How to Begin

Writing tips will be offered in this space. Students, former students and anyone else with a yen to write are invited to submit questions to sanredd@earthlink.net. As many as possible will be answered in future entries.

Recently, a young woman contacted me. She wanted to know how to begin a memoir.

Begin by simply writing, I advised her. By doing practice writings, as Natalie Goldberg advises in her phenominal book, Writing Down the Bones, your subconscious will help you locate the bones of your story. Perhaps the spine of your life is an illness you battled, or staying married to the same person for over fifty years or how education changed your life or even, how humor gets you through the day. Each section you write needs to either contribute to the goal you sought or work against it.

Some writers need prompts (or suggestions) to jumpstart their brains. For example, when I say “apple” to my students, one might recall her grandmother’s apple pie, warm from the oven; another might recall once climbing an apple tree and falling from its branches. For both, the word brings back a forgotten memory that could add relevant description to what is written.

Natalie Goldberg’s book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir offers hundreds of prompts presented in a variety of creative ways.

In addition to practice writing, read the memoirs of others, figuring out how they’re organized and what makes them successful. Be sure to set aside a specific time for writing. The more time you spend putting words on a page, the better your writing will be. Finally, believe in your own ability to get it down. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Critiquing comes later.

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