I have a decision to make about whether to change the venue of my one-day memoir writing workshops. The workshops I ran earlier in the year were well attended and I received some great feedback from the participants. However I had to cancel the last couple of workshops due to low bookings. While, some writers who usually attend had clashes with other arrangements, I began to wonder whether the travel hike to Ourimbah and back to Sydney is maybe a bit much on a monthly basis.
One the possibilities is to run the workshops in Sydney instead. I am getting some feedback about a couple of venue options. What I really need to know is would you be more likely to attend a one-day workshop if it was held in Sydney as opposed to Ourimbah? The more feedback you give me, the easier it would be for me to make a decision.
Thanks for your help
Skeletons & Dirty Linen
Just Sit Down & Write
Memoir Writing Workshop
TAKING BOOKINGS NOW
Ask any writer you know if they have a fear of actually sitting down and putting words on the page. Most will confess to have a long list of often ‘valid’ ways to avoid the challenge of their writing practice.
There are some exceptions. Popular writer James Patterson signed a book deal in 2009 to write 17 books by the end of 2012. That’s a book every three months. In the last 12 months he earned US$91 million. If he’s scared he doesn’t let it stop him from writing.
The rest of us are mostly cowards who avoid the hard stuff with similar excuses we use to avoid physical exercise. It’s too cold, I’m tired, and I’m too old to start, what’s the point?; any reason to postpone taking action. Whatever way you look at it, it’s not the actual practice that causes procrastination but the fear of failure. Do I have the tenacity, the imagination, the skills I need to write?; why would anyone want to read my story?; I’ve got too many pressures; I need to do the laundry.
Memoir writing has its special scary devil called – The Truth. Avoiding the truth, whether it’s being afraid of what others will think or upsetting our own family, or, worst of all, having to dig into those dark places where our own truth lies buried is especially tough for memoir writers.
This workshop we will talk about these fears. I’ll show you some of the psychological skills that I use to push past the scary stuff, as well a couple of practical devices that really work for me and other writers I know.
Address: 18 Kauri Court, Ourimbah
Time: 10:00am to 4:00pm
Contact: Eileen Naseby
0416 181 645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost: $120 per workshop, includes lunch
Thanks to everyone who jumped in and fired off your favourite memoirs to recommend to my workshop students. If anyone else has any others that spring to mind let me know.
Here are the first 50…
|1||Maya Angelou||Even the Start Look Lonesome|
|2||Maya Angelou||Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now|
|3||Jean Bauby||The Diving Bell and the Butterfly|
|4||Anthony Burgess||Confessions of Anthony Burgess|
|5||Austen Burroughs||Running with Scissors|
|6||Mary Carr||The Liars Club|
|7||Jung Chan||Wild Swans|
|8||Laura Shaine Cunningham||Sleeping Arrangements|
|10||Edmund de Waal||The Hare with the Amber Eyes|
|10||Simone de Beauvoir||Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
|11||Joan Didion||The Year of Magical Thinking|
|12||Annie Dillard||Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek|
|13||Annie Dillard||A Writer’s Life|
|14||Patrick Leigh Fermor||Time of Gifts|
|15||Janet Frame||An Angel at My Table|
|16||Anne Frank||Diary of a Young Girl|
|17||Raymond Gaita||Romulus, My Father|
|18||Elizabeth Gilbert||Eat Pray Love|
|19||Rita Golden Gelman||Tales of a Female Nomad|
|20||Vivian Gornick||Fierce Attachments|
|21||Robert Gray||The Land I Came Through Last|
|22||William Horwood||The Boy with No Shoes|
|23||Clive James||Unreliable Memoirs|
|24||Frank McCourt||Angela’s Ashes|
|25||Norman Lewis||I Came, I Saw|
|26||Franz Lidz||Unstrung Heroes|
|27||Barry Lopez||About this Life|
|28||James McBride||The Colour of Water|
|29||Patti Miller||The Mind of a Thief|
|30||Henry Miller||The Colossus of Marrousi|
|31||Jessica Mitford||Daughters and Rebels|
|32||Rick Moody||The Black Veil|
|33||Sally Morgan||My Place|
|34||Vladimir Nabakov||Speak Memory|
|35||Michael Oondaatje||Running in the Family|
|36||Amos Oz||A Tale of Love and Darkness|
|37||Ruth Park||A Fence Around the Cuckoo|
|38||Ruth Park||Fishing in the Styx|
|39||Paul Rusesabagina||An Ordinary Man|
|40||Susan Swingler||The House of Fiction|
|41||Desmond Tutu||No Future Without Forgiveness|
|41||Peter Ustinov||Dear Me|
|43||Jeanne Winterson||My Place|
|44||Tobias Wolff||This Boy’s Life|
|45||Lidia Yuknavitch||The Chronology of Water|
|46||Lech Walesa||A Way of Hope
|47||Clifton Pugh||Patterns of a Lifetime
|48||George Jackson||Soledad Brother
|49||Les Murray||A Life in Progress
|50||John Elder Robinson||Look Me in the Eye
The First Rule of Memoir Writing
Your memoir is not about you!
I’m not usually bossy. In fact I tell my workshop participants that rules are an anathema because they can be very inhibiting. A rule is quite different to a discipline. For instance I know that I get some of my best writing done if I get up at 5.00am because my brain is always more alert at that time. So my personal rule is to try and discipline myself to always get up early. This ‘rule’ works for me but it won’t necessarily work for you because you might write your best stuff at the midnight.. The most important rule is to focus on what really works for you.
Having said I hate rules I’m now about to break my own rule by setting this list for you.
My Six Most Important Rules for Writing Memoir
Your memoir is not about you
Never play for sympathy. Readers don’t care about you personally. They’re only interested in story, and universal themes such as abandonment or betrayal. What they really want to find out is how you dealt with whatever it was that was dished up to you.
Tell the truth
Don’t make stuff up after the event to make yourself look good. The Germans call it Treppenwitz – ‘staircase wit’. Come clean about your failures and weaknesses. It will be much more interesting than trying to show your readers how clever you might have been at the time.
Joan Didion said in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, “The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
It’s not your job to judge
Relationships are very complex. There are very few all bad or all good characters, even in your family. Saints have their flaws, and devils their soft spots. Let your reader decide whether to love or hate the people you are writing about. Your job is to describe them as honestly as you can with all their complexities.
Your memoir is not your psychotherapist
If you’re really serious about being published don’t treat your writing as a treatment for your emotional wounds. Some people won’t agree, but believe me, if this is your ultimate goal you’ll lose your perspective. Make sure you write from a distance, which is probably the best therapy anyway.
Annie Dillard said in her book A Writing Life “This is not a meditation… but a despatch from the desk.”
You don’t have to start at the beginning
Even experienced writers get bogged down when they try to write chronologically. Start with a scene that really excites you. Then you can work forward and backwards from this point.
Do mountains of research
Unless you’re a writing genius you should leave no stone unturned. The more you know before you start putting your story down, the better your writing will be.
American writer, David McCullough says, “Marinate your head.”
Want To Write Your Life Story?
Skeletons & Dirty Linen
Beginners’ Workshop – Ourimbah
This workshop will introduce you to the art of letting go of your writing inhibitions, research techniques, and structure. At the end of the workshop you will have an idea of where to begin your memoir, and how to plan your structure. You will also take away a short piece of writing inspired by your own creativity.
“The timing was perfect. The stories that have been
incubating in my head for so long are finally hatching”
- Jack, workshop participant
date: Wednesday June 12
time: 10.00am to 12.30pm
place: 18 Kauri Court, Ourimbah
bookings & info: Contact Eileen – 0416 181 645 or email@example.com
Skeletons & Dirty Linen
For years I’ve had a pledge to write at least five hundred words’ a day. You might think that’s not much of a goal. Colleen McCullough claimed she wrote twenty thousand words a day. Graham Greene religiously wrote five hundred. If it was good enough for him then it’s good enough for me. Any way five hundred works out to be nearly two hundred thousand a year, – the length of a very long novel. With such a low target you might think it would be a breeze, but I confess it isn’t.
There are times when I go for days, weeks even, without writing a single word of the book I am working on. All manner of things get in the way. For a start there’s the chores I simply have to do before I sit down to write. This is my typical daily routine – empty the dishwasher, check my emails, fill the dishwasher, check the news headlines, put on the washing, check Facebook, pay some bills, check twitter, hang out the washing, check my emails, make the doctor’s appointment. Oh dear suddenly the morning has gone, and I haven’t even opened a word document let alone written five hundred words. Now I’m too tired to even think about writing.
I guess I’m not the only writer with this problem. Writing ideas can hit you anytime, whether you’re lying awake in the middle of the night, or you’re sitting on a bus or going for walk, you suddenly can’t wait to start putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. The words are about to pour out of you and you won’t even think about your goals as you charge past the five hundred mark. But as you walk toward your desk - alarm bells ring. You hesitate for a second. You’re sure there’s something you ought to be doing. You remember your sister is coming to visit and you need to change the sheets. You’ve run out of milk. You need to get a quote for new tyres. Your writing can wait for an hour, and anyway there’s always tomorrow.
You’re tricking yourself aren’t you? You know there’s nothing more important in your life than writing. You know it’s so much bigger than washing or car repairs or twitter. Of course you know that. You also know all too well that later today, or tomorrow or next month of next year you’ll be kicking yourself for your lack of output. You will eke out the rest of your days in misery and guilt. So why don’t you stop reading and starting writing this minute? So why don’t you just start?
My husband is a very keen golfer, well actually he’s a bit obsessed. He practises a lot, which is probably one of the reasons I have so much housework to do. When he’s at the practice range he hits his golf balls out of sight. When he shoulders his bag for a casual round his scores are quite often terrific, but he rarely repeats this prowess when he plays in official competitions. It’s what most of us do when we have to stop rehearsing and face the real thing. It’s called self-sabotage, and I do it to myself over and over.
Yet I’ve also proved I’m capable of being much more prolific. When I was given the deadline to write my memoir Ursula, I wrote 80,000 words in twelve months, and I was working full-time that year. So why can’t I manage five hundred words a day without a deadline?
In his inspirational guide to overcoming personal barriers, http://www.stevenpressfield.com/do-the-work/ prolific novelist Steven Pressfield argues no matter what we set out to undertake, whether it’s a creative pursuit, starting a new diet or health regime or overcoming an addiction, our main enemy is RESISTANCE.’ He says ‘We’ll hit every predictable Resistance Point along the way – those junctures where fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, and all those other demons we’re all so familiar with can be counted on to strike,’
So now I have name to call it that low level ache under my ribs that comes with the very thought of words going on the page. It’s called resistance. Pressfield ‘says resistance is lying and full of shit’. My theory is once you name something it’s a lot easier to fight it. I also know once I start anything is possible. Crikey, I’ve just realised I’ve exceeded today’s goal by over two hundred words. Easy isn’t it? Now there’s just tomorrow. I’m going to keep a tally of my daily output over the next month. Anyone want to join me? I’d love to get your feedback.
Next week – The Pomodoro a Magic Time-Management Method
Recently I came across my diary notes for October 2nd last year, a birthday shared by two of my favourite heroes, Mahatma Gandhi and my beloved stepfather. I read a Wall Street Journal review of a new biography of Ghandi that claimed, among other things, he was a bisexual misogynist. The review said this biography “obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that [Gandhi] was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist — one who was often downright cruel to those around him.”
I have lived long enough to see so many of my childhood heroes bite the dust. Churchill just loved fighting wars ; Martin Luther King committed adultery; Abraham Lincoln was a racist. I’m no longer surprised by such revelations. But the question I always ask myself is, whether these flaws actually undermine the greatness of their achievements?
Which leads me to TS Eliot, who has been my favourite poet since high school. At sometime in my twenties I actually went off him for many years because I read somewhere he had his first wife, Vivienne, committed to a mental asylum. She died in this institution nine years later, and during this time he never once went to visit her. I was so appalled by this apparent callousness, I couldn’t even bring myself to open a book of his poems.
The trouble was his Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock had always been my very favourite poem. I had read it so often I knew much of it by heart. Over the years these lines kept coming back to me unbidden. I might have rejected the poet, but, try as I might, I could never quite turn my back on the work itself.
In truth history reveals Eliot and Vivienne were already separated when her brother, not her husband, placed her in the asylum. Yet this is not the point either. Even when I thought Eliot had been a cruel husband scorning the mentally ill woman who loved him, why did his poetry continue to hold me in its clutches?
Theirs was an incredibly complex relationship. They were two extremely vulnerable people who became more damaged as the years went on. Eliot’s incredible tour de force The Wasteland, one of, the 20th-centurys greatest poems, arose, in part, from the wreckage of this marriage. You see his work is so powerful because of his human frailty, not in spite of it. His true gift to us was his ability to offer up his own fear and struggles in a resounding reflection of universal human suffering.
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl.’
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od’ und leer das Meer.”
This month’s issue of Vanity Fair features a review of a new biography BarackObama: The Story by David Maraniss, and centers around his relationships with a fellow college student, Alex McNear and the letters she kept during the period. Barack Obama: The Story, by David Maraniss
As a TSE fan what really interested me was an excerpt from a letter he wrote to her discussing a paper she was writing on the ‘The Wasteland.’ Beyond anything else his writing reinforces Obama’s intellectual strength and broad vision even at this early stage of his life. Imagine George Bush or Romney… no I won’t go there.
Here’s the excerpt.
‘I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements—Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter—life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?’
“I needed something that was going to really challenge me, and a course which specifically examines family relationships is exactly what I was looking for.” she said.
The Genogram, a sophisticated family tree, helps to explore family relationships and to quickly identify various influences in a person’s family history. Using specific symbols these patterns clarify the nature of emotional and social relationships, living conditions, and recurring disorders such as alcoholism or depression. Used as a memoir-writing tool, a Genogram helps to place the really confronting issues into perspective.
The first of six 2-hr weekly workshops is on May 24, 2012 at 6.30pm at Newtown.
More information send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 0416 181 645