Blogger's note: I'm pleased to have my co-worker and friend David Torbert today on the blog. In addition to being a corporate journalist like me, he is also working on a memoir. Enjoy.
By David Torbert
While writing a novel allows the author to be creative, imaginative and take the characters and plot in virtually any direction, writing a memoir is an entirely different ball game. The author must rely on life experiences and find a unique twist to distinguish themselves from others.
I made the decision to share my life experiences at the suggestion of family and friends after years of hospital visits, major medical procedures and a childhood filled with more drama than a daytime soap opera. It’s been quite the journey as I explore myself, and one that has, quite frankly, been difficult.
I had to ask myself: “What the hell is so special about me, and why does anyone care?”
There are several things I’ve learned along the way to telling my story:
Details, Details, Details
A reader will pick up a book and read a few pages out of sheer curiosity, but providing an in-depth perspective will keep the pages turning. Especially in a memoir, readers want to share the experience with you, so providing details on sights, sounds, smells and emotions help paint a clearer picture and make for a clearer understanding. A friend who works in the publishing industry has become a mentor of sorts to me as I go through this process, and a lesson I learned from him was this: The more blood, the better. Take any opportunity to be graphic, as it only serves to put the reader right there in the moment.
I grew up around family and friends that had tremendous memories, and I’ve found that’s another key in developing a detailed account of your life experiences. Recounting old stories and events in history create a marker in your mind, thus making it easier to draw upon while developing your memoir.
For those not so inclined, I would suggest keeping a pen and paper handy at all times. You never know when you’ll have a sudden memory come roaring back, so jotting it down helps you to remember it, and why it plays an important role in your book. Even for those creating a fictional story, thoughts of a new character or new plot twist can strike like lightning, so be prepared.
Being of the male species, I’m not one to share my emotions, so the thought of expressing my feelings through the written word was something I still struggle with as I develop my memoir. Emotion is a powerful tool, especially to an author, so I had to jump this giant hurdle in an effort to make my story unique and entertaining.
For those that grew up with a diary or journal, I salute you. You are ahead of the game in terms of both capturing memories, and also sharing your emotions. Journals are a great way to vent frustrations, proclaim your love and share your inner most
thoughts on life’s trials and tribulations.
I never was one to have a journal, however, and it wasn’t until college that I realized how important it was to write your feelings. Every day during my English 102 class, we would spend the first 20 minutes free writing — that is, just writing whatever
comes to mind. At first this was a horrific experience because I just wrote about how bored I was, but over time, I realized the merit in writing what you feel. Technology has also advanced this notion of journaling, thanks to the blog-o-sphere. Take advantage… start a blog. Share your story with the masses.
As I recount memories from my childhood to include in my book, I’m now finding several instances where emotions are coming back to me, so I’m heeding my own advice and jotting down both the memory and my feelings about the memory. It gives weight to your experiences when readers get a glimpse of what you thought, creating a bond when they too develop an emotion about what they’re reading.
Where it gets tricky, however, is that I sometimes don’t recognize my hospital experiences at the same level as outsiders. From the time I was born until I was probably 12 or 13 years old, the hospital was my home and the staff was like my second family. How can I paint this picture of a horrific experience when there were a lot of great memories had between those bed rails?
The answer: I don’t plan to.
I feel readers will find my perspective unique because I’m not just another sob story talking about the shitty hospital food, the snotty nurses and the pain of chest tubes and catheters. Yes, I will tackle some of those things, but I want to create a portrait of my life that shows how this lifestyle has helped me become the grounded, caring person I consider myself to be today.
Don't Be Selfish
I know what you’re thinking — What is more selfish than creating a 200-page recollection of your life?
That’s not what I mean when I say don’t be selfish. This writing process has forced me to put myself in the shoes of others, namely those closest to me who were affected by my medical past. My parents endured a hell of a lot more than most anyone can even fathom, from medical advice that told them I’d be mentally retarded and better off dead to sacrificing their lives to meet my constant need.
While the book must still centrally focus on my thoughts, I’ve come to ask my parents about their feelings and about details perhaps they remember from certain instances. This creates perspective and adds unique details that the author might not think to include. I don’t want my thoughts to be the only story, so filling in the gaps will only help make it better.
I can’t take credit for this, however, as probably my three favorite books to this day share that common theme. Most notable is “Lucky Man” by Michael J. Fox. He shared his thoughts about growing up in Canada, getting into the film industry and struggling to find answers to Parkinson’s Disease. In several cases, he clearly drew on the perspective of his family to discuss how his disease affected them. If you haven’t read it, you’re clearly at a disadvantage.
A big thank you goes out to Laura for allowing me to share my writing experience with her many loyal followers. I hope I have, in some small way, helped others struggling to develop their work as we all aim to create publications that are meant to entertain, inspire and make their mark on society.
Visit David's blog On the Road Again.