Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Six Keys to Writing Memoir


Here are some tips about writing memoir that I picked up through books and lectures. 

1.      Memoir is a story, a story where discoveries are usually made.  It’s the writer’s story about a specific time in his or her life with the writer’s present day reflections on that time.  “Just the facts, Ma’am” is autobiography.

2.      To be interesting, a story needs tension, a problem with an outcome.  An exciting journey.  A protagonist and an antagonist—even if the antagonist is a concept; like in my memoir, time or educational understanding.

3.      The reader needs to be immersed in that story.  Scenes keep the story moving forward.  Insight helps the reader understand reasons for actions and emotion.  Tuck telling details and insight within the action of the story. 

4.      Memoir needs to be populated with three dimensional real characters.  Keep the protagonist genuine for readers to stay connected to him or her.  Yes, the protagonist needs to grow and develop throughout the manuscript, but his or her core beliefs or wit should show in each chapter.

5.      The important thing to remember about any chapter in memoir is that it contains substance and moves the plot forward.  Scaffolding or outlining can help a memoirist keep on track and organized.  Remember, outlines can be changed during the writing process.

6.      Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be writing about.  Take all suggestions to your writing as suggestions.  It’s your memoir, not someone else’s.

Memoir can be a bit like writing fiction, except your plot has actually happened.  Please feel free to offer any ideas you may have.  Thanks.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What’s at Stake in the Memoir?

What’s at stake for the memoirist at the beginning of her journey?  What’s at stake for the reader?  Why should he or she invest time reading your memoir? 

Aside from the humor and occasional reversal of parent/child roles, my college memoir needs to demonstrate the importance for the mother to attend each class and in fact finish her educational journey.  But there needs to be more.  There needs to be risk.

The possibility of failure is a part of any worthwhile journey.  If it isn’t, the journey becomes boring.  It’s fine to enjoy a mother’s struggles through college, how she copes, how she discovers ways to succeed.  But to add tension, Failure must be an active player, and in my memoir she is.         

            But is the fear of failure enough to hold the reader’s attention?  How about the possibilities in succeeding?  Could I possess a fear of failure and a fear of success?  I was terrified when my community college put the Ivy League within my reach.  How could I not attend when I had been awarded a scholarship?  Everyone was proud of me and excited for me.  I wanted to hide under my bed until everyone forgot about it.

Right now my memoir is a collection of scenes, a progression through college, but to be a successful memoir, it needs to be something more.  Therein lays the reason for reading memoirs and writing help books.  To discover how to make my college journey more than a sum of its educational parts. 

            One thing I have discovered in writing my college memoir is that I am forever learning.  It’s just where I’m learning that has changed.  I am hip deep in Beth Kephart’s wonderful writing reference book Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir.  I highly recommend it to any budding memoirist. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Was It Like this for You?

Author Beth Kephart
I had the pleasure of attending a mini workshop in memoir on Penn’s campus with Beth Kephart, a memoir teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.  Beth has written five memoirs each answering a different question in her life.  She has also written a new book about memoir writing:  Handling the Truth. 


            While I learned about universal theme in my “Write Your Memoir in Six Month” course with Brooke Warner and Linda JoyMyers, Beth added another element to memoir writing.  In order to engage the reader in memoir, whatever the topic (mine being a college journey), the memoirist needs to address the question “Was the experience like this for you?”


It’s not that the memoirist needs to state this question literally in the memoir, but the essence of the question and the memoirist’s answer to it should at least be implied through the writing.  Memoir needs to be more than autobiographical, more than the humor of raising a family while raising a mother’s education level in my case. 


Where others may have journeyed through college alone, in a sense, I took my family with me.  I need universal questions through which to filter my story.  To build suspense, I need to show the search for the answers to these questions through my writing, in my anecdotes, in my mind in order to offer the reader insight into any journey he or she may be planning. 


I need to present my memoir in ways to allow readers to enter upon the college journey.  I need to explore the inner self so that my reader can identify with me.  This sounds like the inner dialogue, which I am carefully attempting to incorporate into my memoir manuscript. 

There are many ways to bring a reader into your story.  Do you have any questions that you or your characters ask the reader of your story?  Feel free to offer any advice to keep the reader involved in the story. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Make Memoirs Unique

Hush, the writer is thinking.
What makes my memoir different?  A very good question. 

If you’ve been reading memoirs, you’ll notice that each experience is unique, whether the memoir is about childhood, death, surviving divorce, or even surviving college.  Through specific details, the memoirist achieves universality. 

            Of course universality is not enough.  I need to show my hard-won epiphanies through self-reflection.  This is the difficult part for me.  I’m a scene writer.  I need action.  I enjoy the comic moments of raising a family in all their hilarious detail. 


“You need more internal dialogue here, Victoria,” my critique partner told me.

And of course she was correct.  But to look inside myself?


Perhaps I had been too busy raising that family of mine and hammering away at my bachelor’s degree to pause and reflect about how I felt when my children constantly interrupted my studying time or when I was attempting to make study tapes for various classes.           


            I need to fill my memoir with self-made maxims and self-wisdom learned, not so much the subject matter learned.  My college memoir is a candid story of self-improvement through the college education of a mother.  My children’s presence punctuates my college experience.

I remained their primary care-giver and continued to teach them from my newfound knowledge base.


            Are these maxims easy to find?  No.  In fact, I find myself spending whole days trying to figure out “how I felt” or “what I learned” at a particular time during my college journey.  It gets to the point where I need to convince myself that it’s good enough for the first revision and then move on.


            How do you get past a sticking point in your manuscripts?  Please offer some tips.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

South Jersey Writers Group

A mix of stories from the Writers Group
A fellow writer from the South Jersey Writing Group has interviewed me for the blog Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.  Please follow the link to read the interview and see family photos.  Let me know what you think.   

 Thank you so much.


Monday, August 12, 2013

What to Include in Memoir

Hard-working mother in college
Memoir isn’t a life story.  That is autobiography.  Memoir is one particular period in a person’s life, one instance or one experience in which the memoirist has come to an epiphany or several epiphanies from that experience and wishes to share that insight with the reader.  Memoir provides insight not merely facts of the experience. 


It is not necessary to include everything that happened in the particular period which the memoirist wishes to share and elucidate to the reader.  The memoir would be too long and rambling if I included every class taken.  After taking over 40 college courses, I decided to write about my experiences in approximately 25 of them.  Of course that’s not all I wrote about.  I focused on the trials and tribulations of raising a family of five children while attending college for ten years, ten of my children’s growing-up years, ten years of assisting my special needs child to achieve her educational goals.


Memoirs encapsulate the important moments, the “aha” moments in the slice of life the memoirist decides to share.  The general, the sameness in experience has no place in memoir.  Memoir needs to be poignant and full of meaning, and in my case, humorous.  For that was a way to cope in the daily grind of going to college as a mother of five.


Has anyone read a good memoir lately that I could add to my reading list?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Roving Through Revisions

When it's going well...
Although Hemingway and Anne LaMott may call the first draft by a different name, I feel my synonym works just as well.  I’m plodding through the poopy first draft of my memoir now, chapter by chapter, enlivening scenes here, clarifying details there, and hopefully offering enough insight so that readers can truly see what it was like attending college as a non-traditional student and still raising those five children.

Of course, I could tell the reader my experience in one word: exhausting.  However my fellow memoirists in the writing course I just finished thought I should be a little more specific.  I’m considering each edit of my manuscript, deciding whether or not a cut is in order or simply elucidation.  I’m not opposed to dropping summary in favor of a scene.  My fellow memoirists enjoyed the interaction between my children and me as I struggled through entrance to and classes in my college journey.  I find myself laughing out loud in the library where I sometimes hide to write, and then can’t wait for dinner that night to tell the family what I wrote about that day.  Pretty soon we’re all reliving the experience and laughing out loud.  This is what makes my memoir about college different from other college memoirs.
In writing through the memoir course attempting to get that poopy first draft completed, sometimes I rushed through or summarized important situations to finish a topic or to complete a chapter.  I was always looking ahead or trying to decide what to include and what to leave out.  This first revision allows me to open up scenes where there were none; to slow down the pace and allow the reader to absorb all that was happening.
Every writer revises, from experts to beginners.  What writing glitches do you deal with in revision?  Please share any tips.  Thanks.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Platform Building: A Must for All Writers

A friend from my South Jersey Writers group confirmed what I had been hearing in every class and on every blog.  “Your manuscript could be great,” he said, “but if you’re not socially connected, the publisher’s not interested in reading it.”    

Gone are the days when writers only had to focus on their writing.  Now we need to be masters of the social media if we want a publisher to look at our manuscripts. 

            But how do you become socially connected?  Here are some tips I picked up.  Ideas are welcome.

1.      Become an expert on the topic you write about.  Research about the topic.  Look for relevant current events and comment on them.

2.      Visit other blogs in your genre or topic.  Follow them.  Leave comments.  Tell people who you are.  Guest post on a blog where permissible.

3.      Create your own blog about your genre or topic and blog often.  Set up a consistent routine so followers know when you are likely to post. 

4.      Create an author page on facebook and invite friends to join it.  Announce when you have posted something new on your blog or website.  Ask people to visit and leave comments.

5.      Create a google+ account to connect with other writers and friends and associations relevant to your topics and become involved in online conversations. 

6.      Join twitter.  Tweet.  Retweet.  And “Like” tweets or comments.  Ask for retweets.  Thank the person for the retweet.  Use hashtags [#] and join online conversations.

7.      Join LinkedIn and become part of some online conversations there as well.

8.      Pinterest is a visual media.  If you can make visual connections to your topic or book, do so on pinterest. 

            These are all free.  You can also build a website [.com] and/or buy your name.  You can connect your blogs and media to your own website and sell your books through a link on your webpage.  I haven’t gotten to this point as I don’t have anything to sell…yet.   

            I completed my Write Your Memoir in 6 Months course.  My first draft is 65,246 words.  Now the real work begins.  Revision.  I hope to bolster up my media platform while I revise.  But as most of you realize, social media takes much time…and patience. 

How did you build your social platform and how long did it take before you started seeing some results?  Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What to Write in Those Confounded Chapters

What to say; what to say...
What’s your method for filling your chapters with words?  I begin with my outline topics for each chapter.  I do a lot of staring at the stupid blip blinking on that blasted blank white page.  Then I force myself to start elaborating on the topics.  When I can’t think of anything else to say about a specific topic, I move to the next topic and start babbling about it.  And back and forth I go. 

The beauty of the computer is that you can jump around scenes or even thoughts in any particular chapter.  You can just click where you want to pick up the topic and start typing.  Stop and then start somewhere else.  And of course you can always go back to modify what you have written.  Once I finish a writing session, I mark any section I’m working on with “*** Start” in red and next time I work on the manuscript, use the Find key to locate it within the document.

            How long should chapters be?  Is there a standard length?  In memoir you don’t want chapters too short.  The reader might think:  “no substance,” too long and “you lost me.”  It is important to write clearly and offer insight to any actions or anecdotes.  

I have a lot to talk about trying to master French in five easy [??] semesters, what with writing French blogs, presentations, videos, and research papers.  [I still don’t have a firm grasp of the language, but don’t tell Penn.]  My problem is that 10,000 words is too long for a chapter, so I need to break it up.  But where?

Perhaps the chapter should divide between community college courses and university level courses.  The advanced projects above came into play at the University of Pennsylvania.  Maybe the break should come after the community college courses and the entrance exam to be placed into the university level courses and then the second French chapter could be how I survived learning French at Penn.  What do you think?  The important thing to remember about any chapter is that it contains substance and moves the plot forward.

            I have 59,624 words and one more chapter to write before I have a complete first draft, and only two weeks to do it in.  Then the class is over and my first draft should be complete.  It will be close.  Wish me luck! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing is not a Cookie-Cutter Science

Writing is not a cookie cutter deal
Take all suggestions to your writing as just that—suggestions.  It is, after all, your writing, not someone else’s.  This is why it is important to have a trustworthy writing/reading partner, someone who’s writing style or expertise you admire. 

            After taking writing courses at the University of Pennsylvania, I have learned to think about each comment before I start ripping my plot to pieces or thinking that the way I did things is wrong and the comment is absolutely correct.  Sometimes I consider the comment for a week or two before changing the manuscript or ignoring the comment altogether. 

Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be writing.  Write what eats away at you, what needs to be said.  That's what memoir is. Your story.  No one else's.  Writing is not a cookie cutter deal.  Oh sure, there are tips and suggestions on how to organize your writing or what to include in the scene or plot.  Just look at how many books, blogs, and magazines there are on the subject.  But in the end, you need to be true to yourself and to your story.  It is what's in your heart that needs to be said that counts.

I'm like a stick stuck in the quagmire of life. I'm not likely to budge unless an editor loosens me with a legitimate view or suggestion for my manuscript.  Of course I'm not always sure that's the correct attitude to take, buy hey, it's me.  How do you handle any feedback you receive from beta readers or critique partners?

Writers know what they want to say.  Occasionally they need a fresh pair of eyes, someone they respect, to make sure what’s on the page is what’s in the writer’s mind.  Don't ever let anyone slow you down or stop you from writing.

            Two months left in my Write Your Memoir in Six Months course.  I have close to 45,600 words and three more chapters to go to have the first draft complete.  Then the revising process begins.  Wish me luck!  Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Need for Objective Readers: Writing Partners

Writers helping Writers

Many times, I don’t see what’s missing from my scenes or story.  In memoir, the writer has lived through these adventures, and in most cases, can still experience these emotions.  So while I know exactly what’s going on in the scene, the reader may not.  Telling details may be missing from the manuscript.  This is where objective readers come in, a crucial part of any writing project.

            More specifics and reasons for emotions are two difficulties that I have in memoir writing.  But even in story writing, these are important issues.  The reader needs to know enough detail and reasoning to keep the story believable.  We don’t want the reader to leave the writer’s real past world of the narrator in memoir or make-believe world in fiction.

            Another important factor in memoir as in fiction is to keep the protagonist genuine for the reader to stay connected to him or her.  Yes, the protagonist needs to grow and develop throughout the manuscript, but his or her core beliefs or wit or in my case, her family-oriented lifestyle needs to show through in each chapter.

            In memoir as well as in fiction, this leads to a balance between scene and insight.  Scenes keep the story moving forward.  Insight helps the reader to know reasons for actions and emotion.  And objective readers can assist a writer in seeing any tip in the balance of the scale.  What do you think of this balance between scene and insight?

            Are you lucky enough to have a good writing/reading partner?  It’s important to have someone you trust, someone who understands your work or your genre. I have one and am truly blessed to have her input for my manuscript.

           It’s the halfway mark in my Write Your Memoir in Six Months course.  While I only wrote a little over 11,700 words for March due to family and work obligations, I have about 36,350 words altogether for the first eight chapters.  Thanks for your continued support.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Easy to Love But Hard to Raise Memoir

A worthy Parenting Memoir
Easy to Love but Hard to Raise is a finalist for's best special needs parenting memoir of 2012. 

This book is about children with “invisible” disabilities [ADHD, PBD, SPD, OCD, PDD, etc.] and the parents and guardians and doctors who assist with their upbringing. I have contributed an essay in this anthology.  The Resource section of Easy to Love lists books, organizations, websites, blogs, experts. The book has Q and A’s with experts about children with special needs as well as a forward by Edward Hallowell, M.D.

Please vote today at  Thank you!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Details and Description in Memoir

My inspiration in many ways

            When writing memoir, the author needs to remember that while she can see the cast of characters and the settings in a scene, the reader cannot.

            I didn’t think about this before as I was trying to make word count for the month.  Memoir needs to be populated with three dimensional characters.  Each scene needs to be fully developed.  Memoir needs to be story.  And the reader needs to be immersed in it.

            To interest a reader in fact or fiction, there needs to be a strong storyline.  A problem with an outcome.  An exciting journey.  A protagonist and an antagonist—even if the antagonist is a concept; like in my memoir, time or educational understanding. 

            While I’m moving ahead with my memoir, another 12,000 plus words for February, I need to remember to go back and flesh out specific details and description for the most important cast of characters in the memoir—my family.  I know my husband had a touch of gray in his curly hair, a moustache, and glasses, but the reader doesn’t.  For that matter, the reader doesn’t know that my hair was dark brown and shoulder length when I was attending college. 

            But where do you stick in telling details and description in the story?  You don’t want to bog down the flow of a passage with pages of description.  The best place is to tuck in bits of description within the action of the story. 

            In my memoir, I supply the details of the chemistry lab classroom as I’m immersed in an experiment with my classmates or fretting over a final presentation for class.  Use the senses when describing place.  I needed to allow the reader to see, hear, and smell the classroom.  And in story, allow the reader to suffer along with the protagonist.  Get inside her head, feel the heart pumping and the head pounding.  Don’t forget to show why the characters feel this way. 

Do you have another suggestion to tuck in telling details while keeping the story moving forward?  Please share it with us. 

A story is a living breathing creation.  Make sure your readers feel the same way about your creation.   

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writers: Know Thyself

If only this would work!
Just as there are many ways to outline a novel or memoir, there are many ways to set up a writing routine.  Finding the time to write can be daunting.  Not many writers can afford—whether it’s time or money—to go away to write.  That is for the lucky few.  Most writers carry many pens…and lots of paper.  I know I do.  Writers are parents, teachers, caregivers, or executives.  Some writers are doctors, lawyers, chefs, or small business owners.  The fact is that most people have too much to do.  

            So what should writers do?  First and foremost, a writer needs to know thyself—intimately.  What works for you?  Do you like to get up early to write, before your regular day begins?  Or rather you could be like me and be awake anyway so you may as well get up to do something constructive.  One of my favorite writers, Mary Higgins Clark, who also has five children, would get up at about 4 a.m. to write before her children stirred in the morning.  Some writers come alive at night when the house is quiet and dark, the only illumination coming from their computer screens and faces.  Some writers are lucky and can tuck in what I call “writing chunks of time” throughout the day and thereby rack up the word count and storyline.     

            However you can find time to write is good and right for you.  Then try and make it a routine for yourself.  Like exercising.  In fact, when I’m exercising, I’m usually writing in my mind.  Sometimes, I work out scenes and passages in my stories or essays, so I always keep paper and pen nearby.  I use exercise tapes, or rather DVD’s now, an old habit from the days when my children were too little to leave alone to go to a gym, so I can pause the DVD to jot down ideas for my writing.  Walking or hiking outdoors is a good exercise to help me clear the mind of all my obligations and think about my writing.  Sometimes, I carry a small tape recorder.

The most important thing is not to get too discouraged if you miss a writing session.  Tomorrow’s a brand new opportunity to get back into the computer seat and start creating.  I’ve written about 13,000 words this first month of my Write Your Memoirin Six Months course and have many thousands more to write.  This is only the beginning.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

Creating the Outline for Memoir

Supporting book structure with scaffolding
            The opinion is divided about whether or not to create an outline for a creative writing project.  Which side are you on and why?

The mentors of my “Write Your Memoir in 6 Months” course, Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., President of National Association of Memoir Writers, and Brooke Warner of Warner Coaching call the outline “scaffolding.” This makes sense to me, for just as scaffolding supports the workers as they construct a building, scaffolding can support writers as they complete a writing project. Especially with chapters and book-length material, an outline—or scaffold—can assist with organizing your thoughts and thereby your writing. It can also show a writer what material was covered already and where to go from there.

The trouble I had, prior to this memoir course, was organizing my material. Which memories to keep in, which to leave out. What to write first, what to write next. And, of course, what does it all mean. Outlining first gave me a chance to think about my memoir in its entirety.
There are many ways to write outlines.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Some writers want lots of notes and guidance [like me]; some writers are more skeletal in their needs.  Outlining allows some writers to write out whole scenes if the scenes come to the writer during the outlining process while other chapters can be simply memory prompts or ideas to be fleshed out later.  Outlines keep writers moving forward in their work.  But they are merely suggestions for the final product. 

Outlines or scaffolds do not need to be followed to the letter.  They are only starting points or “Dag-namit, where do I go from here?” type documents.  Outlines can be changed in part or completely as the story develops in the writer’s mind.
Yes, outlines take time to write.  It takes time for you to consider your memoir or novel as a whole, why you are writing it, and what you are trying to say through it.  After all, Family—The Ties that Bind…And Gag! probably wasn’t written in a day.  I wonder if Erma Bombeck used scaffolds to build her memoirs.