, write: you don't feel like writing, write. Without that commitment to writing regardless of your feelings, you may not succeed at finishing your memoir.
Denis makes a great point about the commitment aspect. In his program, he taught us that we should share with our workshop students that “All important obligations are entered in our calendars.” (And you probably thought I wasn’t paying attention, Denis!) He recommended that folks determine how much time they can allocate to their writing projects on a weekly basis and schedule that time along with all other appointments.
I love this idea because I rely so heavily on my calendar to keep me organized, and carving out very specific writing time works well for me. It’s a bonus when I can take my current writing project to my favorite spot on the beach, set up my little portable office and go to work. There is something soothing and inspiring about the sound of the crashing waves and the seagulls soaring by that makes the words magically flow. Find your own special location and enter your writing appointment on the calendar!
Someone in one of my workshops said, "What if I schedule it, and then when I get to that date and time, I don't feel inspired to write?" Well, my response to this is that you have two choices. You can reschedule it on your calendar and hopefully land on a better day (not recommended), or you can try to eliminate any negativity that is creeping in and at least try. Relax, play some old favorite music and see where your memory takes you! Start with just a thought...just a few words about a particular memory, and you may be surprised at the momentum that picks up as your fingers work their magic on the keyboard or the pen in your hand takes on a life of its own, even though you initially thought you weren't feeling inspired to write!
Tip #2 from Denis Ledoux:
Don't forget your memoir needs action, too.
Too many new memoirists undervalue the role of plot in their story. Just because you're writing a life story doesn't mean you can ignore action.
Listen to how a child tells a story. It is all action. He did this and she did that. Nuances of character and setting are immaterial to the child. It's what happens that counts. Our reliance on action, on plot, doesn't wane as we grow older, but our ways of making use of it grow more sophisticated.
Something must happen in your story to retain the interest of your reader—so pay attention to the plot line of your memoir, to the dramatized build up of what happens.
The amount of action necessary to retain interest varies enormously according to the sensibility and the education of different readers. Someone who prefers reading about ghosts and unpredictable spooky occurrences (such as in a Stephen King story) will not find the action lines of English psychological novelist Virginia Woolf very captivating. But it remains true that readers--both of pulp fiction and of serious writing--need some sort of action to move the story along. Although much of Virginia Woolf's action is interiorized, it is action nonetheless and counts as plot.
If your memoir story line lacks external action then look inward for your action, but do not make the mistake of undervaluing action in your development.
Always keep plotting in mind--whether exterior action or interior struggle. Not an easy line to walk. Make something happen in your memoir. The "hero" is not constrained to conquer and vanquish the exterior world. The interior world is also a worthy theater of personal war.
This lack of plotting of some sort is a major mistake new writers make.
Good luck with your writing!
Denis certainly has an eloquent way of making a point, doesn't he? We can all agree that if the only information we provide our readers is a collection of facts and dates, the stories would produce nothing but a gigantic yawn fest.
Think about the particular story you are telling. What makes it unique? Is there a story behind the story--perhaps something unusual that led up to that event? Give the reader incentive to continue reading by intriguing them, but yet remaining within the boundaries of honesty.
Thank you so much to Denis Ledoux for visiting with us today and sharing his wonderful tips!
ABOUT DENIS LEDOUX:
Denis Ledoux has been helping people to write memoirs since 1988 via his Memoir Network (formerly the Soleil Lifestory Network). Visit www.TheMemoirNetwork.com for free materials and a newsletter subscription. His blog, The Memoir Writer's Blog, (http://thememoirnetwork.com/memoir-blog/) is chock full of useful and motivational material for the memoir writer. Query to send a guest post.
A stop at the www.TheMemoirNetwork.com store will introduce you to the variety of helpful publications written by Denis Ledoux, including his classic Turning Memories into Memoirs, a “must have” book for the memoir writer!
Looking for a good summer read or a great Father's Day present (for a Dad or for yourself)? Please take a moment to visit http://www.abookfeast4u.blogspot.com to learn about an intriguing book entitled The Toppled Pawn by Pawleys Island, SC resident, Robert O'Brien. This story of corporate greed and industrial sabotage will glue your eyes to the book until the final page is turned.
And if you are inspired to write your life stories, but just don't quite know where and how to begin, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time! is your ticket to jump-starting a successful memoir project. Visit http://www.awriterspresence.com for links to all formats including print, Kindle and Nook.
See you next week with more expert memoir writing tips…
Here’s to your best writing!
Mary Anne Benedetto
Author and Certified Lifewriting Instructor