Thursday, May 10, 2012

Getting started on a memoir

Last week a new coaching client came to see me. She is writing a memoir and had stalled after about 100 pages. She was looking for a jump start. I had asked her to make a list of the pivotal moments in the story she wants to tell and the ones she had already written, but what she presented me with was a kind of dhronological outline of notes of details she thought important to include and where she was in that outline. And no doubt they were important. But it wasn't what I had asked for.

And so we had a good discussion about contemporary memoir that is successful. The influence of TV and the movies on both fiction and memoir and the central importance of scene. And we set out to create a list of those scenes that are pivotal to her story, because they lie at the heart of the memoir, not only for plot but also for theme. And we discussed the fact that she didn't have to write them in order.

Like many writers, Carla was stuck because she wasn't quite sure where the project was going. She didn't have a clear idea of the parts, let alone the whole. And I reassured her that that was quite all right, that many of us don't know until several drafts in exactly where something is going and we keep writing parts anyway. Hence the need for a list of important parts to play with, draft, become a better writer with. That's the practice part of all writing projects.