Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Memoir

I have always loved writing, as far back as I can remember. I enjoyed writing poems in grade school, but I liked writing stories even more.

I didn't ever think of writing something with the potential of others every reading it, though. I just wrote for my own enjoyment. It wasn't until I was in a high school creative writing class did my teacher really encourage me. She continued to say time and time again that I had a "gift". Although I felt I struggled with writing at times, I think I am finally beginning to understand what she meant. Let me explain.

Fast forward to January, 2011. I sat down in an "Intro to Fiction Writing" class in college. On the first day the instructor asked us to go around the room and introduce ourselves by 1) Saying our name and 2) the genre we enjoy writing in.

Genre? Hmm. I had never really given any thought up until that moment about genre. Here I was writing a few short stories here and there and I never really thought about genre at all. I had about 2 minutes before it was my turn and I quickly thought about the things I had written up to that point as well as the type of fiction I had enjoyed reading. I decided that my "genre" was realism. Sometimes my pieces had a little hint of romance, sometimes a hint of mystery. I always like to have an element of humor or quirkiness, but yes, overall my "genre" would be Realism. So, that's what I said.

I should tell you that once I "discovered" my genre, it was actually easier to write. I didn't feel limited to only write realistic things. But I guess it helped me write with a particular audience in mind. That class was great as the instructor pushed us to write in genres we typically didn't. I feel I grew a lot as a writer in that class. It wasn't my first college writing class, but she was just a very eccentric instructor that helped me see things differently, and who took joy from edging me out of my comfort zone, or so it seemed.

Then over the summer, I took another creative writing class. In that class we discussed everything from poetry, to prose, to fabulist fiction, and even non-fiction. Non-Fiction? In Creative Writing? Well, that is what I thought the first time he mentioned it. In my mind, I kept picturing writing instruction manuals "Creatively", or writing a biography filled with hyperbole. I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of creative non-fiction. Then I read David Sedaris. Then I LISTENED to David Sedaris read some of his own works. Hmmm... I thought. This is like blogging.

Then we had an assignment to WRITE a piece of creative non-fiction, otherwise known as Narrative Non-Fiction. I panicked. I wasn't sure what I should write about. I had a lot going on that week, and I felt fresh out of ideas. Then it hit me. I have been writing narrative non-fiction as long as I have had this blog! I skimmed through my blog and copied and pasted one of my favorite entries, tweaking a few things here and there. Honestly, I didn't think it was my best piece. But like I said, I was out of ideas.

However, when the instructor returned it to me, I had received 100%. His commentary was better than expected and he gave me great suggestions for improving it. At the end of the semester, he did a "conference" with each of us one-on-one. This, by far, was the best thing ever. Because he went through my portfolio and we discussed each of the assignment pieces I had written. He went back to the narrative nonfiction piece, a memoir and really encouraged me to choose that one for my final project. He then told me that I had a way of sharing my experiences that made others want to read them. He said I had some funny insights, and a clever way of putting things, but that the important part was that I wasn't afraid to lay it all out on the line. I am a REVEALOR, he said. I laughed and said, "you mean I share too much?" (Because I've heard that before!) He laughed and said, "The fact that you are so open about your experiences and your thoughts on those experiences is what makes it great. Most people don't share the things you are willing to share. That's why they like reading them."

So, the memoir it was. I worked and worked on it and then presented it to the class for my final piece. I got some good feedback, ways to make it better, etc. I was also met with some criticism as well. A few class members did not like how I worded a few things. They felt it was too personal. The instructor came to my defense and said "This is what sells. If she's smart, she will take it and turn it into a full-length manuscript and try to get it sold."

I should explain that during these review sessions, the class critiques your work and the writer is not allowed to speak. So, there I sat taking it all in. I couldn't explain or defend myself at all. And when he said that, I also had to refrain from jumping up and down. This was the biggest compliment of all.

This past week, I started the fall semester and I have a novel writing class. My instructor's new novel has just come out {more about that here} so he definitely has credibility. He told us in our first class that his goal for us is to get us well on our way with a solid novel. The first day he asked us to introduce ourselves and tell the class what we were working on. I could honestly say that I am working on a narrative nonfiction.

The more I work on this piece, the more excited I become. I don't know why I never realized that I prefer "narrative nonfiction" over "realism fiction". I mean, haven't I been doing that this whole time I've been blogging? Also, when I look back through my high school creative writing assignments (yes, I kept those), it was the creative NONfiction pieces that my teacher always seemed to love best. I even pulled out stuff from my freshman year of college (Circa 1992) and noticed that my best pieces were also non-fiction. (I wrote about my first kiss!)

So, that's what I am currently working on at the moment, the memoir. Hopefully, my family will not kill me over anything I "divulge". Then again, if it ever ends up selling, I'll just buy them off! haha!

Oh, and that "gift" my high school teacher once told me I had? Yeah -- well, I have finally come to understand that my "gift" is my willingness to "over share", haha.


Charlotte said...

I'm sure your family will forgive you! I love reading your stories and am always open for more. I loved hearing your stories more, but life happens. I'm glad you are having so much success at school. Hope to see your name at a neighborhood bookstore soon!

Susie said...

I am not surprised at all that you got such positive feedback from your instructor. I have always enjoyed reading your words:-)

Michelle said...

I don't have 'credibility' or anything, but I think the way you write is so easy to read. Instead of reading each word and piecing it together in my head, it's like the story just comes right off the page. That might not make sense :) But as I read your blog, I often wish I had some of your so called 'talent' :)

mrbusdr said...

I could be "bought off" very easily.

Ruthykins said...

I don't know how I feel about being exposed in a book. I could be bought off by owning a copy.

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm so glad you're writing again!

Amy said...

I love to read anything you write, I'm sure your grocery list would be interesting!! but I think someone already did a book about that, anyway!! keep writing and we'll keep reading!!!