I’m currently in the process of writing my memoir. This is a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I am also currently attending a memoir writing course at the University of Toronto. I am learning alot through it.
I think its a good idea for any writer to take a course like this. Not only have I learnt the basic rules, and skills I need to write well, I am also able to learn by reading, critiquing and discussing the work of the other students. This is valuable and helping me a lot. I’m making progress. I just completed and handed in my final workshop assignment. I think its good, at least a lot better than my previous attempts at writing my life story, and one that I feel shows potential.
At this point showing potential is very good thing. I have come to realize that good writing is not about natural talent. People assume that talent is what people need. I disagree. Talent is only what you produce. People don’t have talent, they have education or skills; they can show potential or promise, but talent is different. Its a result of, and combination of these things and yes, entirely depends on them. But to say a person is talented can only come after they have produced a great piece of writing. That comes through, and by, only one thing: hard work. Dedication, commitment, and the hours it takes to produce great books, comes only from the willingness to work hard on them.
You can be very skilled, and knowledgeable about writing, you can have a great story, but unless you are going to make writing important, and worthy of your invested time, and effort, it will fail. There is another ingredient necessary, one that takes skill, promise, desire and turns it into talent, a great book. That ingredient is passion, and without it, you cannot be a writer, as you will not be able, as great writers do, to bring life to your pages. That is what a great writer does, brings life to the page, their story.
I have always loved to read. During my life, I have read many memoirs. The best of them remain among my favorite books, and are the stories that have moved, and motivated me most. Of these, I have three I would call the best memoirs I have read. These are the best, because they did as required; brought to life stories of great lives, and did so with depth, grace, clarity and truth. These books are “Night” by Elie Weisel, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, and “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.
What I love about these books is that they are not just well written, they are elemental. They are like wheat in a field, when a lot of writing is like loaves bought at a supermarket, prepackaged and mixed according to taste, They are about freedom, and the act of writing about, and sharing that freedom. They are life stories that include suffering, and pain, but are not about them. That is the aim, why they succeed,. They share the freedom, not the cage.
To many, wonder bread books, easily bought, eaten, digested are fine. Great books are different. They are the wheat, the sky, the air, and the ground. They allow you to see, feel, smell the wheat, to taste it in the air, and feel the wind, as it moves the field. They allow you to imagine yourself in that field, moving and swaying along with the words. Great memoirs allow you to live within the pages, not be imprisoned by them, freed only at their ending.
This is, and should be the goal of any memoir writer. Its hard, and hard work, but possible. I set my standard for myself against these three books, and even against the other students in my class. There is nothing wrong with comparision. It highlights your own weaknesses, and strengths, allows us to see how far we have come, and the work we still need to do. It’s all a part of the process.
The finished product you hope to produce is, of course, and ultimately, up to you. The secret to creating great written art, or a great life for that matter, is knowing the real magic happens only after you stop worrying, and thinking about what others want and think, and start celebrating yourself. You need to love your voice, and yourself, to write. Unless you can and do, you will not be able to create a work that is anything other than a book about everyone else. Be a star, feel the starry night, and tell the world exactly how that feels. That is what a great memoir needs, for great writing is ultimately an act of great, and profound love.
Its important for humans to know each other. A memoir is the tool that can best do this. We need to hear each other’s voices, so we hear, and love, fully, our own.