The Memoir Experiment

Being a writer requires constant experimentation and learning. Not only do I read a lot of fiction, but I also read about writing. I follow blogs about writing and keep up-to-date on the industry through Writer’s Digest and The Writer’s Market, both of which provide good advice on improving your writing in spite of the constant marketing emails that clog my email inbox.

One of the more interesting suggestions I read a while back stated that writing a memoir is a good way to improve your writing. Writing requires lots of practice. Not everything you write ends up as a short story or novel, nor should it, but to get better, you have to do it every day. You may not have a story idea to work on every day, but the events in your life are like a ready-made story waiting to be put into words, which gives you ample practice material, assuming you can weed out the boring parts.

My kids will occasionally complain to me that they’re bored despite having a plethora of entertainment options at their disposal, and I often retort, “That’s life.” My exasperated response is more than just a deflection of their harping complaints, it’s the truth. Life is the boring stuff that happens between those sporadic moments of excitement. The daily grind is not interesting, and it’s certainly not the stuff of riveting novels. How to turn that into something remotely worth reading?

Doing this is more than a rehash of an all-too-familiar chronology from birth to death. Tension and desire are ever-present by virtue of being alive, but to capture that in a way that resonates for a reader to find it interesting or inspiring remains the most difficult challenge of all, especially if there’s not a natural element of suspense such as achieving something remarkable or overcoming insurmountable odds. I’ve read many life stories and some have been fascinating, while others have been dull. It takes a writer with the gifts of a Jon Krakauer to make a life jump off the page (read his Pat Tillman biography, Where Men Win Glory, and you won’t be disappointed).

In spite of all of this, I just started writing in between moments of editing my latest fiction novel. Editing is one of my least favorite things to do, so I needed something to take my mind off of it or else I’d go crazy. I spend a day editing and then the next day writing the memoir. This pattern has kept me sane or, at least, motivated to continue editing.

Although I keep a mini journal on my iPhone (yes, there’s an app for that), I’ve never been someone who likes to write about the happenings in my life in a journal. I find it tedious and boring (there’s that word again). I use my mini journal to record little moments, primarily with my wife and kids, using the photos that I take along the way. It’s mostly like a series of photos with captions. The only reason I do it is to keep a running dialogue as the kids get older to remember those key moments in our lives.

As I get older, that dialogue grows in importance. I often wish that I had some written record of my parents’ or my grandparents’ lives. It’d be interesting, to me at least, to be able to read their thoughts and reflections on their lives. It’d sort of be like a peek behind the curtain, an opportunity to get to know them beyond their roles in my life. In many ways, this memoir can serve that function for my kids and any grandchildren that may come into existence. When this exercise is done and I put the memoir in the proverbial desk drawer, I hope that it serves their curiosity.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to share some parts of it here as I post excerpts. Unlike my fiction work, I don’t plan to edit it because it’s not something I ever plan on publishing. It’s more a stream-of-consciousness exercise where the raw material is just what it is, no makeup applied. Knowing that I don’t have to edit it when I’m done makes it even more fun to write. Did I mention that I dislike editing?

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