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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finding the Unique Voice for Your Memoir: Are you a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald?

Hemingway says: to write
"All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
I’ve been thinking about voice for my memoir about attending college while raising five young children.  A few years ago, I went to a workshop on memoir at a Peter Murphy Writing Seminar.  At the conference I learned to find my unique voice. 

Writers were supposed to come to the workshop with a memoir essay for critique that first morning.  My essay spoke of taking my children with me to sign up for college.  Five cranky children and one woman who didn’t know what she was doing, standing in a line for what seemed like ages…well, you get the scenario. 

If you’ve read any of my camping adventures with the family on my Camping with Kids blog, you’ll see my writing style.  What I didn’t understand, though, was how closely related my writing style was to my voice.  I write conversationally, concretely, and I find the humor in anything.  To me it’s the only way to survive life—especially when attending college as a mother of five.  The critique group was very encouraging of my fledgling memoir voice.

Then we all disappeared to write more on our memoir subject and returned after lunch.

For the second essay, I decided to obtain feedback about a classroom scenario—no children.  Should be the same voice, right?  

It was unanimous. 

“This is not the same Victoria Marie we enjoyed this morning.” 

Silly me.  I thought it was.

The critique group informed me that this second essay was too academic sounding, too many similes, too much comparison, too much description.  They enjoyed the lively scenes and interactions with my family, most especially my children.

Oh yes, my children certainly are characters.  But so am I in this memoir.  I am both the narrator and the main character; a shy [yes, really!] unsure mother who decides to better herself and thereby her children by attending college.  I am not the same woman at the beginning of the memoir that I am at the end.  And therein lays the growth in character, the narrative arc of the memoir. 

As for voice, (or is it style?) it appears that I am more the Ernest Hemingway-type of writer than an F. Scott Fitzgerald-type of writer.  The critique group enjoyed my active scenes and verb choices, short crisp descriptions, and concreteness.  Flowery Fitzgerald (my term) is more the complex sentence (and words!) and cerebral thoughts kind of writer with lots of poetry and comparison.

I was reminded, when researching this blog post, that these two masters of the writing canon were contemporaries and had the same editor.  So what kind of writer are you, a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald?  Do you feel that voice and style are synonymous?