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by MATILDA BUTLER on JUNE 16, 2015

Post #217 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler
Interview with Author Pamela Jane
Today I have a special treat for you. You already know Pamela Jane. She is the author of more than 25 children’s books, a book for adults featuring Jane Austin and kitties, a longtime blogger on WomensMemoirs, and author of the memoir An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story.
I recently interviewed Pamela about her memoir since she has just been through so many of the steps you are taking as you move your writing toward publication. (Her memoir will be published in 2016.) I thought I’d share her wisdom and insights with you.

WomensMemoirs: Question #1. Pamela, I know that writing and publishing your memoir took perseverance, but what steps did you take along the way? For example, did you redo your opening and book proposal when you were ready to publish?

Pamela Jane Matilda, thanks for this interview. I always enjoy writing for WomensMemoirs.com. But being interviewed by you is a new experience. And yes, I’m glad to share some of my memoir writing experiences. As to your point about memoir openings…
I rewrote my opening dozens of times. I wrote literary openings, funny openings, ironic openings, mysterious openings! To me, they were all intriguing beginnings. An opening is like a front door–-it may be appealing and well-written, but is it the best entryway into the house you want to build?

So my tip here is that a memoir writer has to decide what type of memoir she is writing and craft the most appropriate (and the best possible) opening. This helps you not only with eventual readers but with potential agents and publishers.

WomensMemoirs: Question #2. I know it is fairly easy to come up with a small list of potential publishers. For example, you can look at the publisher of memoirs you have on your bookshelves. But how did you assemble the full list of agents and book publishers that you eventually used?

Pamela Jane I turned to multiple sources, such as agentquery.com and Writer’s Digest (2014) Guide to Literary Agents. I also did on-line searches for lists of university and small presses who publish memoirs. Writer’s Digest periodically publishes an on-line list of memoir agents as well.
These resources contain a wealth of information that is just waiting for you to utilize. For example, when you go to AgentQuery.com, you can choose Memoirs from the list of: Select Non-Fiction Genre. This currently gives you a list of 421 agents who say they represent memoir authors. As you scroll through the list, you notice that some do not accept email queries but will accept postal queries. Some are not currently accepting unsolicited queries. Pay attention to what they say so that you don’t waste your time. Click on the icon for Full Profile. This tells you about recent deals they have made as well as some personal information, such as where they went to college. All valuable information.

WomensMemoirs: Question #3. Did you always use the same cover letter? If not, how did you modify it?

Pamela Jane As your question suggests, even a really great query letter isn’t appropriate for every agent or publisher. Here’s what I did. I had a standard query letter that I modified according to what the agent or publisher was looking for. If I had something in common with an agent or editor–for example if we both lived in San Francisco at a certain time–I might mention that. This means I tried to learn as much as possible about the agent or publisher before sending my query. It’s easy to forget how many query letters these folks get each day.
Since different agents and publishes require different pieces in your submission package, it’s good to have them all ready to go: tagline (click here for the difference between taglines and loglines), query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters.
And though it sounds obvious, follow exactly what the agent or publish wants. Don’t send more and don’t send less. If they want online submissions, then do that. If they want paper copies mailed, then do that.

WomensMemoirs: Question #4. Pamela, this is when the gloves come off. I have a hard question for you. How long did it take you to complete your memoir?

Pamela Jane You’re right Matilda. I never like it when people ask me that question. Yet so many women spend years on writing their memoir that I don’t mind sharing with this community. It took me twenty-two years. Though this is not unheard of, I think it is unusual. I did a lot of slipping and sliding around before I found my footing, my story. Many writers write books more quickly and, in fact, I wrote my first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test (I don’t recommend this as a writing strategy however!)
The following excerpt from my memoir illustrates the process I went through to discover the story I wanted to tell–or I should say, the story that wanted to be told.
“Story is an elusive thing, and the search for it at times is perilous. You don’t know when you start out on that stony trail if you’ll make it back with a tale to tell, or if a fellow traveler will find the remains of your narrative bleached like bones in the sun. Irresistibly, the story draws you on, impelling you to discover what lies beyond the fixed images you’ve recorded. It’s like Antonioni’s film Blow Up in which a photographer takes pictures in a park of what appears to be a simple tryst between a man and a woman. He develops the film unsuspectingly, but then he begins to look closer. Hidden beneath the seemingly innocent images is a darker one–-a figure with a gun. The photographer blows up the pictures, larger and larger, and discovers what he actually recorded was a murder. The woman was not flirting with her companion, but leading him on, enticing him in front of a hidden assailant. This is what writing a memoir is like. You go back to the past and discover hidden, sometimes dark, forces in the images you recorded. You blow them up and examine them to see what is really there.
“It may not be a sinister figure waiting in the shadows you discover when you examine the past, but self-knowledge, hidden empathy, buried passion.” –Pamela Jane, excepted from her memoir: An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

WomensMemoirs: Question #5. Thanks Pamela for sharing that snippet of your memoir. I especially love your phrase “a fellow traveler will find the remains of your narrative bleached like bones in the sun.” That is a wonderful visual image. I know I’ve left some narrative remains along the way.
Here’s my last question, Pamela. What suggestions or tips do you have for others working to write and publish memoirs?

Pamela Jane This is the fun part of this interview. I seem to always think in terms of lists. Here are my top four tips.
Memoir Tip #1. Know when to show others your work-in-progress, and when to keep it to yourself. There were times when I casually related an episode from my memoir to a friend and, in doing so, came up with a line or concept that I had been struggling with. Maybe it was telling a funny story to an appreciative audience, for example, that gave me the sense of “not really writing” and loosened up my voice. But if you don’t feel ready, if the moment doesn’t seem right, just wait.
Memoir Tip #2. The memoirs you love and admire are an open classroom on how to write your own; there is no better teacher, editor or coach. You can study others’ books analytically. What is the proportion of dialog to reflection, how are flashbacks or flash-forwards handled, what techniques are employed to keep the pace lively? You can even use colored markers to identify these different elements.

Memoir Tip #3. Memoirs can teach you more than the craft of writing. They can inform your sense of effective story structures. Annie Dillard said that the best memoirs forge their own forms, and this is true, but studying strategies that worked in others’ memoirs is like learning to lace up your skates before taking off on your own.
Memoir Tip #4. Most importantly, be yourself–a memoir is not only a story from your life, it is a reflection of the way you–-and only you–-think. In his book, To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, Philip Lopate writes:
“The story line or plot in nonfiction consists of the twists and turns of a thought process working itself out…tracking the consciousness of the author.”
Your story is not just a sequence events, but how you looked at them, struggled with them, changed your mind about them, came to terms with them.

WomensMemoirs: Pamela, thanks for sharing your insider thoughts and tips on getting ready for publication. I especially appreciate your last tip. In memoir, each of us writes the story that only we can tell.
More About Pamela

Pamela Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books published by Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Harper, and others.  Her new children’s book, Little Elfie One, illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, will be out from Harper in 2015. Her book (for adults) Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen Classic was featured in ”The Wall Street Journal,” The Huffington Post, and BBC America, among other places. Her own memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing:  A Writer’s Story, will be published in 2016. Visit her at Pamelajane.com or Prideandprejudiceandkitties.com.
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Pamela is a writer, coach, editor, and co-founder of First Editing Service for womensmemoirs.com.
Pamela and I recently launched an unusual editing service. We edit the FIRST or FIRST 10 pages of your memoir with the conviction that practicing what you are doing wrong just leads to bad practice. So let us catch problems that occur in your first one page (or ten pages) and we’ll give you a roadmap that will help you navigate the rest of your journey more smoothly.
We put you on the right path, right away.
To learn more about this innovative service, click here now.
Here’s what one client wrote Pamela:
I wanted to thank you for your insightful editing comments on the first page of my memoir along with the synopsis. … In terms of the memoir page, your comments actually solved a dilemma for me as I have toyed with the beginning for a while. I like the solution you offered and made the change you recommended in the order of the paragraphs and presto, problem solved! So thanks so much! M.G-W.
Are You Asking Yourself If You Need an Editor?
Every writer needs an editor. This is true of professional writers. This is true of occasional writers. WHY an editor? Here are just 2 of the many problems that writers face and editors can help clarify:
Problem #1. Writers get overly fond of metaphors, even failing to notice when they get tangled up with each other.
Pamela catches this in the FIRST 1 or 10 PAGES, and puts you on the right road.
Problem #2. Writers want to start at the beginning, even when that part doesn’t engage the reader. Back story can always come later, but we fail to notice.
Pamela provides feedback on your apparent story structure and your opening.
Learn more about EIGHT other problems that Pamela catches. Plus check out our FIRST EDITING SERVICE [click here] and see if it is right for you.
Here’s what another client wrote Pamela recently:
I want to thank you for your brilliant comments on my manuscript. I know that I am, at times, too close to the story and can lose the perspective of the reader. After all, he or she was not along for the journey! –C.L.

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing/womens-memoirs-interviews-author-pamela-jane/#sthash.rdrgijF5.dpuf
“The best memoirs, I think, forge their own forms. The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out…” Annie Dillard, author of An American Childhood.
But how do you know what to put in and what to leave out, especially when you’re so close to your story?
Following are a few guidelines:
DO Leave Out:
1.  Everything
To quote Annie Dillard again,
“You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on to the reader’s arm, like a drunk, and say, “And then I did this and it was so interesting.”
As fascinating as a story or anecdote may be, you can’t throw everything into your memoir.  Notice if you’re veering away from what is essential to your story, and ask yourself how each passage or chapter adds richness, depth, or important information. Like a novel, a memoir has a theme, a plot, and a specific focus.  However, contrary to the venerable writing advice to “kill your darlings” – you do not have to kill all your darlings, just the ones that are running around unattached.
2.  Something that makes you deeply uncomfortable

Someone who read an early draft of my memoir, remarked, “I have the feeling that there was more going on between [me and one of the characters] than you’re letting on.”  She was right; there was more going on.  I thought about it for a while.  Did I want to tell that particular story?  Ultimately I decided I did not; it wasn’t critical to my memoir, and would not be missed if omitted.
If you are deeply uncomfortable about writing or revealing something, pay attention to that feeling.  Imagine yourself giving a talk about your book at a signing or conference. Do you feel comfortable talking and taking questions about what you wrote?
I’m not suggesting that you leave out everything sensitive or embarrassing. Those things are often the igniting spark, and carry great emotional impact.  But if you feel profoundly uneasy writing about something, think hard about whether it really belongs in your story.
3.  Relentless darkness
I like darkness.  Darkness is good – it contrasts with light; it glitters and draws us in.  But heavy, unforgiving darkness makes for tedious reading.  Contrast the darkness with something light, ironic or funny, (most comics have a very dark side). Don’t try to be funny or make something funny that isn’t, just attempt now and then to see your story from another angle, to vary the mood or pace.

4.  Casual reminiscences
Many memoirs appear to meander, as though the author is having a casual conversation with her readers while strolling through a garden on a summer afternoon.  A meandering conversation while strolling through a garden sounds ideal.  But a memoir tells a story – one specific story.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-paced or terse, but it should be focused.
Some outstanding writers can get away with meandering or appearing to meander, such as Proust in his Remembrance of Things Past.  But this apparent meandering can be deceptive.  Even Proust has a theme.  Moreover, he’s a genius and geniuses can get away with things most of us cannot.
NEVER leave out:
What you are passionate about
A memoir is a record of something that happened to you in the past, and how you see it in the present­ – something that you feel intensely about and want to explore and find meaning in through your story. Whatever you do, don’t leave that out!
Finally, remember, there are no absolute rules for writing.  The only criterion is whether or not it works.
August 2014

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma
We all have our favorite memoir or novel openings, those spectacular beginnings that draw us inexorably on and in.  And now we’d like to read yours!   Please send in your unpublished memoir or novel opening by September 3, 2014, and we will post the five most compelling entries later in the month. (Please see entry details at the end of this post.)
To get everyone in the spirit, here are a few of my own favorite openings along with my thoughts on what makes them great.
1. Emma by Jane Austen
“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived  nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”
The incomparable Jane –openings don’t get better than this!  We suspect that this young woman, blessed with natural gifts and great good fortune, has also been spoiled by both.  And we know that though she may have had little to distress or vex her in the past, she’s about to be very seriously vexed.
2. An Unquiet Mind  A Memoir of Moods and Madness By Kay Redfield Jamison
“When it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re manic, even the UCLA Medical Center has a certain appeal.  The hospital – ordinarily a cold clotting of uninteresting buildings – became for me, that full morning not quite twenty years ago, a focus of my finely wired, exquisitely alert nervous system.  With vibrissae twinging, antennae perked, eyes fast-forwarding and fly faceted, I took in everything around me.  I was on the run.  Not just on the run but fast and furious on the run, darting back and forth across the hospital parking lot trying to use up a boundless, restless, manic energy.  I was running fast, but slowly going mad.”
Through its galloping pace and overwrought imagery, Jamison’s opening illustrates the mania she is experiencing.   She catches you up in her frenzied mood, and then stops and acknowledges that she is slowly going crazy. “Running fast but slowly going mad” could be a tagline for her memoir.
3. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.  We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others.  He told us about Christ’s disciples being fisherman, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fisherman on the Sea of Galilee were fly fisherman and that John, the favorite was a dry-fly fisherman.”
Maclean’s dry humor and irony are evident, and in his image of “the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana” one senses this slim novel will be epic in scope.
4. An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

Pittsburgh 1950
“The story starts back in 1950, when I was five.
“Oh, the great humming silence of the empty neighborhoods in those days, the neighborhoods abandoned everywhere across continental  America– the city residential areas, the new “suburbs,” the towns and villages on the peopled highways, the cities, towns, and villages on the rivers, the shores, in the Rocky and Appalachian mountains, the piedmont, the dells, the bayous, the hills, the Great Basin, the Great Valley, the Great Plains–oh, the silence!”
Annie Dillard’s opening is similar to that of A River Runs Through It in the grandness of its imagery.  She begins with a sweeping cinematic tour of neighborhoods, towns, villages, mountains and hills across post-World War II America before narrowing her focus to one particular neighborhood, where her story begins.
5. Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
“Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn’t know my hometown was at war with itself over its children and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives.  I didn’t know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night.  And I didn’t know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added.  The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine.”
Hickam moves through a series of startling contrasts, from the town’s children to bloodless combat, from young heartbreak to the science of building rockets.  It’s clear that Rocket Boys is a coming-of- age memoir, with the building of rockets serving as both story and allegory.
6. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
“Toward a Topography of the Parallel Universe
“People ask, How did you get in there?  What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well.  I can’t answer the real question.  All I can tell them is, it’s easy.
“And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.  There are so many of them:  worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.”
From Kaysen’s prologue you realize you are in the hands of a writer who will give it to you straight.  But there is poetry in what she says about parallel worlds ­– shadowy and nearly invisible yet so close, maybe even inevitable.  This is an irresistible beginning, combining eloquence with hard-earned experience and an unflinching vision.
It’s amazing how confident all these writers sound!  They know their story and, by Jove, they’re going to tell it.

I can’t end this post without mentioning Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which begins, “For a long time I used to go to bed early.”  This seemingly unassuming opening with its slow backwards glance intrigues me.  Somehow it’s comforting to know one can begin a great work of art so quietly – at least if you’re Proust, living in France 100 years ago.
Writing and Healing: The Fifth and Final Hurdle to Publication

Post #113 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

5 Hurdles to Publishing Your fMemoir

By Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently seeking an agent her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

Last week I was walking in the Shawangunk Mountains of upstate New York, the dramatic backdrop of my memoir. (I have special affection for these mountains because I went crazy there and managed to survive the ordeal.) Since then, I’ve retreated many times to these mountains to walk and find the missing pieces of my story. But this time I came back with family and friends to relax and enjoy the spectacular wilderness.
As I walked the old carriage trails through the mountains, I thought about what a writer has to go through to see her memoir in print. (These stages or steps are not unique to memoir writers, but they do apply.) When the fifth and final hurdle occurred to me, though, I was surprised. And yet it felt right.
Following are five steps to seeing your memoir in print:
1. Completing the manuscript to your own satisfaction
For me, this step was extremely difficult. Maybe it was because I had never written a biography, much less an autobiography. Or perhaps it was because I had to slip and slide around quite a bit before finding my footing (story). But mostly it was because I had to think so hard to find the right words. You know how cliquish words are; ­they clump together like seventh grade girls at a school dance. This clumping or bundling of words offers a convenient escape from the hard work of thinking. But a memoir, more than anything else, is a product of your mind, a reflection of the way you think about what happened and how you shape those events into a story. There’s no escape; you have to think long and hard – and dump the word-clusters in the garbage can.
2. Finding an Agent
Writers know how difficult it can be to find an agent. If an agent isn’t reading queries at the moment, and if you can’t get a publisher without an agent, where does that leave you? It reminds me of when I was looking for a waitress job in my twenties. No one would hire me without waitress experience and how the heck was I supposed to get experience if no one would hire me? (Ultimately I lied about having experience and kept getting fired. After about ten one-night jobs, I had earned at least a little experience.)
Finding an agent (or editor) is like searching for your true love – that one person who will, if not love, then at least understand and commit to you. This takes a bit of magic (i.e., good fortune) and a lot of faith. So, believe! But should your faith waver, your submission schedule never should. Commit this to memory My faith may waver but my submission schedule never will.

A bit of magic is not unwelcome
Also, be sure your memoir package is polished and ready to go (this includes query, synopsis, proposal, and sample chapters). Agents will ask for various pieces of this package, and the less time you have to spend preparing your submission, the better.
3. Finding a Publisher
Of course, once you find an agent, the agent has to find a publisher. If he or she does, great! If not, or if you decide to change agents at some point, your book is now “contaminated” because other publishers have passed on it, and the pool of potential buyers has shrunk accordingly.
Such stories and statistics can be daunting. But don’t give up. If necessary rework your manuscript, shifting the focus, and try again.
I recently had a dream in which I went to my friend Kay for writing advice.
“Keep working,” she said, even before I had a chance to open my mouth. (Kay is a successful and extremely persistent writer.)
“But I’m happy with my memoir,” I told her. “I don’t want to change anything.”
“Keep working,” repeated Kay.
“I suppose I could work on my Italian book, or other children’s books,” I mused aloud.
Kay just smiled. “Keep working.”

4. Finding your readers
You want to find readers, thousands of them, who will love your memoir and tell others about it. To some extent this will come from your own efforts but (sorry!) once again there’s that elusive magic – or, to put it another way, TLF ­– timing, luck and fate. But though these things sometimes go against you, they can just as mysteriously show up to support you. Hopefully, you’re working on your platform and engaging in some social media to increase the chances of this happening.
5. The Fifth and final hurdle: Acceptance
You have to be sanguine – or at least flexible – if any of the above don’t pan out the way you had hoped. But although acceptance is important, it is most emphatically not resignation. Acceptance of obstacles and reversals allows you to reconsider the strategies you’ve put so carefully in place. In other words, Plan B. This can be anything from tweaking your proposal to self-publishing.

"An unexamined life is not worth living" – Socrates
Hopefully writing your memoir has been a rich and rewarding journey. And remember, whatever you may think about your life, one thing is for certain: it is not unexamined.

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing/writing-and-healing-the-fifth-and-final-hurdle-to-publication/#comments

By Pamela Jane BellRegular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

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When compiling this list I realized that most of the recommendations are books about plotting.  This makes sense because good memoirs employ a sound story structure ­– one similar to yet distinct from novels (more about that later).  Though some of the books listed are unlikely choices for a memoir-writer’s self-help list, they have proved enduringly helpful to me.  Through the years each one has become an old friend and trusted writing companion.
1.         The Weekend Novelist
by Robert J.  Ray (weekendnovelist.com)
The Weekend Novelist lays out a plan for completing a novel (or memoir) in 52 weekends, a strategy the author used for writing his first book while teaching during the week.  But whether you are a weekday or a weekend writer, this book is a guide in that it provides a blueprint to help you articulate and direct your creative energy.  (I almost said “crazy creative energy,” but I don’t want to project here.)  The author’s diagram for plotting using Aristotle’s incline is especially valuable.  If nothing else it gives one side of your brain something to play with while the other side cogitates on possible story designs.
2.         Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee  (mckeestory.com)
When I took Bob McKee’s screenwriting course years ago, the auditorium was packed not only with screenwriters, but with editors and writers of every genre.  All of us wanted a better understanding of the principle and function of story.  Bob McKee describes it this way:
“The source of all art is the human psyche’s need for the resolution of stress and discord through beauty and harmony…”
In my mind, any film or piece of writing that takes the mess of real life and shapes it into a story is a thing of beauty!
In Story, McKee elucidates the principles of story design, including “beats” which he defines as “an exchange of behavior in action/reaction.  Beat by beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene.”  Beats, McKee explains, build scenes,  and scenes build sequences.
In my writing group, when one of us has written a scene that feels flat, it’s often because the scene is missing a beat or two.  Slow down, and give each character a chance to react to an action, even it’s just a double-take.
Another helpful device McKee defines is “opening the gap” between expectation and result.  To open the gap, ask yourself “What’s the opposite of that?” or “What’s off the wall from that?”  Of course you can’t force this kind of reversal to happen in a true-life story, but you can recognize when it does.  Here’s an example from my life:
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“In my women’s consciousness-raising group, which was composed of students and newly-weds like myself who met at the back of the health food store, we talked about how to rewire men biologically so they wouldn’t be pigs.  Love between a man and a woman was all bourgeois bullshit anyway.  I stopped shaving my legs and threw away my bras.
“And then, right in the middle of my most militant man-hating phase, I fell in love with Eddie.”
(As you may have guessed, Eddie was not my new husband.)  The gap was there, I just had to prune anything extraneous to the storyline to uncover  it.  And reflect; discovering the resonances and reversals embodied in the theme of your memoir requires much contemplation.
One last point – just because Bob McKee is talking about writing screenplays, doesn’t mean your story has to be big:
“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.”
3.  To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
by Phillip Lopate (philliplopate.com)
My Pride and Prejudice and Kitties co-author, Debbie, summed this book up nicely:
Bookstore shelves are stuffed with excellent books on fiction and screenplay writing, but for years I searched in vain for a similarly excellent book on nonfiction writing. Then in 2013 came Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell, and my search was over.
Lopate covers all the issues: the need to turn yourself into a character, conflict in nonfiction, the ethics of writing about others, and on and on. His best bit of wisdom, though, is that the familiar “show don’t tell” dictum should not apply to essay and memoir; an essay should not read like a short story. “The story line or plot in nonfiction consists of the twists and turns of a thought process working itself out,” he observes. For my money this is all you need to know!
He also devotes an entire chapter to the importance of reflection in memoir. The memoir should have a double perspective, he says: one showing the experience as lived and one reflecting the wisdom of the author’s present self. “This second perspective, which takes advantage of a more mature intelligence to interpret the past, is not merely an obligation but a privilege and an opportunity.” –Deborah Guyol writingintothesunset.com and letsgowrite.com
4.  Your favorite memoir
Your favorite memoir is an invaluable blueprint, a map that you can study and return to as often as you like.
A River Runs Through It
by Norman Maclean is my own favorite*.  This is not a book you can dissect easily; it is unique in language, structure and story, and eludes analysis.  But I did consult it when I wanted to see how Maclean wrote so compellingly about the father’s reaction to the death of his son:
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“After my brother’s death, my father never walked very well again.  He had to struggle to lift his feet, and, when he did get them up they came down slightly out of control.”
The words are simple, matter-of-fact.  But the impact of the image is devastating, and much stronger than if Maclean had written, “my father became hysterical and threw himself on the floor yelling and pounding his fists.”  Or even “my father was shattered.”  We see that vividly in the image of his father’s stumbling.
5.  How to Write a Movie in 21 Days: The Inner Movie Method
by Viki King.
Like The Weekend Novelist, Viki King’s book provides a structure and schedule for getting the writing done.  But what I found most helpful is the concept of a “logline” – “your story reduced to an ad copy blurb that tells what your movie is about and makes us want to see it.”
I know, that sounds crude and commercial.  Who wants to reduce her memoir to a logline?  Who can?  (Try it; it’s really hard!)  But if you can do this before you write your first draft, the logline will help you define the parameters of your story, and prevent you from getting seduced by your own words – in other words, lost (unless that’s your process, but that’s a subject for another post).
When I was beginning a young-adult thriller based on Snow White, I came up with the logline “She can’t find peace of mind, until her step-daughter rests in peace.”  I love that logline!  (I never wrote the book, but I can’t help wishing there were a market for loglines.)
A cross-pollination of writing advice – i.e., seeking wisdom in different genres – can be highly productive.  A book on screenwriting
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can help you see your memoir more clearly, especially if you are a visual writer.  Your favorite memoir is a treasure map if you spend the time to decipher it.  But the best resource is yourself – your passion and resolve to tell a story only you can tell in a way only you can tell it.
*Though heavily autobiographical, A River Runs Through It is classified as a novel because Maclean altered the timeline and details of his brother’s death.

- See more at: http://womensmemoirs.com/writing-and-healing/writing-and-healing-5-outstanding-%E2%80%93-and-surprising-%E2%80%93-self-help-books-for-memoir-writers/#sthash.Lc9fMo1U.dpuf

“A writer needs to know death is at her back, otherwise the writing becomes brittle, full of fear.” Natalie Goldberg, Long Quiet Highway

I learned about death in 1953, when I went to see the movie Titanic, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb.  I’ve seen the film many times since and though it lacks the dazzling special effects and over-wrought storyline that characterize the 1997 Titanic, the earlier version still packs a punch.
I was five when I first saw Titanic.  Before we left for the theater day, my mom explained that we were going to see a movie about a boat that hits an iceberg.
“What’s an iceberg?” I asked.
“Its an ice cube as big as a house,” my mom answered.  My mom believed in simple explanations.
I went outside and looked up at our little ice cube-shaped house, one of hundreds of identical houses in our post-WWII housing development in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Now that,” I thought, “is one big ice cube.”
Of course the iceberg that hit the Titanic was a lot bigger than our house, but that’s not what impressed me about the film.   What impressed me, and has stayed with me all my life, was how happy and carefree everyone was on the first night of the voyage – friends and families singing and dancing – and how suddenly they were plunged into darkness and death.
I’m sure my mom had no idea that the movie made any impression on me at all.  To her I was a
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little girl with curly blond hair and a ribbon taped to her head, not a highly impressionable person with a rich and complex inner life (adults rarely get this about kids).  It wasn’t that my mom didn’t care – she just had no idea what was going on inside me.
I was never the same after seeing Titanic.  But in spite of the shock, I’m glad I saw it.  Like other dark movies I watched as a small child, Titanic animated my imagination, enlarged my perspective, and encouraged me to reflect.  It made me more me.
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Karen Pendleton on "The Mickey Mouse Club"
Once I found out about death, I started worrying about my own death and the frightening specter of non-existence.  It seemed to me that if you wanted to be 100% certain that you existed now and forever (anything else was unthinkable), you had to exist for other people – lots of other people.  In other words, you had to be famous like Nancy Drew or Karen on the Mickey Mouse Club, (I didn’t distinguish fantasy from reality), to become a living presence in the minds of others.  Being famous not only safe-guarded and secured your existence, in a sense it also created it.  Everyone thinks I am, therefore I am – and will always be.
Feeling the way I did about death and non-existence (and still do, from a different perspective), why do I find comfort and aid in Natalie Goldberg’s quote about writing with death at your back?  Maybe it’s because the shadow of death is something I’m always aware of peripherally, so it is a relief to acknowledge it openly.  Anything that relaxes you is good for your writing.  Paradoxically, an awareness of death can lighten the burden of weighty expectations and keep you from taking yourself and your writing too seriously.  What the heck, you’re going to die anyway so why not write your heart out?
In her novel Middlemarch George Eliot writes of the scholarly cleric, Edward Casaubon.  Her portrait of a dying man entangled in a web of bitterness, ambition, and nagging self-doubt was as chilling to me at twenty-one as it is to me now more than forty years later:
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Poor Casaubon had a sneaking suspicion he might not be the brilliant scholar he posed as
“Having made his clerical toilet with due care in the morning, he was prepared only for those amenities of life which were suited to the well-adjusted stiff cravat of the period, and to a mind weighted with unpublished matter.”
George Eliot herself knew well the weight of unpublished matter.  She was fifty when she wrote her masterpiece and, like Casaubon, she was tormented by the thought that she might never write it at all.  Casaubon labored with death at his back in the worst possible sense; he was paralyzed by it.  George Eliot felt the awareness of death as an imperative.  Just do it.
I remember the morning of 9/11; I was sitting at my desk struggling to plot a children’s book.  I had a contract and a deadline but the plot was going nowhere. Then a neighbor called and told me a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers.  Events unfolded swiftly after that, but in between watching TV, calling my husband, John, to make sure his bus to New York turned around, and trying to reach friends who lived near the World Trade Center, I sat down ­and plotted my book. I did it effortlessly, if numbly, because in light of what was happening, it didn’t matter anymore.  My book wasn’t important in the larger scheme of things.
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If you make a deep commitment to your writing while accepting that you and it (most likely) will vanish one day, you will successfully strike the balance between “nothing matters” and “everything matters,” between holding it close and tossing it all away.   Then you will write freely, with your sails full and the wind at your back.

Memoir Writing Advice from Shakespeare and Four Other Authors

By Pamela Jane BellRegular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

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1.  Isak Dinesen:  Don’t wait for the perfect frame of mind to begin writing
“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, without faith and without hope…suddenly the work will find itself.–” Isak Dinesen.
When I searched on-line for the above quote just now, I found that the words “without faith and without hope” had been deleted, as though they detracted from what Dinesen is saying.  But to me, those words are what make the quote so heartening.  We can get ourselves worked up, stressed out and generally frustrated by trying to achieve the perfect positive frame of mind.  It’s reassuring to know that though a positive outlook may be a great addition, it isn’t indispensible.  It works just as well to sit down and write, regardless of mood.  The positive attitude will follow!
2.  Julie Andrews: Persevere
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Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music"
“Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.” Julie Andrews.
I once submitted a children’s book to a major publisher who turned it down on four separate occasions.  Among the four who rejected it were the publisher, the vice president, and two senior editors.  A third editor accepted the book, and it has gone on to do very well.  But think what would have happened if I’d decided that the publisher or vice president was the ultimate authority on what would succeed, or even what to publish.
Failure simply means that things didn’t work out in one particular instance.  There is no larger meaning or significance, at least not one you should attach to it.
Of all the elements that make up success, perseverance is the most critical.  A writer with a slender talent accompanied by a robust drive will be more successful than one with a rich natural gift and no ambition.   Of course, it’s best have both if you possibly can!
3.  Toni Morrison:  Write the book you want to read
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison
Writers are people who see what is not readily visible to others.  They see humor in darkness (the light side of the dark side), the bizarre in the mundane, the possible in the dream.  Your memoir is the fullest, richest expression of yourself you can possibly put into words.  When you have finished it to your own satisfaction, you’ll find that it’s also the book you’ve always wanted to read.
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4. Anaïs Nin:  Create your own world
“I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me… I had to create a world of my own, like a climate.” Anaïs Nin
When you are writing your memoir, deciding what to put in or take out, or searching for the language to reflect your perspective and particular cast of mind, you’re creating your own world.  What could be more fun than that?  For me writing – the freedom to create my own reality – is the lollipop of life.  The rest is what you have to go through to get it.
5. Shakespeare: Tell yourself the truth
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet).
It’s impossible to be truthful to someone else when you haven’t told the truth to yourself.  But telling yourself the truth can be tricky.  We all have our own internal ministry of propaganda and if you aren’t vigilant, you can start believing your own rationalizations. George Eliot describes a chilling example of self-deception through the character of banker Nicholas Bulstrode in her novel Middlemarch:
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Shakespearean actor, Peter Jeffrey as Bulstrode in the BBC "Middlemarch"
“Mentally surrounded with that past again, Bulstrode had the same pleas…his soul had become more saturated with the belief that he did everything for God’s sake, being indifferent to it for his own.”
This is an extreme example (Bulstrode is thoroughly corrupt) but it is brilliantly perceptive precisely because he’s so recognizably human.
Once you have told yourself the truth, you can decide with confidence and clarity what to tell your readers.

Post #109 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Putting Your Weird Perspective to Work in Memoir Writing

By Pamela Jane BellRegular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

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Marcel Proust
As writers, we each have our own way of looking at the world.  French novelist Marcel Proust was notoriously neurotic.  For example, he insisted that anything that touched his skin– bath water, clothes, bedding– match his body temperature.  He hated noise, so he lined his room with cork to keep it at bay.  Not surprisingly, he subsequently developed an allergy to cork.  Stendhal, another French writer, suffered from what has come to be known as the “Stendhal Syndrome.”  This is described as “a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful…”*  (When living in Florence, I was careful to take in the Botticelli paintings in small doses.)  But the personal traits that made these writers’ lives difficult – in Proust’s case, nearly impossible – were inseparable from what made them great.
Following are writing tips for putting your unique perspective to work.  In other words, give your weird take on life something to do besides driving you crazy.
Writing Tip 1. Fake PTSD
At dusk the other evening, I was driving along a highway with no shoulder when I saw a man in dark clothing walking along the side of the road.  As I passed him slowly, giving him a wide margin, I imagined how my life would change irrevocably if I had accidentally hit him.  I heard myself calling my daughter, whom I was on the way to pick up at the bus stop.
“Hi, honey…”
Hi honey?  Shouldn’t I call 911 first?  Is the guy even breathing?  By this time I was starting to feel traumatized by the whole experience.  I had PTSD over something that never happened.
I hope nothing like that ever does happen to me or anyone else, but the ability to imagine a scene vividly and immediately is an invaluable writing skill.
Writing Tip 2.  Vivid internal monologues or dialogs
Most people hear a voice in their heads and possibly two, such as a critical or pessimistic voice, and an opposing voice challenging that view.  If you listen deeply and consistently though, I suspect you’ll discover a whole chorus of voices, many of which have been ignored or overlooked.  Or maybe you just haven’t taken the time to tune in.  For example:
Your mother’s voice (“Pamie, you go from one extreme to the other!”)
The other sex (male if you’re female)
A voice whispering a difficult truth
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These are the voices of your characters as well as of your various selves; they ignite conflict and propel plot, whether you’re writing a novel or a memoir.  Let them loose and see how they interact with each other.
Writing Tip 3.  A different kind of Déjà vu.

Think of the innumerable moments of consciousness you’ve experienced in your life, each one made up of complex sensations, perceptions, and half-formed thoughts.  How likely is it that you will stumble upon one identical to another you’ve experienced ten, twenty or thirty-five years ago – or recognize it if you did?  I call this special form of Déjà vu “matching states of consciousness.”  Your present state of mind matches perfectly with one you inhabited in the past.
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Last week I was lying on the table during an acupuncture treatment when suddenly, in my mind, I was twenty-one, newly married, and living in an old country house, sewing.  I wasn’t just thinking about being twenty-one, I was there; I could smell the crisp new fabric under my steam iron, hear flies buzzing at the windowpanes, and feel that peculiar combination of melancholy, apprehension and hope that characterized that autumn.  Lying on the couch, I relaxed into the rich sensation of going back in time.
Returning to a familiar state of consciousness appears to be spontaneous, but you can trigger the experience with music or smells, such as the smell of an apple pie baking in the oven, or the fragrance of fallen leaves in the autumn woods.
Writing Tip 4.  Excessive intensity
Do you ever feel that your emotional reactions are over the top?  Every life transition or incident feels huge – my daughter returning to college after vacation, a worrisome physical symptom, a nostalgic-feeling holiday with old friends.  It’s all nearly unbearable– too much.  This too-muchness can make for a bumpy ride.  But it also makes for strong writing.  When life punches you, punch it right back (on the page).
Writing Tip 5.  Impulsivity
I can be impulsive, so I call one of my more prudent friends when I’m about to leap into something with that intoxicating feeling of abandonment.
“No, don’t call her!” whispers the imp.  “You’ll spoil all the fun!”  (My drug of choice is the “place your order” or “send” button.)
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That mischievous imp can get you into trouble, but when I’m writing she perches on my shoulder, spinning out plot detours or dialogue I never would have thought of on my own.  Be kind to your inner imp.  She’s your ally – most of the time.
Try to Remember
When you’re not writing these “super abilities” can be a burden.  But turn the focus of inquiry, attention and imagination on your work, and you’ll unleash their hidden energy and inventiveness.
After all, that’s what makes you a writer.
“Move over, Mrs. Danvers – This is My Story!”
By Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

Sometimes, for recreation, I take a few minutes out from writing to play brain games on the computer. A favorite game is one in which you have to guide a seed through a maze to its proper planting place, avoiding all the obstacles (ladybugs) along the way. I like this game because it’s not timed, so you don’t feel hurried; you can relax and work out the most expeditious path for the seed, while calculating the least number of moves needed to clear the bugs out of the way. Just like life.
All of us are continually bumping up against obstacles to our goals, compelling us to invent ways to get around, through, over or beyond them. Or maybe just kick them out of the way.
The same is true of writing a memoir – we inevitably encounter hurdles that could potentially slow or even stop our progress. Following are some of the most formidable and also familiar obstacles (such as rejection, time constraints, or cosmic discouragement) and strategies for overcoming them. I guarantee these are all genuine, high-quality obstacles, and their solutions have been thoroughly tested!
Obstacle #1 An editor or friend whose opinion you value tells you there is something wrong with your manuscript.
OK, take a deep breath. You are not in cardiac arrest – your manuscript may be, but guess what? You can fix it.
Let’s imagine a discerning reader says, “You are not telling me enough about your father.” At first this criticism may sound daunting, especially if you are not inclined to write at length about your father. On the other hand, your reader may have a point in terms of the need to provide a richer context for your story, or greater clarity. If so, ask her how many sentences she imagines would be needed to accomplish this. You might be surprised when she answers “three or four.” Suddenly a discouragingly amorphous task is reduced to a few sentences. You can do that!
Obstacle #2 Someone tells you you’re hiding something from the reader.
I’ve had this experience. “You’re not telling the whole story,” or “I have the feeling you’re hiding something about your aunt.”
Ask yourself, are you really hiding something or are you simply choosing not to write about it? There is a difference. If your aunt’s

mental illness is not essential to your story, don’t write about it. Doing so might pull the narrative off course, or disrupt the continuity leaving loose ends you’ll have to tuck in later.
Obstacle #3 You don’t have enough time to work on your memoir.
You can think about time linearly,­ that is, horizontally – how many minutes or hours do you have available for writing? It’s a finite amount. But you can also think about time vertically by using the time you have to go deeper into your story, with more intention and greater focus, expanding the time you have to write.
Obstacle #4 You keep getting rejections on your query or manuscripts.
I’ve written here about my co-author’s and my 75 agent rejections for our book, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties. I have a children’s book I sold after 125 submissions, and I’m sure I will break that record in the future. (You can read about the funniest rejections ever – mine and other writers’.)
The solution to rejection is simple; never give up. It isn’t an option. You can revise your manuscript, if you’re receiving a lot of similar criticism from agents and editors. You can research alternative publishing options. But you can’t give up.

During the years we marketed Pride and Prejudice and Kitties to agents, I remember many empty days, gray days, defeated days. Days when no one in the world seemed interested in our book. Nothing was happening. Not just nothing, but, as a young friend of mine says, “a big fat nothing” – a huge yawning emptiness, failure. If I’d listened to the universe on those days, I’d swear it was telling me to give up, like wicked Mrs. Danvers whispering to Max de Winter’s young wife in Rebecca: “Go ahead. Jump. He never loved you, so why go on…” Or, as I heard it, “Go ahead, give up. No one likes your book, so why keep trying?”
Just tell that evil Mrs. Danvers to go jump in a lake, and keep sending your manuscript out.
Obstacle #5 There really is something wrong with your manuscript.
There’s something wrong with nearly everything. Take a movie you love and have watched dozens of times, and Google its title and “holes.” Most likely your search will reveal flaws, illogical sequences, mistakes and inconsistencies in the film. Yet these didn’t diminish your enjoyment in watching it. Discovering your favorite film’s defects may endear it to you even more.
I’m not suggesting that you ignore flaws in your story, only not to be disheartened by an apparent lack of perfection.
I learned an efficient method of dealing with flaws or “holes” in films or books from screenwriting teacher, Bob McKee.
“If you have a hole,” he said, “take it out and wave it around.”
J.D. Salinger did this brilliantly in the famous opening of Catcher in the Rye:
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
Salinger does weave in his character’s backstory throughout Catcher in the Rye, but in his own way and his own time.
Finally, tell the story you want to tell. Find your own way to solve problems in your narrative (though readers can be helpful in

identifying where those problems lie). Just as your story is a reflection of the particular way your mind works and sees the world, how you resolve flaws and weaknesses in your memoir will be unique to you. Keep advancing steadfastly towards your goal while you move those little bugs out of your way.

3 Tips for Letting Time Work for You

By Pamela Jane BellRegular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

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Claudette Cobert in "It Happened One Night"
A well-known physician noted that the most respected doctors, “are those who can step back and look at the big picture rather than simply react. In situations like this, it is best to: ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ ” *
Sounds like a smart doctor to me.  I have lots of stories about doctors who should have just stood there, but that’s another story.  The point here is that in some circumstances “just standing there” is the best advice for writers as well.  But I have a hard time doing it.
“Time is on my side,” the Rolling Stones sang.  But is time our friend, ­or our adversary?   Perhaps, because of the complexity of human life, it is both.  Still, my idea of a writer is someone who writes, not someone who waits.  I jokingly describe myself as a self-employed writer with a strict boss, but it’s not really a joke.  I have a difficult time putting aside a piece of writing or turning to another project when I’ve hit a roadblock with my manuscript.  Instead, I sit anxiously by its side, taking its temperature every five minutes.  But sometimes, in fact many times, walking away, at least for a while, is exactly what you need to do.
Below are three tips for letting time work its magic on your memoir, and why you should:
Writing Tip #1.  Nothing stays the same
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Even when life appears to be standing still, it isn’t really.  It’s like the stream that always changes yet always stays the same.  It flows on, bringing new experiences and perspectives that enable you to see your story with fresh eyes.  Many things ­– a forgotten photograph, an unexpected trip, a dream – can yield a memory or insight that will help round out and deepen your story.
Writing Tip #2.  Let your subconscious work
Madeleine L’Engle, author of the famous children’s book, A Wrinkle in Time and several sequels, decided to give up writing on her 40th birthday after receiving yet another rejection notice.
“This was an obvious sign from heaven.  I should stop trying to write,” she wrote in A Circle of Quiet. “All during the decade of my thirties I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t like a good New England housewife and mother.  When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered…with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.”
L’Engle proceeded to cover her typewriter and give in to misery only to discover later that her subconscious was at work on a novel about failure.
Trust yourself; your subconscious is working even when you aren’t.
Writing Tip #3.  Let time perform its magic
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In 1965, Katherine Anne Porter sat down to write a forward to her new collection of short stories.  She wrote about an unfinished story she had discovered in a box of old manuscripts.
“‘Holiday’ represents one of my prolonged struggles, not with questions of form or style, but my own moral and emotion collision with a human situation I was too young to cope with at the time it occurred; yet the story haunted me for years and I made three separate versions, with a certain spot in all three where the thing went off track.  So I put it away and…forgot it.  It rose from one of my boxes of papers, after a quarter of a century…as for the vexing question which had stopped me short long ago, it had in the course of living settled itself so slowly and deeply and secretly I wondered why I had ever been distressed by it…”
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Time is, indeed, a magic elixir.
What These 3 Writing Tips Mean to You
I’m not suggesting you wait a quarter of a century to finish your memoir or your novel!  It’s the willingness to step back, even for a day, that is important.  As my husband, John, always tells me: “Possess your soul in patience.”
For me, that’s an even greater challenge than scrubbing the kitchen floor.
*Douglas A. Drossman M.D.

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