The Memoir: Why YOUR Story is Better than Snookie’s
Cait here. I know, I know. I mention the word ‘memoir,’ and we get nightmare visions of Snookie’s autobiography prominently positioned on a table at the front of Barnes & Noble with New York Times Bestseller emblazoned on the cover.
I could reduce you all to a mass of existential angst and tears of futility by bringing up the 1991 epic Ice by Ice from Vanilla Ice, Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, or even Justin Bieber’s First Step 2 Forever: My Story, but, I won’t. Because I’m a nice person.
These days, memoirs, oral histories, and biographies seem less like a valid genre and more like an exercise in creating cringe-worthy categories like:
- The autobiography (not written) by some 16-year-old pop sensation who has yet to get a driver’s license or go to rehab (hint: post-rehab books sell much better);
- The true, inspiring story of struggle and strength from some athlete (who later will turn out to have been pumping more pills than pounds to achieve the incredible goal of <insert homeruns/touchdowns/speed record here>);
- NB: The athlete may be substituted by any combination of one-gag-wonder YouTube sensation, HGTV host who rose to fame through aggressive full-body-contact crafting, or washed-out child star/rock star/Disney sitcom teenage actor from the 1990’s (because we’ve already run through most everyone from the 80’s).
- The *gasp* SHOCKING *gasp* UNAUTHORIZED *gasp* NEVER-BEFORE-REVEALED TRUE STORY OF <insert politician, Hollywood icon, serial killer, royalty here>.
- Let’s not forget the deeply personal and agonizingly extensive accounts of ordinary individuals suffering through chronic hangnails. These stories read like vaguebooking and an encounter group got drunk at a bar and hooked up for a bad one night stand that neither wants to remember in the morning;
- The garden path paved with good intentions to mind-numbing boredom of listening to our aged relative go on and on about a half-century’s worth of knitting projects while we record her in the hopes of capturing the essence of a bygone era, but which in reality ends up being a special kind of hell because once we’ve recorded her, we realize we have to listen to it all over again in order to transcribe everything she said;
- Finally, I should also toss a bone to the self-deprecating rags-to-riches archetype whose stories are meant to uplift and change our lives (well, until we spend the $3,000 for the weekend warrior seminar, workbooks, videos, and nutritional supplements that leave us exhausted, broke, and confused as to whether we’re supposed to do the ‘good dog’ head-patting self-empowerment exercise before or after we spend three minutes dancing naked before the $249 dreamcatcher add-on product that we bought in a moment of mid-seminar ecstatic dissociative fugue).
Legacy…it isn’t just for software any more
Like any cult leader worth their Kool-Aid, now that I’ve completely broken you down and destroyed your will to self-actualize and write any kind of personal story or work on a family history…let me build you back up…in my glorious image. *stops and shakes self, doesn’t know where that last part came from*
Truly, though, somewhere in the middle of all this mediocre dross are two truths that are so fundamental to humanity, we often overlook them or fail to recognize their power as a driving force behind everything we do. What are these truths?
Narrative is the most primal and primary form of human communication.
We all want to leave a legacy.
When we tell our friend/spouse/partner how our day was at work, that’s narrative. When we comfort a friend who has just been dumped by sharing our own dating war stories, that’s narrative. When we explain how to do something to a new employee, that’s a form of instructional narrative.
Our histories, morals, lessons, entertainment, and culture are all passed along in various forms of narrative, from Grandma’s stories to *shudder* the faux-scripting of reality television. On the scale of what is of real value to humanity, frankly, YOUR life’s story has more to offer the world as a legacy than anything the Kardashians can come up with. Fan of the Kardashians? Fight me. *Warning: I am a mean-spirited, 5’1″ Slytherin who fights dirty. I will win.
Cue Bon Jovi
*sings* It’s my liiiiiiiife, it’s now or never….
Ready to start that family history or share your own story? Great! Let’s get started. Ready?
Having trouble getting started, or even just knowing WHERE to start? I totally understand. It’s a common problem, and kind of ironic considering that we know the plot really, really well and aren’t just pantsing this particular story.
Let’s take a look at the 3 most common obstacles to getting a memoir project off the ground.
1. The Naturally Outgoing, Extroverted, Boastful Nature of Writers (NOT): If there’s a downward-facing-dog adjective for derision, we will find a way to put a ‘self’ in front of it–self-deprecating, self-effacing, self-sabotaging, etc. Even if we have something of real value to say that could either entertain or help others, we hesitate to convey it through narrative of our own personal experiences. We’d rather find a way to slip it as a theme into a plot where Taylor and Seraphina must stop a drug cartel from taking over a small Texas town populated by gluten-intolerant wolf shifters. We somehow believe that our own experiences are not worth it. If there’s not a jewelry heist, an AR-15, and Michael Bay-esque explosions involved, we think no one could possibly be interested in our lives.
2. An Embarrassment of Riches…: Okay, say we’ve gotten past the self-effacement syndrome and are ready and willing to share our story (or a family story). How do we start? Where do we start? From the egg? From the accidental backseat fumble to the accompanying crooning of Buddy Holly that led to that particular egg taking off on a spectacular career that lead to you? The first time we successfully made it to the training potty in time and the glorious lollipop of victory? The first date (the parental introductions alone could be an entire chapter in instructional humiliation)? For a body of material that we are entirely in control of and know to the last detail, it’s ironic that we can be so at a loss as to how to structure a narrative.
3. Truth, Libel, and Who Has to Die Before You Can Publish?: Ready to become an unwitting (and maybe unwilling) historiographer? When we undertake any kind of nonfiction biographical project, we are forced to join the ranks of historians who study the study of history, easily identifiable by the premature grey, dark circles, and habit of walking around muttering to themselves about theoretical frameworks, revisionism, primary source authentication, and hagiography. Any project involving people and history will have certain inalienable facts, but we’re also dealing with mushy memories, opinions, changes in perception over time, evolving social contexts, and some sticky legal and family issues when it comes to bringing some things to light. (Aunt Muriel’s Thanksgiving dinner is gonna be wicked interesting this year…)
Looking at all of this, it’s no wonder we would rather volunteer for the 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning carpool for the rest of eternity than tackle writing a memoir.
When in doubt, turn to M&M’s (&M)
Yes, chocolate is always a viable answer, but I’m actually talking about three ‘M’s’ that help break down the gargantuan project of a memoir into workable rules, structures, and craft.
1. MESSAGE: The idea of the message isn’t all that dissimilar to the theme of a work of fiction. What is the main truth/moral/advice/idea we want to convey in the telling of our story? Are we telling a story about survival against the odds, the power of love over hate, creating our identity anew after a life-changing event? Just like fiction, we can’t put everything into this narrative, so whatever we choose to include should be driven by and always tie back to the message. So…out with the glorious potty-training-lollipop-of-victory and in with how our first date taught us we can not only survive rejection, but learn to thrive and grow stronger.
2. MATERIAL: Before we decide what to put in or leave out, we have to get all the material we can in one place. This is the part of the process where we leave no stone unturned, no story unrecorded, no photo (however embarrassing) in the ‘out’ pile. From birth certificates to postcards, digital recordings to that unfortunate VHS video where you fell asleep face-first in your second birthday cake, it’s essential to chase down pretty much everything. In some cases, the material refreshes our memories or corrects a mistaken impression. In other cases, the material can help shape the message, raise challenging questions, and reveal unexpected truths. Gathering, organizing, and learning to interpret our resources is the foundation from which we build the narrative to support the message.
3. METHOD: There is no one-size-fits-all general methodology for memoirs and family histories. There is however a single one-size-fits-all rule: CONSISTENCY. However we decide to deal with blanks or gaps in the ‘record,’ we need to approach it the same way every time. This also goes for if/how much/what kind of family secrets we share, because let’s face it, once we publish anything, it’s the equivalent of running the dirty family underwear up the digital flagpole. We have to examine our own subjective viewpoints on people and events to see if we need either sensitivity training or ‘roid rage. There’s also the tedious bit where we have to do a basic survey of copyright, libel, and slander laws to make sure we don’t end up getting sued because we couldn’t resist sharing the story about the time Cousin Vinny ran 10 kilos of cocaine across the border in a riding lawn mower while singing Jimmy Buffett songs at the top of his lungs.
Maybe the goal isn’t to publish our story, but to create something we can give to the next generation of our family, or it’s a series of blog posts about something in our lives that was truly meaningful, or, it’s going through and organizing the boxes of old letters and photos to learn more about ourselves, who we are, and where we come from. Maybe, it’s just about spending some quality time with the people we love and learning things we never knew about them.
They say life is stranger than fiction, and I have to agree. Otherwise, where would Investigation Discovery get all the ideas for its shows? We all have something of value to share with the world, whether it’s our own story or our family’s story. Sharing narrative is the common thread that ties together all of humanity’s experiences into one beautiful, kaleidoscopic vision called life.
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $65.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
Date: Friday, January 26th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
We all have a story to tell, something worth preserving or even sharing. This might be the tale of our own life, or the life of someone dear to us. Maybe we long to capture oral histories of relatives before the living past disappears forever.
Regardless, the memoir is a genre that requires an approach, voice, and technique vastly different from fiction.
Topics we cover in this class include:
- Developing the thematic frame of the memoir;
- Creating a compelling narrative structure out of facts and timelines;
- The art of the follow-up question: going beyond the generic questionnaires to dig deep and mine memories to get the extraordinary details and important information;
- Developing and refining your memoirist voice;
- Knowing when extra research is needed, what is needed, and how to find it;
- Filling in the gaps when no information exists;
- Understanding legal constraints (i.e. libel) and how to maneuver around them yet maintain story integrity;
- Recreating dialogue and excerpting from original documents (letters, journals, etc.);
- Positioning your memoir for multiple markets.
A recording is included with class purchase.
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.
There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.
This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?
We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:
- The Product
- Types of Publishing
- Platform and Brand
- Marketing and Promotion
- Making Money
- Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $99.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?
Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.
Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.
- Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
- Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
- Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
- Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
- Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
- Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
- How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)
Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.
The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!
Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.
BOTH classes for $129 (Save $55). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.