I attended a workshop recently on Memoir Writing, hosted by Detroit Working Writers. I haven’t attended any sort of workshop for a while. I could claim I’m super interested in memoir writing, and I am, sort of, although writing a memoir screams “full length book!” to me, and I’m better these days with the shorter essay. It probably has something to do with having a shortening attention span due to our media rich, text-tweet-post society, something the workshop facilitator, writer Cindy LaFerle, pointed out early in the class.
Also–perhaps more importantly–my writing pal Pam has been hyping the whole “it’s all about building relationships!” thing recently, so I figured this was my opportunity to thrown myself into that whole network-y thing. More on that, later, as I compile the “things I learned and advice I got” today.
On Writing (Memoir, Personal Essay…and writing in general)
1. Just do it. Don’t let your inner critic get you down, man!
2. Be aware, if you are going the memoir/personal essay route, that others are going to read it (assuming it gets off your computer/word processor/typewriter.) So consider the spirit of your writing: to leave a legacy, to share an experience and what you’ve gleaned from it, to honor the human spirit, etc. Save all your mean spirited attacks and messy issues for…I don’t know, she didn’t say…maybe therapy or the Thanksgiving dinner table?
3. In apparent contradiction to point 1, understand the basics of writing, have a point, don’t babble endlessly, and be precise. Re-work you first draft. And your second. And perhaps your third. LaFerle did briefly wander into the topic of blogging, pointing out that so many of the blogs she reads wander on and on and on and just ramble and seem to have no point and sure, they’re mildly entertaining and having a rambling diary feel is sort of the point of blogs but for crying out loud that’s not what people like editors are looking for in writers so maybe we should all pay attention to what we write on our blogs and….Oh. I see her point.
4. If you’re crying while you write, you’re probably onto something. Or, alternately, you’re on something. Like a bunch of antihistamines. Stupid allergies.
On Marketing (Memoirs, Personal Essays, and other things…)
5. The internet has been great for writing: everyone can do it now! The internet has ruined it for writers: everyone can do it now. In other words: competition is tighter than ever. LaFerle mentioned that she works three times harder than she used to for the same work. Bummer. I was kind of hoping she’d pull eager editors out of her pocket. I believe she still tried to inject some “rah rah, keep at it” spirit at this point.
6. Meanwhile, when I (boldly, I thought) asked about pitching essays to national pubs (’cause I know these littler ones sometimes disappear…or I know who my competition is, which is weird), she gave the big green light, saying that she’s often found bigger pubs to be more gracious and better at responding (even if it was with a rejection) than smaller, local pubs. So I suppose I should get off my proverbial ass here.
7. And then there’s this attitude: forget about getting in print all together. Sometimes, the most important and satisfying part of writing a personal piece is just getting it down. I get this. I have pieces that I’m just not ready to share. (Stupid things like uncertainty, risk, and vulnerability.)
8. Okay, LaFerle didn’t go into this. But I’d be lying to say that wasn’t part of the reason I was at this workshop. I wanted to meet the well established LaFerle,
who I’ve stalked on her blog. I’m pretty sure I’d created some unrealistic scenario where we’d all introduce ourselves, and she’d be somehow instantly smitten by me, adopt me as a protégé, and conjure up cozy meetings at independent tea shops or the like. Instead, I went up to her afterwards, said my name, and starting babbling about Pam. Like some sort of sorority rush, the woman next to her claimed knowing Pam, and furthermore stated I look like Pam. “It must be our rockin’ hot bodies,” I said. (No, I didn’t.)
I realized after the fact that I didn’t
further suck-up buy LaFerle’s book. I would have had to follow her out to the parking lot if I’d wanted one–she’s sold her other copies of Writing Home—which seems a little police blotter-y.
So there you go: a couple points on memoir writing, marketing, and an unsolicited story on the awkward art of networking. I believe DWW has my email, so I look forward to future workshops, where I can glean more information on my craft, and perhaps get to know my local writers.