The More Happens, the Less that Needs to be Said
In time every minute is 60 seconds. Every year is 12 months, but in the world of memoir sometimes an event that only took 10 minutes. Like my visit with Salinger. Will occupy 15 pages, and six months of your life will be a sentence. I just wanted to say that. I'm not even going to elaborate. Oh yes I am going to elaborate. I'm gonna story about the Bob Dylan concert. Back when Jim was already very sick, but we were still full of hope. I asked him to buy us tickets to see Bob Dylan performing at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. He had never seen Bob Dylan. We both loved Bob Dylan. I've seen Bob Dylan many times. He'd never actually been to a Bob Dylan concert. By the time that concert came up, Jim could barely get out of bed. He weighed 90 pounds. He was on hospice. He was cold even in the heat of the day, but anybody's who's been to the Greek Theater in Berkeley knows it's pretty cold there on many June nights. I assumed that we weren't going to the Bob Dylan concert. I even went on Crai...
gslist trying to sell the tickets, but then I heard Jim say to the hospice worker who'd come to bring us some drugs, "I'm taking Joyce to see Bob Dylan." We went to the Bob Dylan concert. I think I spend about 10 pages describing our visit at the Bob Dylan concert, which proved to be five days before he died. Proportion. There was a lot of space given to one night. Sometimes very little space given to what would seem to be big events. Inhabit the voice of the narrator. I'm just going to say it again. Keep on, put that one on your wall, and periodically check back with you text and say, is this a sentence that could have been written by some, by Joyce. Describing what was going on, or Tom a reporter. Or any other person besides you. Every sentence should feel as if it came... There was only one source that it could come from, and that is the source of the person who experienced it. Oh, here's a very important one, and it took me some years to trust this. I mentioned earlier my first supposed so called memoir that I never call a memoir looking back. In which I would never have revealed that I came from an alcoholic family let alone that I suffered from eating disorders. Let alone that I've moved in with J.D. Salinger. Be willing to show your least heroic side. Your unglamorous parts of your life. And that includes, you know, I like to think that those 19 months of Jim's illness exemplified some of my better moments as a human being, but I'm not perfect for sure. Part of the story that anybody who has taken care of a very sick and dying person knows is, sometimes as much as you love them you say, "What happened to my life?" "What happened to my work, my freedom, my time?" Here am I spending my days in a hospital, and that needed to be part of the story. Why? Number one because it's the truth, and number two because there are a lot of people out there reading this who also feel those feelings and feel ashamed. Notice how often shame comes up in these discussions? I needed to write about being a caregiver. Not as being a heroic Florence Nightingale, but sometimes a frustrated caregiver. This book... Actually I'll give you... I think I've got a pretty good example of that. Yes. One afternoon, one of the last and I knew it. I opened the door to let Tuck out. That was the dog. And there was Jim standing... This was Jim at 90 pounds. And there was Jim standing on the flagstone holding the handles of our wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was full of wood. He must have hauled it all the way from the garage to our house, because this wood had not yet been split and the logs were large. These were not logs for our fireplace. We had moved into June by this point. Warm weather now. Not the season for fires, but there was more wrong with picture than that. It was very heavy, this load of firewood. I had no idea how Jim had managed to push the wheelbarrow up the hill to the spot where he had stood on our doorstep. He looked like a man who had just walked a 100 miles in the desert without food or water. He looked like a dying man, and he was of course. And here comes the terrible truth. I was angry. All I could think seeing this man I loved standing there. Was that he had just about killed himself hauling this wood. All I could think he will be unable to do anything for the rest of the day, and I would have lost out on the tiny window of minutes with him. Narrowing all the time when we might have sat together and talked on the couch, or shared our glass of wine, or several glasses of wine, or maybe even walked out to look at the olive trees. He'd squandered a vast portion of what strength remained on this one pointless mission to bring in the useless firewood. "What were you thinking Jimmy!" I said to him. "These logs aren't any good for burning." If he could have looked any sadder than he had before, now he did. Slowly, slowly he turned around in the direction he'd come from. He bent to pick up the handles of the wheelbarrow to return the wood to where it had been stacked behind the garage. "Never mind." I told him. "I'll do it." He did not argue. He went to bed. That is a hard scene to write, but that belongs there. I don't think I need to explain why, because it happened. Because it is part of the story. Nobody's life is simply all good or all bad. Always, even in a short essay, but certainly when you have 350 words. 350 pages to tell a story. You need to have all the complexities that real life carries.
Bundle this class with How To Write a Personal Essay and save!
You don’t have to be a famous celebrity to have a story worth sharing. And you don’t need to have a long life full of significant events and intriguing encounters. To write a compelling memoir, you just need to highlight your most unique, interesting or transformative experiences—the moments in your life that really matter.
Master memoirist and bestselling author Joyce Maynard is the ideal person to show you how to take your life story and transform it into a fascinating book that gets published and finds an audience.
You’ll begin by identifying the major themes of your life and which one you want to explore. Then you’ll figure out who your characters are and their motivations, what the conflict of the story is, and how it will ultimately be resolved. Maynard will use both her own books and the work of students in the live audience to illustrate the writing process, giving you both the tools and the inspiration you need to translate your life into a fascinating memoir.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Figure out where and how to begin and not feel overwhelmed.
- Identify the difference between “What happened?” and “What did it mean?”
- Eliminate the parts of your story that don’t belong and focus on the big emotional moments that changed you.
- Write about the small events that support the overarching story.
- Maintain your point of view and not lose sight of your real story.
- Stop worrying about hurting or alienating someone in your life or yourself.
- End your memoir—when your own life isn’t over yet.